MADISON, ALABAMA — When I asked people at a rally here why they support Trump, the most common reason I heard caught me by surprise. Yes, some said they liked Trump on immigration and the border. Others mentioned his business experience. But the most common reason: He flouts "political correctness."
"He's representing things that I agree with. He's politically incorrect," James Lamm of Owens Cross Roads told me. "They're things a lot of people are thinking. Things most of the American people agree with," his wife, Katherine Lamm, added.
Trump's willingness to say things many (white) Americans believe but that many other Americans find offensive has been evident since the day he began his campaign, when he said Mexico was sending "rapists" to America.
But in Alabama — the fourth-biggest delegate prize up for grabs on Super Tuesday and where Trump is surging in the polls — this flouting of the norms of political discourse truly appears to be the key to his support. Trump has indeed tapped into a deeply felt loathing of "political correctness," but his willingness to defy it is larger than his particular statements — it's served to establish his character in voters' eyes. It's given him a badge of honor that sets him apart from all his rivals and proves his trustworthiness.
"He says what he means, whether people like it or not," said J.P. Forshee of Trenton, Georgia. "Trump is his own man. Not got anybody telling him what to do."
Indeed, in branding himself as the anti-PC candidate, Trump has constructed a situation in which practically everything he does — his over-the-top rhetoric, his policy heresies, even his supposed gaffes — bolsters his supporters' sense that, whatever his flaws, he's the most honest candidate in the race.
"He may be narcissistic," said Susie, who lives in Huntsville but declined to give her last name. "But he's saying what everybody thinks and is just afraid to say out loud."
This view of Trump is a serious problem for Marco Rubio — a problem the Florida senator appears to, at long last, recognize. Rubio has begun calling Trump a "con man" on the trail, and repeatedly did so at a rally in nearby Huntsville just the previous day. But it may be too late.
Trump is building a new party around the principle of hating political correctness
As the massive crowd poured in to see Trump speak at Madison's high school football stadium, it was hard to avoid thinking that a new Republican Party was being built. Several attendees told me they couldn't recall ever voting in a primary before, but that they were set on turning out for Trump on Tuesday.
Indeed, the state's junior senator, Jeff Sessions, gave the Party of Trump his blessing. "I believe a movement is afoot that must not fade away," Sessions said, announcing a surprise endorsement of the billionaire.
Outside the rally, there was a carnival-like atmosphere, as hawker after hawker tried to sell homemade Trump T-shirts, hats, and buttons to attendees waiting in the long security line. One hawker claimed a button reading, "Bomb the shit out of ISIS" — an allusion to a Trump quote from last November — was his best seller. (A woman waiting in line turned down a competing hawker's "bomb the hell out of ISIS" button, saying by way of explanation, "I like 'bomb the shit' better.")
Chatter in the line ranged from to envious admiration of Trump's wealth ("I wanna see the inside of his plane!") to jokes about a crane near the football field where the event would be held ("You know what that crane's for, don't you? Protestors!" "One at a time.").
Trump's populist agenda seems popular
As the program began inside, the talk turned to issues — mainly, issues with populist views that helped play into Trump's narrative that only he, not traditional politicians, can be trusted.
In contrast to the GOP mainstream of recent decades, the Party of Trump is deeply skeptical of trade agreements and immigration. An ex-worker at Disney, where employees were infamously forced to train their foreign replacements, spoke, saying H-1B visas "sabotage Americans." Sessions declared that "the American people have known for years, these trade agreements have not been working for them."
Trump trashed the party's foreign policy beliefs too, with Lindsey Graham coming in for special scorn. "His idea of the war, he thinks he's a military expert,'" Trump said mockingly. "We've been listening to this guy for years! Where are we? We're nowhere!" He added: "If we listen to some of these guys on the military, we're gonna be over there for another 20 years. We can't do it!"
Later on, when a protester from Black Lives Matter interrupted the rally, James Lamm — who had praised Trump for being "politically incorrect" — shouted out, "Blue lives matter!" to try to drown out the protester.
"All lives matter!" Trump soon proclaimed. He won wild cheers, thrilling the crowd as he sent political correctness down to defeat.