Donald Trump has been bleeding supporters among a variety of demographic groups since his election. Suburbanites have left him, evangelicals are showing signs of disillusionment, and working class whites are starting to jump ship.
But even in times of distress, there is one group of Trump fans whose commitment seems absolute: boaters.
Trump and the boat-owner class have a special relationship, forged through shared interests and a fair bit of TLC. His campaign has long been enamored with the visuals of Trump-adoring boaters flying their MAGA flags high as they make their way down various waterways. In just the past two months, Eric Trump has tweeted three times about the Trump boat parades, calling one of them proof of the “unbelievable spirit and love in our great country.” And, in early May, Trump himself tweeted to the “beautiful boaters” that he would “never let you down.”
But last Thursday, the relationship took a turn for the strange when the president shared a video announcing MAGA boat parades for his June 14 birthday, backed up with ominous music and featuring a man dressed as the Statue of Liberty waving a beer.
At the end of the video, viewers were directed to Boaters for a Brighter Future, which describes itself as a super PAC for boaters. There was one problem. The PAC that the president spotlighted doesn’t really exist, outside of its viral video. And its founders, while pleased with the shout-out, are just as baffled as the rest of the country as to why the president decided to promote them and is drawn to their cause.
“I think it’s just boaters looking for an excuse to go drive their boats around,” Scott Crabtree, one of the co-founders of Boaters for a Brighter Future, said of the Trump boat parades that caught Trump’s attention.
Crabtree and his business partner, Carlton Morris, planned to start Boaters for a Brighter Future last year as a means of warning boat owners about Democrats’ ambitious energy sector overhaul—the Green New Deal—which they feared would lead to a ban on recreational motorboating. They also wanted to advertise their own boat-related businesses, including Yacht Executive Solutions, a company that advises yacht owners on their finances, and Corpen Communications, a chartered yacht marketer.
But they said that the accountant with whom they had planned to start the PAC died of a heart attack on his boat. And because of that, Crabtree said, Boaters for a Brighter Future hasn’t been registered with the Federal Election Commission or the IRS.
Instead, Boaters for a Brighter Future exists only as a website. And what a website it is. The pages are filled with warnings that Democrats want to do something ominous to the nation’s boats in, what it describes as, a war of “boat folks” against “woke folks.” Next to pictures of Democratic leaders, the site asks: “do you trust them with your boat?” The site has images of armed soldiers blocking access to a marina.
The Boaters for a Brighter Future’s website devotes much of its homepage to explaining that boaters make a tempting target for politicians, illustrated with a meme pairing beautiful women in bikinis and obese, boat-owning men. It warns that boat owners are seen as using their yachts to “sexually exploit young women” on boats they pay for “by not paying their fair share of taxes.”
“Like a lot of stereotypes, there’s some truth to that,” Crabtree conceded. “I’m not denying that, but that’s the worst of the bunch.” Tellingly, Boaters for a Brighter Future also sells tax consulting to boat owners.
In an effort to rally boaters in 2020, Boaters for a Brighter Future’s website sketches an apocalyptic world in which recreational boating is outlawed by climate change-crazed Democrats looking to punish boat-owners they see as as “Fat Cats, Frauds, Freeloaders, Fascists, Freaks.” One page claims that Democrats are out to outlaw the three B’s: “Burgers, Babies or Boats.”
And yet, remarkably, Crabtree said he doesn’t actually own a boat himself. “You must think I’m crazy,” he claimed. “You don’t really want a boat. You want friends who have boats.” And even though his website pitches boaters on the need to take friends out on their boats to convince them to back the president, Crabtree insists that they’re “not necessarily pro-Trump.”
Still, it’s hard not to notice how delighted Trumpworld has been with the boater community’s love—and not just because Trump pinned the video about the PAC to the top of his Twitter account, driving even more viewers to the mysterious group.
The Trump campaign sells Boaters for Trump hats. They’ve also gushed over the various pro-Trump flotillas that became virtual gathering spots for those tired of being cooped up because of COVID and—more recently—to celebrate Trump’s birthday. Just this Sunday, there were brigades in Michigan, Florida, California, Texas and other states.
“President Trump has built a movement the likes no other presidential candidate has ever seen before,” Trump campaign deputy press secretary Ken Farnaso said in a statement. “Boaters for Trump is just another example of the kind of organic grassroots enthusiasm that Joe Biden can only dream of. In stark contrast to the President’s buoyant support, everybody knows that Biden’s candidacy is a sinking ship.”
Trump’s promotion of The Boaters for a Brighter Future’s website seems to be a random, spur-of-the moment social media amplification of that sentiment. And the site’s founders are divided on whether it could inspire them to register as a legitimate PAC. Crabtree said any future for the organization would hinge on more donations, and said they would be unlikely to become a PAC this close to the election. Morris, meanwhile, told The Daily Beast that Boaters for a Brighter Future would “probably” become a PAC.
Certainly, Trump’s tweet has put any such discussions into hyperdrive. After the tweet, Morris said his phone started to blow up with people offering to help the PAC. Boaters for a Brighter Future imagines a world in which outraged boaters fearful that Democrats will ban boating swing the election for Trump. And to achieve it, they have a strategy: “More Boaters Than Voters.”
Boaters for a Brighter Future’s founders say that boaters aren’t the niche political demographic they might appear to be. Indeed, Morris says plenty of people who don’t own boats would like to be able to join a boat parade someday.
“I bet if everyone could, they would own a boat—or at least the men,” Morris said.