Rank-and-file Republican voters have been thumbing their noses at the desperate attempts by party leaders to forestall Donald Trump’s juggernaut presidential campaign.
And this past weekend, voters in the New Orleans suburbs joined in enthusiastically, brushing off warnings from the party elders and various prognosticators that a Trump victory would be disastrous for their party, not to mention the country.
Take Rick Franzo, 59, a politically active Republican businessman who lives in St. Tammany Parish. He favors Ohio Gov. John Kasich for the nomination and has mixed feelings about Trump’s behavior on the stump, likening the last Republican debate to a “backyard brawl with no policy discussion.”
But he said he pulled the lever for Trump on Saturday and will vote for him again if Trump makes it to the general election, irritated by the idea that party elites would try to dictate to voters which candidates are acceptable and which are out of bounds.
Franzo said his vote was a protest against the Republican establishment “and how they’ve handled this whole thing,” adding, “The more the Republican Party pushes against Trump, the more people are disgusted with the party, with the status quo and politics in general.”
Talking with local voters who cast ballots for Trump this past weekend offers a window on why efforts to derail his candidacy so far have backfired.
Trump bested his closest competitor, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, by 7,244 votes in St. Tammany and Jefferson parishes. And like Republican voters across the country, the suburbanites who went for him in the New Orleans area seemed to embrace the front-runner for some of the same reasons party elders are repulsed by him.
“Trump is saying what we all want to say but can’t say it,” said Marcia Boucvalt, 54, a Republican from Covington, bemoaning a culture that seems to put cultural sensitivity above all else.
Boucvalt said she supports two of Trump’s most controversial proposals: banning Muslim immigrants from the country and erecting a wall along the Mexican border.
She pointed to the recent terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, California. Separately, she said, fears have been stoked by highly publicized cases in which immigrants with criminal records killed two California women last year.
Those who say Trump is faulting an entire group for the sins of a few are being naive, Boucvalt said. “It will take a decapitation in this country for these people to get it,” she said, referring to the Islamic State’s practice of beheading victims.
Nor do voters seem turned off by Trump’s willingness to ignore conservative orthodoxy on issues like taxes.
“I think he would help the middle class,” said Wendy Kahn, 54, a teacher and registered independent from Kenner who plans to vote Trump in November if he wins the GOP nomination. “I think the rich would start paying more taxes. I’m a single mom. And I’m making it barely. I just hope he brings back the economy.”
Another Republican, Sue Roundtree, also likes that Trump is willing to buck the party. The 64-year-old accounting consultant has been a Republican since the early 2000s but thinks those in government — even the more recently elected tea party candidates — have been captured by special interests.
“I like what he says, and I like the way he thinks,” she said of Trump, noting that she has read several of his books.
“The biggest thing is, he is our best chance to root out the cronyism that is ingrained in government. The cronyism is like a cancer. Government is supposed to be of the people, by the people and for the people, but it’s not for the people anymore. It has been taken over by the lobbyists and special interests,” she said. “We need someone from the outside and someone who is strong who will go in and stop it.”
St. Tammany bureau chief Sara Pagones and staff writer Faimon A. Roberts III contributed to this report.