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Sandra Combs, an “educational entrepreneur” in Kapaa, Kauai, spent two hours at the caucus location in her neighborhood Tuesday night.
Like many people there, she voted for Donald Trump.
“I watched not just middle-class and upper-middle class white people, but every color, every size, every age,” she said. “The diversity was amazing to me. I even saw a number of my former students.”
The New York businessman received 97 of the 227 votes cast in Kapaa on his way to winning statewide with 42 percent of the vote to 33 percent for Sen. Texas Ted Cruz, who finished second.
“I was born and raised here, 100 percent Hawaiian on both sides. Donald has more aloha than a lot of people here.” — Nathan Pakai
To Combs, the victory was validation that Trump is the candidate of the moment, the one who “speaks a language that normal people can understand. It’s not political-esse, it’s not elitism. It’s plain language that people understand.”
Combs’ conclusion: “He’s going to win. I feel very strongly about that.”
Some political observers wondered how a candidate who has insulted so many — women, minorities, veterans, the physically challenged, entire countries — and bragged so much could so easily prevail in an island state that is said to revere respect, tolerance and modesty.
Based on interviews with some of his Hawaii supporters Wednesday, Trump seems to have won here for the same reasons he is winning the GOP battle nationally: fear of unchecked immigration, loathing of the establishment, desire for an outsider to shake things up in Washington, rejection of political correctness, confidence in business skills and a new embrace of the seemingly lost art of deal-making.
Here’s what some of them said:
One of the Trump campaign’s co-directors here, Sutton said his candidate drew not only Republicans but Democrats and independents. While the numbers are still being tallied, Sutton, who was among those helping out at Republican Party headquarters Tuesday night, estimated that at least 15,000 people voted, a 50 percent increase over the 2012 caucus.
“I was surprised by the turnout and the strength of the wind behind Trump,” said Sutton. “I thought it would be much closer. We were at 29 percent in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser poll in January, although with an 8.5 percent margin of error that meant it could be 20.1 percent.”
Sutton said it motivated Trump supporters to work on voter turnout, especially to counter an aggressive, organized Cruz campaign.
The reason Trump ultimately prevailed was simple, Sutton said.
“People are tired of what’s been going on, like the high cost of living, no real change in the economy for the middle class. They are cussing under their breath about paying taxes, about a gallon of milk costing $6 when it’s mostly $3 on the mainland.”
What Trump brings to voters is a candidate not beholden to donors, said Sutton, and one who is not afraid to hit back when attacked.
Kimo Sutton’s wife, Christine, said Trump won here because of a desire for reform of health care, immigration, the Veterans Administration and trade.
“We need to do things to make the cost of living less here in Hawaii, and if that means going after the Jones Act, I think Donald would be the one to work on it,” she said.
The Jones Act is the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 that supporters (usually Democrats) say protects American jobs and opponents (usually Republicans) say limits competition and drives up consumer prices.
Christine Sutton’s biggest concern is immigration. She recalled how her ancestors came from Europe to Ellis Island in New York City at the turn of the 19th century. She said a screening process meant that some immigrants were turned away, for reasons such as poor health.
There are few checks on immigration today, she said, and in her industry — she works at Queen’s Medical Center — she said she sees recent immigrant groups such as Micronesians taking advantage of the services available to them in the islands. She acknowledged that the U.S. has a historical relationship with Micronesia that justifies their visa-free status, but she feels it has gotten out of hand.
“They come into the emergency room and sit there like it’s a clinic,” she said. “They come for stupid things like not having a bowel movement for a couple of days. … Hawaii is getting slammed for taking care of them. Why aren’t other states taking the burden off Hawaii?”
Asked about Trump’s use of coarse language and insults, she said he is simply speaking what a lot of people feel.
“Political correctness in this country has gone too heavy and people are not able to say what they feel without feeling afraid someone is going to jump down their throats,” she said. “The one thing that attracted me most to him was that you can’t control him, he’s not in anybody’s pockets, he doesn’t have anybody telling him what to do.”
Paikai, who was sporting a red “Make America Great Again” hat Tuesday, is director of the Trump campaign in Hawaii. He likes the fact that Trump is not a politician, and believes he will bring forth “clarity and understanding to making America great again.”
One way to do that is to address burning issues in Hawaii.
“Put it this way: We have the 48th or 49th worse schools in the whole nation,” Paikai said. “We also have hundreds of homeless veterans. Our Legislature has spent millions and millions to the Obamacare act and it never worked. Now they are raising the cost of the gas tax and vehicle weight fees.”
Paikai said Trump actually has plans to deal with immigration and health care, ones that “blow everybody else out of the water. … Listen to Cruz or (Marco) Rubio — they have no plan.”
What are the plans? Paikai gives out a web address: DonaldTrump.com.
What about aloha? Does Trump have aloha?
“I was born and raised here, 100 percent Hawaiian on both sides,” Pakai said. “Donald has more aloha than a lot of people here. The true essence of aloha is to love and respect one another. … Look at his kids, the women who run his organizations.”
Franklin is Paikai’s wife and along with her husband was one of the three Trump supporters who signed the ballot registration for the local caucus and paid for it with $5,000 from the national campaign.
“I think the American people are fed up with the way things are going in the government right now, and they want a fresh approach that returns us to our Christian-Judeo values,” said Franklin, who is a minister.
Asked for an example of what’s wrong in government, she pointed to President Barack Obama and his “arrogance.”
What the country needs, said Franklin, is someone who is “strong and focused” — the same qualities needed to be successful in business — and to honor a separation of powers among the three branches of government.
Franklin admitted that she is sometimes put off by what Trump says.
“I don’t always like the way he says certain things, but I appreciate that he speaks honestly,” she said.
Like her husband, she also said Trump embodies aloha.
“For example, at the last debate, he said that he would support any Republican candidate of those men on stage with him, and I think that was a fair thing to say — even after some of the attacks they’ve launched. Fairness is part of aloha.”
And, though Trump has marketed wine with his brand, she admires that Trump neither smokes nor drinks and said the Bible is his favorite book.
“I want someone who is clear-headed,” she said.
Di Rocco was the other signatory to Trump’s caucus papers. Deputy director of the Windward Oahu campaign, Di Rocco describes himself as “a common guy.”
“Trump won here because he is resonating with the people whose ideas and beliefs have been overshadowed and mocked for so long,” he said. “They have come to resent the establishment, the media and those that would suppress their thoughts — the political-correctness police.”
Di Rocco believes that Trump really will make the country great again. His old television show, “The Apprentice,” illustrates Trump’s insight and understanding of people and of business, and what translates into success.
“What is happening in the Middle East is women are being enslaved — that is going backwards.” — Peter Di Rocco
Asked about the provocative things Trump says, Di Rocco said the candidate is raising important points that need to be discussed. This includes the idea of putting a halt to the immigration of Islamic people to the U.S.
In Di Rocco’s view, the Koran does not treat woman and other religions well.
“What is happening in the Middle East is women are being enslaved — that is going backwards,” he said. “We need someone honest enough to highlight these serious problems.”
Di Rocco concludes: “I think Donald Trump, in the grand scheme of things, is probably one of the most inclusive businessmen and billionaires you will ever meet. Look at his hiring record. It is one of embracing people. He doesn’t have a glass ceiling.”
King, an attorney, was at a school-turned-polling-place Tuesday night, which she described as being “at ground zero.”
The gathering of people enthusiastic for change reminded her of a scene near the end of “The Hunt for Red October,” when Alec Baldwin says to Sean Connery that there will be “hell to pay” in Moscow over the defection of a nuclear submarine.
Connery responds by saying, “A little revolution now and then is a good thing.”
“I have not had this much fun in years, God help me.” — Adrienne King
King’s point is that, like Connery, who played the Russian submarine commander, the country is in a new world of sorts. For King, that was underscored when a voter turned in his ballot Tuesday night and said, “Shake it up!”
Every time someone attacks Trump, calling him a Nazi or worse, King said it only emboldens his supporters who feel that they are being attacked. People like King just want to feel proud of their “exceptional” country again.
Trump, King said, is a deal-maker who understands world trade and the global economy and a man who, if elected president, will set things right, even if that means “throwing out the whole game book.”
It’s worked for his campaign, after all.
King, who will be a Hawaii delegate to the national GOP convention in Cleveland this summer, is having the time of her life. She said she can’t wait until the FBI indicts Hillary Clinton, too.
“I have not had this much fun in years, God help me,” King said. “I love this stuff.”