Along the Interstate 4 corridor in the heart of Florida, the biggest swing region in the nation’s biggest swing state, Donald Trump had a lot of backers.
Many of them kept their enthusiasm to themselves.
“I was guarded,” Carol Foushi, a retired nurse, told McClatchy at the Millenia Mall in Orlando, a few miles from her home near Disney World. “People were passionate. They wanted Hillary; they wanted the first woman president. It was more for historic than for personal reasons.”
Her husband, John Foushi, used gallows humor in explaining his vote for the New York billionaire over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“I didn’t really get involved in the politics with the neighbors,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense – some of them have guns. Though Hillary was gonna take them away.”
Interviews with voters around Florida shed some light on one reason the pollsters and the pundits got the election wrong, both here and in the handful of other battleground states that decided the outcome: Trump had an invisible army of secret supporters who preferred not to voice their views to hostile friends and relatives.
“I didn’t want to bring it up with anybody else,”said Frank Amato, a retired biomedical engineer in Winter Springs, Florida. “I didn’t want to have to go through any confrontations with anybody. It wouldn’t have mattered what I said anyway.”
Amato said he’d voted for Trump because of the Supreme Court.
“Presidents come and go, but justices stick around,” he said.
The main webpage of Mar-A-Lago, Donald Trump’s exclusive club in Palm Beach, features a photo of the president-elect with a personal greeting
Winter Springs is in Seminole County, one of only nine Florida counties that Clinton carried. Despite winning 58 counties, Trump defeated her statewide by just 119,770 votes of the more than 9.38 million cast – less than 1.3 percentage points.
Reflecting the urban-rural divide between the two candidates throughout the country, Clinton won the five most populous counties, each of which contains a major city or fairly large town: Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough and Orange.
In those counties, surrounded by Clinton backers, Trump advocates felt especially reserved.
Travis Loebs, who lives in the Orlando suburb of Windermere, in Orange County, is getting his master’s degree in statistics at the University of Central Florida.
At 26, he is a registered Democrat who voted for Trump. He shielded his allegiance from his campus circle and beyond. Clinton carried Orange County with a decisive 63 percent of the vote.
“A lot of my friends were Bernie (Sanders) supporters, and most of them voted for Hillary,” Loebs said. “They said if Trump became president, there would be World War III. They called him a racist. They cast it like I would have to be crazy to support Trump. So I kept it to myself. Some of my family members know I voted for him, but my friends don’t.”
Loebs said he agreed with more of Clinton’s views than those of Trump, but he strongly disliked her using a private email server when she ran the State Department.
“I just don’t trust Hillary,” Loebs said. “I did a summer internship at the Pentagon that required a security clearance. Even I knew the rules surrounding how to handle classified information. If I had done the same thing as her, I would have, at a minimum, lost my job.”
58, 0 The number of Florida’s 67 counties that Trump carried, and the number of its five most populous counties that he won
Another millennial, Moses Winters, just graduated from the university with a business degree. He now manages a clothing store.
Winters said he’d voiced his support for Trump only when asked by friends he trusted. Even then, he said, people who overheard him sometimes made their displeasure known.
“All you have to do is say Trump’s name, and you get dirty looks,” he said.
Like other Trump supporters, Winters said the onetime host of “The Apprentice” was “over the top at times” but that he appreciated Trump’s directness.
“There’s something to be said for the kind of person who doesn’t beat around the bush on issues,” Winters said. “We’ve got this culture now where you’ve got to tread on eggshells because somebody’s going to take offense. Trump doesn’t care.”
He added: “I like that – to a degree.”
Among some Trump backers, feared hostility from Clinton supporters wasn’t the only reason for their reticence to proclaim their allegiance publicly. A number said they weren’t enamored of the Republican candidate.
“Both of them are jerks,” said John Foushi, a military veteran who later worked as a commercial helicopter pilot before retiring. “I just picked the smaller jerk. We needed a change. Trump’s got some good ideas if he’s able to accomplish them.”
I didn’t want to bring it up with anybody else. I didn’t want to have to go through any confrontations with anybody. It wouldn’t have mattered what I said anyway.
Frank Amato, retired biomedical engineer
Foushi, a registered Republican, said Trump was a big comedown from Ronald Reagan.
When the late president was campaigning in Iowa in 1980, his campaign hired the helicopter pilot to fly him around the state for a day. But to Foushi’s bitter disappointment, fog grounded his plane in Des Moines and the Reagan entourage switched to cars.
Before the former California governor and his aides left, he and Foushi shared a small breakfast at the Holiday Inn in Des Moines where they’d spent the night.
“He was dunking doughnuts in his coffee, and I was dunking doughnuts in my coffee,” Foushi recalled. “Just a regular guy.”
Some Trump supporters discovered strength in numbers. Those who live in areas where his support was higher found it easier to speak out.
Bill Doyle, a retired stockbroker, lives in Riverview, Florida, on the edge of Hillsborough County east of Tampa. While Hillsborough was one of the nine Clinton counties, his gated golf community is filled with Trump fans.
“I want change,” he said. “That’s why I voted for Trump. With Hillary, it would be the same-old same-old. His issue with immigration is huge. I think he will do something there, I really do.”
Doyle, who lost his son in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said Trump also supported the families’ lawsuit against the Saudi government for alleged financing of the terrorist assault. Clinton had opposed such a suit as secretary of state, and Congress had to override a veto by President Barack Obama to allow it to move forward.
Back in Orlando, a man with thinning gray hair sat on a bench outside Millenia Mall, enjoying the afternoon sun. He had a ready explanation for his support of Trump in the election.
“That was my choice,” he said. “Why shouldn’t I admit it? I’m a big enough guy to defend myself.”
Asked to provide his name, he responded: “Do I have to give you my name?”