04.17.11

Trump's Tea Party Triumph

The Donald, suddenly riding high in the 2012 polls, drew rave reviews at a Tea rally in Boca Raton. Jim DeFede reports on why the birther card is working—and what Trump has learned from Gary Busey.

Hours before Donald Trump arrived for his Tea Party debut Saturday in Boca Raton, 68-year-old Jerry Hochfelsen was handing out hundreds of "Draft Trump" T-shirts. "He's the man for today," said Hochfelsen.

A month ago, Hochfelsen, who has his own printing company, was having lunch, as he does every day, with his best friends - a physician and a fellow who does manufacturing. "We talk about politics, we talk about women. We talk a lot about women actually," he recalled. "But a month ago we started talking about Trump running for president. So we each put up a few bucks and said let's support him."

They set up a website - DraftTheDonald.com. Hochfelsen printed hats and T-shirts. Together they are preaching the value of Trump. "We need a businessman," Hochfelsen said. "Twenty-five years ago I thought [former Chrysler chairman] Lee Iacocca should have run for president. Today it's Trump."

And the birther stuff?

"He does what it takes to get publicity," Hochfelsen said. "The birther thing, I don't even think he believes it. He's using it to get media coverage."

Hochfelsen then declared the "birther thing" was Trump's Gary Busey. Huh?

This year on the Celebrity Apprentice, Hochfelsen explained, Gary Busey is on the show and he has just been acting like a lunatic, saying all sorts of crazy things. "Everyone on the show keeps telling Trump to fire Gary Busey and to get rid of him," Hochfelsen added. "But he knows he can get more miles from Gary Busey by having him on the show. So he keeps him. And now everyone watches. The birther thing is his Gary Busey." (Trump finally fired Busey Sunday night.)

But isn't that pretty crass politically?

"What," Hochfelsen snapped with incredulity. "Is he going to hurt the feelings of Obama's grandmother in Kenya? It's just business."

Likewise, Evan Smith knew a good business opportunity when he saw one Saturday. Walking through the crowd with a large board holding rows of "Trump 2012" buttons, Smith was selling them at a brisk pace: $5 a button or three for $10. Half an hour in and he had already sold 200 buttons.

Not even Sarah Palin buttons go at that rate anymore. And don't mention Mitt Romney. He couldn't sell this many Romney buttons in a month of Sundays.

"Trump is great for business," Smith said, adding he would also be great for the country. "You know his show The Apprentice? It's more of an educational show than a reality show. You can learn a lot about business by watching it."

For instance?

"Business ethics," he said. "Don't be afraid to do what you need to do to get ahead."

When it was suggested the lesson he espoused seemed to deal more with a lack of business ethics, Smith paused for a second and said, "Never doubt yourself. That's really the lesson of that show. Never doubt yourself."

Trump “was an arrogant bastard. But I love him now. He is the only person in this country who can right the ship," says Tea Partier Richard Walters.

Trump certainly doesn't leave much room for doubting himself. Although it may have started off as a bit of a lark, Trump seems to have embraced the idea of running for president with the same zeal and self-confidence that has made him what he is today - America's most famous and most boorish business executive. But in today's political landscape, boorish is in. "The world is laughing at us," Trump has said on numerous occasions. "They are laughing at our leaders. And it is a disgrace. We have to take back our country."

Trump's plan: Tell those world leaders that they have to do what the United States wants from now on. In Iraq, Trump said, "we should just take all the oil," adding "to the victor goes the spoils."

The same philosophy goes for China and Saudi Arabia and Japan and Europe. With Trump as president, he will tell them all to jump, and all they get to say in return is, "How high?"

It is a fantasy of American supremacy couched in business terms. The only thing America lacks is a tough, take no prisoners "Negotiator-in-Chief" to dicker America's way to the top again. "I know a lot of people in other countries," Trump bragged. "I know the top people."

While Romney may try to package himself as someone who can bring business acumen to Washington, Trump promises not only to do that, ("I went to the Wharton School of Business, which is the best business school in the country"). He also pledges to bring the business end of a baseball bat to any country that challenges him. All of which meshes perfectly with the anger and frustration of the Tea Party.

"We need a real businessman," said Linda Kogelman, 63, a retired postal worker. "The lawyers don't know how to run the country. They bow down to too many people." Kogelman said no one else in the Republican field excites her.

"There is no one there," she continued. "Romney is old hat. Newt is old hat. It's just the same old same old. We need new blood."

Her husband, Ken, 64, who closed his crane business in 2009 because of the downturn in the economy, nodded in agreement.

"They've destroyed this country," he spit. Who?

"The Democrats."

Standing nearby, 78-year-old Richard Walters was holding on to a letter he had written. He was hoping to be able to hand it to Trump.

"I used to be the Rolls Royce dealer in Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach," said Walters, who is now retired. "And he was one of my customers."

Fond memories of The Donald?

"I didn't like him," Walters said. "He was an arrogant bastard. But I love him now. He is the only person in this country who can right the ship."

Walters shared the letter with his fellow patriots: "Dear Mr. Trump, I am writing this note to encourage you to pursue the presidency. This country desperately needs your type of leadership. No other candidate has your vision, leadership or balls! I believe there is a national void only you can fill."

"Says it all," nodded Linda the mail carrier.

Both Walters, as well as Linda and Ken Kogelman, all have their suspicions about where Obama was really born. "I'll tell you else something I'm not sure of," Walters suddenly declared. "I want to know if he really did graduate from Harvard Law School. Has anyone seen his diploma?

"I agree with that, too," Linda said. "Show us the diploma."

Before Trump took the stage, the crowd of more than 2,000 heard from a line of speakers, including another Tea Party favorite, U.S. Representative Allen West. The Mistress of Ceremonies was extreme right-wing radio host Joyce Kaufman, who last year vowed an armed rebellion if Republicans like West didn't win in November. "If ballots don't work, bullets will," she screamed at the time, in what became an instant YouTube sensation on the right. Amid the bunting and balloons as well as the throng of press from around the country who had travelled to Florida for the event, there was a carnival atmosphere.

The obligatory, "Obama Your [sic] Fired" sign made its way through the crowd, as did a smattering of nastier messages about the president. A troupe of comics raced through the geriatric faithful, waving signs saying, "Comics 4 Trump." "We just figure if he wins there will be a cornucopia of material for us," said a fellow who identified himself as G Man.

Tito Puente Jr. kept the crowd excited with a lovely rendition of his father's classic, "Oye Coma Va." Puente might seem a strange choice for a rally that was 98 percent white and (for a candidate) whose views on immigration are more than a bit strident, it was nothing compared to the day's Lady Gaga moment.

In perhaps the most surreal moment of the day, 19-year-old Brie Goldsobel and 21-year-old Eric Jaffe performed a mash up of the Tea Party standard, "We Ain't Going Away," by country singer Bruce Bellott with Lady Gaga's, " Born This Way."

Given the average age of the audience, it is hard to know how many of them are familiar with Lady Gaga or were even paying attention to the words being sung. "Some people in the front row were definitely shaking their heads at us," Goldsobel said.

The duo melded the two songs into one deliberately subversive acoustic melody.

"My grandma and grandpa are Tea Partiers and they always wanted me to sing for the Tea Party and I always refused," said Goldsobel. "I don't believe in the Tea Party. I personally love Obama."

"I voted for him," added Jaffe, in a conspiratorial whisper as they stood just off to the side of the stage. "But then we thought, `OK, let's do it and we can make a statement. Sort of a protest within a protest,'" Goldsobel said. "We believe in equality and freedom for everyone."

So as Goldsobel would sing the chorus, "We ain't going away," Jaffe, who is gay, would counter with "Don't be a drag, just be a queen" and "I'm on the right track baby I was born this way."

When Trump made his way to the stage, the crowd was ready to hear from the star attraction. Trump hit all of the same themes he'd been beating for the last two weeks. On the birth certificate: "All I want to do is see this guy's birth certificate."

On Obama's first book, Dreams From My Father: "There is no way he wrote that first book."

On China: "The President of China came over a few weeks ago and we gave him a state dinner and all he does is rip us off. It's unbelievable. [With] me he goes to McDonald's."

On Japan: "You know Japan is in all this trouble so I was called by one of the news outlets and they said, `What do you think? Isn't it sad?' I said well here's the story, `For 30 years they've been ripping us off and taking advantage of us but I still think we should help.' See, don't I have a great heart? No for 30 years let's face it, with the cars and the this and the that, it's just unbelievable what they got away with. But it's OK, we should still help. They're nice people."

Colin Woodard: Maine’s Mad Gov. Strikes AgainOn Libya: "The Arab League, composed of Saudi Arabia and the richest nations in the world, asked us to go in and rid them of Gaddafi [whom] they don't like. Why aren't they paying us? Why didn't we ask them for payment? They would have paid us whatever we wanted. If I would have said, `We want $5 billion.' You know what that is? That is nothing for these people. They should pay us."

By the time he started dredging up Obama's Chicago past and his ties to Bill Ayers and Tony Rezko, some in the crowd started to get up to leave.

"This part is exactly what he said on Hannity's program," one fellow said to another as he made his way out of the park.

"He needs some new material," his friend agreed.

Jim DeFede, a longtime South Florida investigative reporter, works for CBS4 News in Miami.