Still slightly stunned by the upset victory of President-elect Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, more than 400 Republicans gathered Wednesday night at the Koolau Ballrooms and Conference Center in Kaneohe for a pre-inaugural gala.
Much more accustomed to defeat than victory in Hawaii, where Democrats hold all four congressional seats and overwhelmingly control the Legislature, the attendees were giddy to find themselves on the winning side.
“This is long overdue,” said Lorraine Shin, a vocal Trump supporter. “This is very exciting for Hawaii Republicans.”
Lorraine Shin was among the celebrants
Kirstin Downey/Civil Beat
The Republicans danced, drank and dined, pausing only to get their photos taken with a life-size cutout of Trump. A vocalist sang “The Impossible Dream,” and got a standing ovation from the crowd.
While most will be unable to attend the Jan. 20 inauguration in Washington, the Wednesday event provided a chance to share in the excitement.
“Our hearts will be there and our TV will be on,” said Mike Olson of Kaneohe. “I can’t explain the spiritual uplift our family has felt. We feel the future is bright.”
Trump is “bombastic, ridiculous, borderline crazy,” Linda Lingle said. But like all innovative disrupters, she said, he is invigorating an atrophied system.
Kimo Sutton of eastern Oahu is one of several dozen Hawaii Republicans who are planning to go to the inauguration. He is working extra hours to raise money for the trip.
“I’ve been working Uber a lot to do it,” he said. “It’s expensive.”
But he said he wouldn’t want to miss the experience.
“There will be a huge — make that yuge — crowd that assembles for the swearing-in,” he said. “People will come from far and wide.”
Early in the campaign, only a small core of Trump supporters in Hawaii were diehard believers.
Some Republicans backed him reluctantly after he won in the state party caucus. Others said publicly that they would not vote for him, calling him crude, divisive and repugnant.
But that was then. Now so many people wanted to participate in the victory party that organizers said they had to turn people away. GOP party leader Miriam Hellreich, who organized the gala, said she could have sold another 100 tickets.
Ticket prices ranged from a low of $300 for an individual to $10,000 for a table of 10 guests, with proceeds going to the state party.
Boyd Ready, a landscaper, said Trump has become popular now, even among those who previously opposed him, because he won.
Nathan Paikai, an evangelical minister who chaired the Trump campaign in Hawaii, laughed ruefully about the big turnout. Of about 400 people in attendance, only about 10 or 20 had originally been Trump supporters, he estimated.
“Now they are on the Trump train,” Paikai said. “Everybody here only wants a winner.”
Paikai said that the original cadre of Trump supporters had been vilified, insulted and threatened by some Democrats, and criticized by some Republicans as well. One telephone call was particularly unnerving, he said.
“He said, ‘Bruddah, I like kill you,’” Paikai said.
Many Republicans in Hawaii, where Trump captured only 29 percent of the general election vote, were startled by Trump’s victory. Even state party Chairman Fritz Rohlfing was taken aback when he learned that Trump had managed to win in previously Democratic bastions in the Rust Belt.
“I was mildly surprised,” Rohlfing said.
Some said they had only gradually become Trump supporters.
“I reluctantly supported Trump, given the choice,” said Lynne Hansen, a long-time Republican who lives on the North Shore. Now, she says, she is “feeling better all the time” about him.
Susan Beckett, of Honolulu, also thought about it carefully before becoming a Trump supporter.
“Once I got over the potty mouth, I fell in love with the man,” said Beckett, adding she was able to attend the event because her sons bought her a ticket as a Christmas gift.
“I had to pray on it for three weeks,” Beckett said. “The Lord had to tell me he was the one. After three weeks, I knew I loved him.”
Linda Lingle, former Republican governor of Hawaii, was the dinner speaker. She said voters chose Trump because they felt they had been “let down by the establishment in both political parties.”
She said Trump had connected with voters who believe that immigration laws should be enforced, that trade deals have not been beneficial to American workers and that the military needed to be strengthened.
He successfully shook up a political system that had become stagnant, she said.
Trump is “bombastic, ridiculous, borderline crazy,” she said. But like all innovative disrupters, she said, he is invigorating an atrophied system.
“You don’t need to like Trump, but it’s well past time to applaud a disrupter in government,” she said.
Lingle, who has been working in Illinois, said she intends to return to Hawaii in April.
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