19 Jan 2017

Who are New Zealand's Trump supporters?

5:05 pm on 19 January 2017

In two days, Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. We tried to talk to New Zealanders who were looking forward to Trump’s America. It wasn’t easy.

It wasn't easy finding Donald Trump supporters willing to talk

It wasn't easy finding Donald Trump supporters willing to talk Photo: Graphic: Luke McPake/TheWireless

“I can talk to you next few days but I would not want my name published anywhere. I would get lynched lol.” 

That’s the response I get from a New Zealand woman who supports Donald Trump. 

I had asked if she’d speak to me about why she’d chosen to support the president-elect so openly (perhaps unwittingly so) online. She was one of 12 members of a public Facebook group of New Zealanders supporting him, and sharing articles with titles like “17 nasty Hillary Clinton facts” and “Hillary Clinton Screaming Obscenities and Throwing Objects in Election Night Meltdown” from websites like Breitbart and "angrypatriotmovement.com". 

I ask her if she’s ok with me using just her first name in the article. 

“No,” she says. “My name is too easily traced back to me. There are probably only about 20 [name redacted] in my city.” 

“But I’m not going to say which city you’re from,” I say, puzzled.

She never answers my questions.

She isn’t the only one who’s not keen to speak to me about Trump.

The next woman I ask also declines the offer of publicly voicing her support for the president-elect, despite having done so in the past.

“Thank you Susan, but I have to pass on this. I’ve been misinterpreted before and I have decided that it’s best not to give interviews regarding political issues,” model Kylie Bax says.

Trump and Bax have been friends since the 1990s, and in October she defended him after a video was leaked showing him making sexist comments about women. 

Whether it is due to Trump’s constant claims of dishonesty in the media, a fear of getting trolled by ferocious liberals, or the series of articles I recently tweeted about golden showers, very few people want to front up publicly to tell me why they support him. 

Even male supporters, though easier to find, are hard to convince to share their opinions with me (despite all publicly posting their thoughts on Trump on social media).

A former Shortland St actor living in the US ignored repeated requests, via three different platforms, for comment on his rumoured support for the reality television star and businessman-cum-president. (Looking back through his Twitter feed, it appears he initially supported Bernie Sanders, who lost out to Hillary Clinton in the race to become the Democrat Party's presidential candidate. The story of Sanders supporters being baffled by the senator's endorsement of Clinton is not unheard of.)

And a self-described “enthusiast of the finer things in life” who went to King’s College and likes to “gallivant across Europe, in an effort to escape to warmer climes” didn’t respond to messages either, despite having public posts in support of Trump on his Facebook page for anyone to see.

Finally, a barista at my local cafe tells me he’s keen to talk about why he supports Trump. We chat over the coffee machine. He says much like Rodrigo Duterte - the populist leader of his home country the Philippines - Trump is not a politician, which he likes. He also agrees with Trump’s anti-abortion stance.  

But the following day, the barista cancels a formal interview we’ve arranged, and I’m back to square one.

Nearly 63 million people in the US voted Trump, so there must be some Kiwi supporters willing to speak to me somewhere.

My colleague sends me a photo of a flyer pasted to a pole on Auckland’s Karangahape Rd that announces a “Trump inauguration celebration party” on Saturday. (An anti-Trump protest is planned for the same day. The event’s Facebook page is swamped with comments like “im going to come and telling how retarded you all are acting like spoilt little brats [sic]” and “Ur all fucking retarded [sic].”) 

Some people wrote negative comments on the Facebook page for an anti-Trump event.

Some people wrote negative comments on the Facebook page for an anti-Trump event. Photo: screenshot

Online, I speak to a man who’d says he’s going to the celebration. I ask if he’s willing to speak to me on the record.

He declines: “I just find we are of completely different trains of thought and believe it would take a lot of time to get you to understand my perspective considering the nature of thewireless articles are in my opinion degenerative.”

He signs off with “God bless,” and a smiley face emoji.

One of the few Trump fans who does agree to speak with me is Sean Clancy, a guitar teacher from Tauranga. In New Zealand’s last election he voted for the Conservative Party - at the time led by Christian millionaire Colin Craig.

Clancy thinks Trump’s supporters in New Zealand are less vocal, because “it’s cool to be liberal”. He doesn’t talk politics with his family: “It never ends well.” But he has a lot of respect for the president-elect.

“Trump's new to the world stage of politics and therefore, he's almost completely bereft of the double talk we hear when politicians speak,” Clancy says. “Politicians can say a whole lot without a single straight answer to anything.” 

He admits Trump has his flaws: “There are things that I like about him and there are things that I think he's getting better at.”
But he believes Trump’s views aren’t extreme and that much of the bad publicity about him is spun by the mainstream media that works against him. He likes the idea of replacing Obamacare with something better, deporting immigrants who have committed crimes (though in President Obama’s first term, about 400,000 immigrants were deported per year,) and building a wall

“Politicians have been talking about building a wall for a long time. This time, Trump actually is intent on doing this.” 

(There is already just over 1000 km of barrier along the border between the US and Mexico, with gaps using a system of monitored sensors and cameras.)  

Clancy says Trump’s treatment of women in the past is “unfortunate”. Sexist comments include talk of grabbing women “by the pussy”, joking that he’d date his daughter, and sending New York Times writer Gail Collins a copy of her own column with her photograph circled and “the face of a dog!” written over it, after she called him a “financially embattled thousandaire.” 

But Clancy says he’s heard worse things in the locker room, and Trump has apologised.

[Sort of.]

“He aggressively spoke out against Megyn Kelly during the primaries. He made peace with her,” he says.

Clancy says the media was “all over” Trump’s comments about [former Fox News journalist] Kelly “turning speculation into headlines.” (Far-right website Breitbart also reported Trump saying she had “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”)

Later, Clancy added “the things that Trump did say about women in the recorded clip are reprehensible and I do not condone such things said about women”. 

Clancy says he still gets slammed when he shares his views on social media, but he is one of the few who doesn’t seem fazed. 

“Can I influence US politics? No. Do I need the grief? Yes, according to some people. Did Trump win without me? Yes.”