Spurred on by their billionaire hero, Donald Trump's “silent majority” is making noise when it comes to Syrian refugees and undocumented immigrants.
The Republican presidential front-runner delivered a fiery, 60-minute speech to a boisterous Tennessee crowd of approximately 9,500 supporters on Monday in which he promised to turn back Syrian refugees and expel undocumented immigrants. Standing at a podium in the Knoxville Convention Center adorned with a placard that read “The Silent Majority Stands with Trump,” an echo of when Richard Nixon uttered that phrase as he deployed his “Southern strategy” to bring out the white vote in the deep south during the 1968 presidential campaign, Trump gave the crowd exactly what it came for.
“Is this a Trojan horse?” Trump said he asked his wife of the plans for Syrian refugees to enter into the United States. “We're always getting into things we shouldn't be getting into.” Instead, Trump proposed building “a big and beautiful safe zone for people to live in,” but did not get more specific.
Three days after Islamic State terrorists attacked Paris in a series of coordinated shootings and bombings, Trump lambasted German Chancellor Angela Merkel for accepting Syrian refugees. “I think what she did to Germany is a disgrace,” he said, adding that those same refugees “have destroyed all of Europe.”
From there it was an easy pivot in an ad-libbed speech to America's undocumented workers. Trump taunted critics of his immigration plan, questioning why “our veterans are not treated as well as the illegals.” And then he doubled down on a line he delivered last week that rocketed through the social-media cycle in regard to his plan to defeat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. “I’m gonna bomb the sh-- out of ‘em,” Trump declared.
The crowd, many of them wearing red “Make America Great” hats, roared in approval. They'd come from all over the state, some arriving early in the morning to wait in line for hours on a cold, damp autumn day. It was all to catch a glimpse of the celebrity turned Republican presidential front-runner whose path to the nomination suddenly seems plausible.
“He'd take back our leverage in dealing with terrorists,” said Will Wilson, who works in the securities industry in Knoxville. “Our leaders are exuding weakness and Trump isn't afraid. It's like there's no difference between Republican and Democratic politicians anymore—they're all just weak. He isn't.”
Army vet Jeff Hester of nearby Athens, who attended the rally with his wife and three kids, liked what he heard from Trump.
“We don't want any refugees from the Middle East coming in here,” Hester said. “How can we determine who the terrorists are? They couldn't do it in Paris.”
Tami Purcell of Knoxville said that she's voting for Trump because “he's not a politician and says what he believes.” “He's one of the most successful people in the country,” said Purcell, a homemaker. “And if you want to be successful, you need to follow successful people.” She said she supports his positions on immigration, echoing the billionaire's assertion that “we can't take care of illegals before we take care of our veterans.”
After vowing to deport the estimated 11 million undocumented American workers and build a wall sealing off the southern border, Trump returned to criticizing President Barack Obama's pledge to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees. “It's almost like, 'Is he doing this on purpose?'” Trump said of the plan. Government officials, Trump argued, wouldn't be able to track the refugees because “all you have to do is look at the Obamacare website to know how this will work out.”
Trump's supporters speak of a deep trust in him—finding a sense of hope in his success as a businessman that they think will translate into success for the country. “The press wants policy,” Trump said. “The people just want results.” While there are no shortage of problems in the country for Trump to diagnose at his rallies, his suggested fixes for them steer clear of details. That's not a problem for most of those who seemed enthralled by Monday's 60-minute, off-the-cuff performance.
As Trump left the stage, his adopted anthem, Twisted Sister's “We're Not Gonna Take It,” blared over the PA. For so many of Trump's admirers, the song's lyrics are just one more affirmation that their candidate gets it. Asked why he'd taken off work to come see Trump speak, Wilson didn't hesitate in describing the Donald as someone who “won't put up with bullsh--.”
(Corrects location of rally in sub-headline.)