This piece originally appeared in Esquire in August 2015.
There's a pool and hot tub supply store about 25 miles outside Boston. It's nothing much to look at, a long, squat brick building slumped alongside an empty parking lot. But finding myself stalled in traffic on Route 1, on the way to the Norwood mansion of auto magnate Ernie Boch Jr. for a fundraiser held in honor of presidential hopeful Donald Trump, I couldn't help but take note that it's going out of business, a monument to promised luxury forestalled.
Not far down the road, just beyond Norwood's Auto Mile, home to dozens of car dealerships, many of which bear the name and grinning visage of Boch—whose face, and catchphrase "Come on down!" will be familiar to anyone who's spent more than a few minutes in Massachusetts — is his sprawling, ornate home. On Friday night police directed dozens of cars to a series of nearby parking lots, while throngs of attendees made their way along the quiet side street. A helicopter buzzed overhead as protesters lined either side of the road. "Immigrant rights are human rights!" one group shouted. Counter-protesters and curious gawkers, many of whom hadn't ponied up the $100 ticket price for the event, filled out the ranks of the extras for what had the feel of the run up to a concert at the Xfinity Center in nearby Mansfield. Soon enough, headliner Trump would take the stage for a whirlwind set of his greatest hits: immigrants, the weakness of our standing on the world stage, immigrants again, and a rousing medley of insults directed at everyone from John Kerry to Jeb Bush to governor Charlie Baker.
Christian Miron, political director with NARAL Pro-choice Massachusetts, said his group had had about 80 members here for hours waiting for the guest of honor.
"We're here to hold Donald Trump accountable for his extreme positions on women's rights and reproductive rights," he said. "Donald Trump opposes a woman's right to a legal abortion, he opposes funding to Planned Parenthood, and we're here to make sure he knows it's unacceptable that his views on women's health, and women in general, are so far outside mainstream values."
Later during a press conference Trump would deny much of that, assuring us that he "cherished women." I asked Miron if he thought their message might fall on deaf ears when it comes to the notoriously defiant candidate.
"I think what Donald Trump cares about more than anything else is the Trump brand, and our message was heard loud and clear, if not by Trump himself, but by hundreds of people, the news media, and I think the voters are going to hold him accountable for these extreme positions," he said. "I think Donald Trump has a little P.T. Barnum to him, but what we don't think is funny is women's health and reproductive rights."
Across the road a woman named Linda, an unemployed resident of Norwood, had been waiting for his arrival for about an hour. "I just like him because he speaks his mind, he says what he feels, he doesn't let anybody intimidate him, and everybody else is afraid to say what he does," she said, asking if she could bum a cigarette. "I really love him." Does she really think he cares about average people like her? "I do think he cares about people, I do. Otherwise I don't think he'd be doing this, and just him speaking his mind is enough for me… I don't know."
Gerry Callahan, (not that one), who described himself as a "100 percent disabled, combat-decorated Vietnam veteran," was likewise eager for Trump to arrive, if for no other reason than he presented a stark contrast to the current administration. "Who do you have in there now? He avoided the draft. He was at Harvard at the time. What an idiot," he said, referring to president Obama. "You know who's even worse than him? Joe Biden. He's dumber than I am."
So what did he like about Trump? "He's honest. Good eye contact. He doesn't need a teleprompter," he said.
Through the gates and towering shrubbery setting Boch's estate apart from the street, a decidedly more well-heeled crowd mingled at what felt like the reception for your least likable rich uncle's third wedding. The group were a curious mix: aging rockers—Boch himself performs in an outfit called Ernie Boch and the Automatics—and mustachioed middle-aged men with permanent Disappointed Dad scowls. Fountains and meticulous landscaping provided scenic alcoves for wolfing down lamb pops with bee honey rosemary dijon and assorted carved meats. It would be a great setting for incestuous banker cousins to stage a croquet match in which they were all cheating, obviously and poorly. A tranquil bronze Buddha sat cross-legged with its eyes closed as if it didn't want to see what was going on, while a man in a bright blue plaid suit had people stopping to ask if they could take his picture. It was a remarkable suit, you couldn't argue with that. At one point I saw a black person.
"I like how he's very vocal about his stance and is taking a different style with his politics," Jonny Arakelian, who I was disappointed, (relieved come to think of it), to learn wasn't Julian Edelman when I got closer, explained. What about some of Trump's more controversial stances? "I think it's a PR thing; everything he says, if anyone else said it, they would not be able to even be in the conversation for president. From a PR standpoint it's genius." Around the corner a cover band ripped into Kansas's "Carry On My Wayward Son."
I went to the bar and ordered a scotch and then didn't tip in order to try to fit in. Not everyone here was gung ho about Trump, I learned. "I don't know that he'd necessarily make the best president, but I like his personality," one fella told me, before we skipped politics and moved onto the more important issue of beard maintenance.
"Well, I'm a Democrat, so I don't think he's the worst possible candidate, because he's not looking to just eliminate programs," Walker Lane, a long time teamster and laborer told me in line at the bar. He often jokes to his Republican friends that he and his wife, who works for the government, are their worst nightmare. "I'm a union thug and my wife is a government hack!"
"I'm amazed he's lasted this long," he said of Trump's surprising lead in the polls, but he had a theory why that is. "There's so many candidates, and none of them are dropping out, so the other side hasn't been able to unite to get him out."
Trump was set to arrive soon, and the throng of press was seated patiently in a tent toward the front of the home. Every political fundraiser is a variation on Waiting for Godot, with the added existential nightmare that the bastard usually shows up. "This is not a fundraiser tonight," Trump explained when asked about his avowal that he was not accepting outside campaign contributions. The $100 ticket was meant to offset the cost of feeding everyone at the event, he said. "I'm turning down millions of dollars for the campaign. Everybody's offering me money and I don't want it," he harrumphed to a roar of cheering and clapping from the assembled media.
Asked about the protesters outside, he scoffed.
"I don't see many protesters, I see thousands of people, and there's a few people … and I figured you'd ask that question," he said to a reporter from CNN. "You do not cover us accurately at all. There's a few protesters outside, and we have thousands of people, and the first question from CNN is about the protesters." Those assembled, again, in the media tent mind you, erupted into applause.
Elsewhere Trump touched on his tax plan, which he said would be rolling out in the next few weeks, Massachusetts's casino morass, his good friend Tom Brady—please stop saying that, as a Patriots fan, I implore you—and women's health. What would he say to a female voter looking to support him? "You know, I think the female voters, Ivanka my daughter, and my wife, they feel so strongly about the women's health issues, and they said to me, 'There's nobody that feels more strongly than me about women's health issues,'" the newly evolved feminist champion assured us.
"Jeb Bush was against it, it was terrible. … He didn't want to fund women's health issues. I will tell you we will work together and we are going to take care of women. I cherish women. My daughter and my wife said you have to talk about that because they know I care."
Some of my best wives and daughters are women, in other words.
After another of his typical swipes at Jeb Bush, he was asked why he focused so much on the lower polling candidate. "Well I would say Jeb Bush is a frequent target because when this whole thing started I thought he was going to be the main competition," he said. "But he's drifted very much to the middle of the pack and is rapidly disappearing, so we're going to have to start looking at somebody else."
More laughs ensued. It may have been too many lamb pops from earlier, but I was beginning to feel sick to my stomach. The contrast of the laugh track with the decidedly unfunny context brought Rodney Dangerfield's scenes from Natural Born Killers to mind. Speaking of killers, I asked Trump what, if anything, he would propose to do about the problem of gun violence in the country. "Well you have a problem of mental health in this country, and we have to take care of these people and we have to find out who these people are," he said. "We have to do something about it, because we have a mental health problem more than anything."
Blaming gun violence on the red herring of mental health has become coded language for "I'm not going to do anything about guns" among the right. Everyone throughout the world wants to eat cheeseburgers every day, but obesity isn't a problem in countries without McDonald's everywhere.
Seeing an opening to pivot toward his standard talking points, Trump shared his favorite spooky campfire story: "You used the word gun violence. Chicago has the strictest gun laws in the world, they say, and certainly in the U.S. and look what's happening over there. You take a look at Baltimore, tremendously strict, so many places so strict, those are the places that have the biggest problem. … We also have an illegal immigrant problem. A lot of the gangs in St. Louis and Ferguson, the gangs in Chicago, the toughest and meanest, the worst dudes in Baltimore, you've seen it, they're illegal immigrants. And I tell you one thing, if I get in, they're going to be gone so fast out of this country."
How exactly he would do that he didn't say. How exactly he would do anything he didn't mention either. For all his reputation as a straight talker who speaks his mind, Trump's solutions sound about as plausible as Bojack Horseman's Vincent Adultman conducting business transactions—prevaricating children stacked on top of one another in a trench coat hoping no one will call them out on their ruse.
"Who likes the idea of the wall?" he asked to, yet again, riotous cheers. "Somebody said you can't build a wall. You know, the Great Wall of China is 13,000 miles, this wall is 2000 or less. … 2000 years ago you could build the Great Wall of China, then they say, How do you [do it today]? It's so easy, and it will be great."
Shortly thereafter Trump took to the stage in the main tent to address the rest of the crowd of paying supporters, where he took swipes at John Kerry for being a "bicyclist" (if you know what he means), and talked about our relationship with Mexico and North Korea. "When our friend from North Korea, that wonderful young man ... I've never seen that; he inherited a dictatorship. That's pretty tough. How do you inherit a dictatorship?" he went on, an interesting question for a man, like Trump, and for Boch, who stood just to the side of the stage—both men inherited their own successful businesses from their fathers.
"I have great respect for the people of Japan, for the people of Mexico," he went on. "I love Hispanics. Nobody loves Hispanics like I do. I probably employ more than anybody else working for me. They rent my apartments, they give me a fortune. I love them. I love them."
Before long, Trump was off into the night, departing in his police-escorted motorcade. Outside the gates, a young boy was ecstatic about getting a shot of Trump's head sticking out of the window of his SUV, as a group of us marched back toward the parking lots. As he was showing off his photo to his mother, he tripped over a discarded Audi hubcap tossed into the dirt on the side of the road, as the brake lights from Trump's car glowed just up the street.