ROCHESTER, Minn. — At the heart of President Trump’s political movement is this paradox: A wealthy reality television star who lived in a gold-encrusted Manhattan penthouse was able to gather a dedicated following of the less privileged and launch a war against his own social class.
Brett M. Kavanaugh — who has lived most of his life in the Washington area, attended elite schools and worked in George W. Bush’s administration — was exactly the type of “political elite” whose swamp Trump and those supporters once said they wanted to drain.
Yet Trump and his rally crowds are now firmly behind Kavanaugh, to the point where audiences sometimes chant “Kav-a-naugh” in addition to “Drain the swamp,” two ideas that would seem to be in forceful opposition to one another.
It’s an alliance formed around a common cause and, increasingly, against a common enemy: Democrats, or anyone who tries to stand in the way of Trump notching wins. Although Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s former campaign manager and current White House counselor, once described the Trump movement as “us vs. the elite,” it has since become them versus everybody else.
They are not embracing populism, though it once seemed so. They are embracing anything touched by Trump.
Trump, Kavanaugh and their now-fierce band of supporters merge on multiple fronts.
Kavanaugh adopted Trump’s angry tone of grievance and raw emotion as he testified that he did not sexually assault Christine Blasey Ford when they were in high school. He snapped at Democrats and alleged that the accusations against him were “a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump.”
Besides the attitudinal similarity, there was the political one: Kavanaugh’s known beliefs square with those of both Trump and his supporters. And, on a lighter note, his avowed fondness for beer struck the same everyman note as Trump’s affinity for cheap fast food.
Several Trump supporters who gathered for his rally in southern Minnesota on Thursday night said they don’t really care about Kavanaugh’s past — his comfortable upbringing, political experience or alleged transgressions in high school or college — and wanted to see him quickly confirmed.
“I know that some people would stop at nothing — absolutely nothing — to prevent him from getting in, and I think that’s where the country has made such a turn,” said Karina Van Meekeren, 41, who proudly describes herself as “Christian right-wing” and lives in the Rochester area. “Instead of being respectful and being honest and coming up with things that truly are in somebody’s past, it’s turned into a witch-hunt with people creating and fabricating stories to keep people out.”
On the campaign trail, Trump presented himself as someone who lived in the world of the elites and despised them — even if it appeared that he had spent his whole life trying to be one of them.
“The media and the political elite don’t know the pain and the suffering these people are living under. But I figured it out a long time ago and that’s why I’m here,” Trump said at a rally in Iowa two days before the 2016 election. “I’m with you, rather than where I was. . . . I was on the other side. I understand it well. I understand the other side well.”
For years, Trump’s followers have said that he seems like the sort of guy they would want to have a beer with (even though he doesn’t drink). Those who did meet him often gushed about how Trump made them feel like the most important person in the world during their short interaction. Ahead of Thursday night’s rally in southern Minnesota — held in a congressional district where seven counties flipped from voting for Barack Obama to Trump — GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson said that meeting with Trump “was like talking to my dad.”
“He’s a billionaire, he’s never had to struggle but somehow he gets it. He understands what we’re all going through,” said Pete Klinghagen, a 52-year-old railroad worker from Willmar, Minn., who voted for Barack Obama twice but is now a firm Trump supporter. “Has any other president done this many rallies? He goes out, he’s everywhere, he’s listening.”