Since the staying power of Donald Trump’s campaign for president became undeniable, reporters and political analysts have searched the country, and the polling data, to find out who his supporters are. Outside of New York, the so-called Trump Bro — white, male, middle class, and college-educated, probably with a penchant for Jägermeister, performance fleece, and Floyd Mayweather’s Instagram feed — has been identified as a cornerstone of his popularity. The putative GOP nominee is polling several percentage points behind Hillary Clinton nationally, and his overwhelming base of support is white men, of whom the bros make up a prominent subgroup (in May, an ABC News—Washington Post poll found that white college-educated males favored Trump over Clinton by 26 percentage points).
In the hinterlands, that enthusiasm is sometimes flaunted ostentatiously. Encountering an actual Trump Bro in the more cosmopolitan precincts of Manhattan, however, is a thornier exercise. The island has evolved into something like the nerve center of American elite culture, where bros in general are regarded with suspicion and Trump is an object of pure horror. Like the leaf-tailed gecko, the local species of Trump Bro has enough of an instinct for self-preservation to know how to blend into his surroundings when predators are present — even if that disguise is as simple as leaving his cap at home and posing as an undecided bro.
Still, they’re out there. You can feel it. And like any seeker of knowledge, I wanted to find one, to look him in the eye and figure out what made him tick.
A tour of what I imagined might be Trump-friendly watering holes — the East End Grill, Dorrian’s Red Hand, the Beer Bar at Grand Central — yielded nothing. “Looking for a Trump Bro in Manhattan?” responded one prospect, who was kicking back at the Bryant Park café. “That’s a bitch assignment.” I soon began to hear a constant refrain, the name of a local establishment where Trump Bros were said to congregate, let down their guard, and give voice to their love for Trump in relative safety.
Brother Jimmy’s, Murray Hill.
I arrived around nine. It was getting crowded. Millennials were singing along to country (“so rock me, mama, like a wagon wheel”), eating barbecue, and drinking jumbo margaritas, Swamp Waters, Trash Can Punches, Towers O’ Beer. I wandered around, checked out the gas-station-chic décor. A sign read “Be Nice or Leave.”
In the middle of the bar area, I spotted them — a pair of 28-year-olds who readily copped to being Trump supporters. They didn’t want to give their names and would only say they met at a college in northeastern Pennsylvania. What did they like about Trump?
“He is a Republican, and he is not Hillary Clinton,” said one of the pair. “We work in the financial industry, where everybody likes Trump. Everybody’s walking around saying, ‘Hey Trump train! Trump train!’ I’m not making this up at all.”
Is Trump qualified for the job, though?
“Is anyone qualified to be president, really? You bring people in around you to do it.”
And what was so bad about Hillary?
“She’s the absolute worst,” one said. “To sum up why I don’t hate Trump: He’s not a politician. He can negotiate. He can’t be bought. He’s a joke, though. He’s not serious.”
This was starting to look like some pretty soft support. “He just pulled out of his Muslim stance,” one said with annoyance. “He said, ‘Oh, it’s a suggestion … ’ He shoots from the hip and then he backtracks when it pisses people off. I think it’s a stretch to say I support him.”
I was beginning to doubt these were real Trump Bros at all. Or perhaps they simply sensed danger and were now attempting to camouflage themselves.
So, I asked point-blank, will they be voting for Donald Trump?
“Um, at this point, no.”
“I’m probably not voting.”
I approached a posse nearby and introduced myself. “We love Trump! Trump! Trump!” they chanted, all except for one guy, who smelled a rat and ordered the others to clam up. “No, no, we’re good, thank you!” he said, meaning, Buzz off. Let’s call this guy Doug.
“Fine, no problem,” I said. “Sorry to bother you!”
Another half-dozen posse members rolled in and ordered beers. I struck up a conversation with David Simpson, a 31-year-old Trump supporter, board-certified behavior analyst, and educational consultant from Long Island. He was happy to divulge that information up front, answer all of my questions, and let me use his name. Finally, I thought, not only a real Trump Bro but a fearless one.
“I support Trump because the only other option is Hillary Clinton,” Fearless Dave began. “She has taken any stand against what Republicans believe in, doesn’t matter what it is. In 2006 she said she wanted to build a fence instead of a wall … She is the worst type of Democrat. She’s the one that kills people and then says, ‘Well, what does it matter anyway?’”
Suddenly, Doug reappeared and began quoting Nancy Reagan. “Say no, say no!” he bleated, getting in between us. He’d made me out to be a dangerous adversary and was warning the rest of the herd.
Dave reassured him.
“No, no, don’t do it!” Dave insisted. “You’ll be on YouTube tomorrow.”
“I’m going to be a popular guy, then. It might help out with business.”
“Depends on what business you’re in.”
I told Dave he could be anonymous if he changed his mind later. Exit Doug, for the moment. I asked my new friend why people were so afraid to say they liked Trump in public.
“I never said I liked Trump; I said I won’t vote for Hillary,” Dave clarified, frowning at the questions I’d scrawled on my notebook. “I don’t currently have a girlfriend, no,” he said.
Dave grew up in Nassau County and realized he was a Republican while an undergrad at Marist College in Poughkeepsie (“Bill O’Reilly graduated there”). He got a masters at Queens College; spent a couple of years in Nashville with Teach for America, “a very liberal organization”; and got a second masters at Columbia University.
“So I’m fairly educated,” he said. “The rhetoric that the media puts out, it doesn’t sell me.”
“Stop talking to this guy!” Great. Doug was back with a sidekick, whom we’ll call Mike. Both were as tipsy as I was.
“Back off, man,” I said. “You already stopped me from interviewing … Let me talk to one guy here.”
“You’re gonna end up on YouTube!” Mike said.
I reminded Doug that I had respected his previous intervention — thwarting my good-faith attempt to chat with his pals — but this was too much. Still, he persisted.
“Okay, this guy’s just being a dick,” I finally told Dave, who was more polite and diplomatic: “I hear what you’re saying, I respect that,” he told Doug. “I appreciate you looking out, but these are simple questions.”
“Can I ask you a question?” Doug was addressing me now and looking scary and aggressive. “Can I ask you something? Are you single?”
“My wife just left, why?” I chirped, very uncomfortable with this line of questioning.
“Why are you at this bar? Because … you’re a reporter?” He said the word with real disdain.
“You’re trying to get people to say things while they’re drunk!” he said.
“Stop making these guys look like fucking idiots!” Mike added.
“This guy thinks I’m going to make you look like an idiot,” I said, beginning to stammer and shake. Had the predator become prey?
Fearless Dave played it cool. “I have no problem talking common sense, from the heart,” he said. Then he raised his voice: “Why do I support Trump? Because I won’t vote for Hillary!”
Doug turned to Dave and erupted: “He’s gonna fuckin’ twist it!”
That’s when I made an error. I’d come to observe this species. To see them up close. But doing so had rattled me. My own animal instincts kicked in as I realized that journalists were not, in fact, the most admired creatures in this jungle.
“You guys are like fascists!” I said lamely. “You’re fascists! … trying to silence … other voices.”
“Why you gotta compare us to Mussolini?” asked Mike, who had a point.
“Can I just have a private— ” It came out weak. They were both back in my face. Big guys.
“Sir! Sir! Did I say anything negative to you? Why’d you call me a fascist?”
“Because you guys have done everything you can to thwart this interview,” I whined. “You want him to stop talking to me, because you don’t trust me— ”
“Of course I don’t trust you!” Doug roared with delight.
“You are intolerant fascists,” I retorted.
“Do you find it hard to hide the fact— ” Doug began.
“It’s funny,” I interjected. “Trump will say anything to the media, but you won’t … ”
“That you’re gay?” he continued. “Are you sad about that? Why do you hide the fact that you’re fucking gay?”
It had been years since someone hit me with that one. I laughed, nervously.
“Good fake laugh.” Another strong comeback by Mike, it must be said.
Moving along, I told them that I once asked a hundred New Yorkers “How gay are you?” for an article and admitted to being 6 percent. Pause. “So I got a little bit of gay in me,” I said. Cool. “But I’m married, always been into women, but anyway … ”
I turned to Dave: “We can keep talking.”
Doug pounced. “Are you upset that your wife gets fucking plowed because you’re fucking gay?”
“I’m taping all this. This is great, I love it.” First statement: true. Second: half-true.
“You are fucking gay.”
“Unbelievable! Can you believe that kind of shit?” I said a minute later, having stepped outside with Fearless Dave for a breather. I took a big swig of Herradura Silver before handing the flask to Dave.
“Oh, of course I believe it, because we live in a world that’s a little bit crazy,” he said. “People on the left say a lot of crazy things, too.”
He rejected my notion that what happened in the bar was akin to Soviet-style repression and censorship. He also doubted my claim that I’d enjoyed the intense standoff.
“I shouldn’t have called them fascists,” I admitted. “It’s just that they— ”
“They’ve had too much to drink,” he said, changing the subject. “Look, I don’t like Trump, but he’s there, and I don’t have another choice.”
Surely he must support some of Trump’s policies … ?
“Listen, I respect his stance on trade with other countries, and how we’re getting killed. Saying there should be a wall is nothing crazy. We’re a civilized country! We should have borders! But I’m not saying we should keep everybody out. There has got to be a road for citizenship.”
I said that sounded reasonable.
“I try to be fair,” he said. “I’m a realist.”
Back inside, he caught up with his posse. When he opened his mouth again to speak into my recorder, his brother grew concerned: “Stop, enough!” he cried.
“Relax,” Dave told him. Then he explained, “He’s my baby brother.” He told me to relax, too — rightly so — and then wrapped it up: “We don’t need to make America great again, because it’s been great the whole time.”
I needed to hear that. I hoped it was true. Then Dave turned back to his group, leaving me alone with my adrenaline and half a drink.
I glanced nervously around the bar before making my exit. Doug and Mike were nowhere in sight.