CLEVELAND — To many journalists and observers, including some prominent Republicans, Donald Trump’s speech accepting the Republican nomination for president seemed built on one thing: fear. If Ronald Reagan looked at America and saw a shining city on a hill, Trump described a crumbling fortress beset by external threats and enemies within.
But some of Trump’s supporters, streaming out of the Quicken Loans Arena after the balloons finally fell at the end of the hour-long speech, heard something very different. In glowing reviews, attendees described the speech as excellent. They saw a candidate who was ready to unite America and turn the page on divisive politics.
"I thought it was fabulous," said Susan Hutchison, the chair of the state Republican Party in Washington state. She raved about Trump’s message and his delivery: "It’s high time we brought in somebody who has a positive attitude about all people."
Hillary Clinton and President Obama, Hutchinson continued, are only "taking care of people who’ll vote for them," while Trump cares about "the poor, the disenfranchised, Bernie Sanders supporters, union members."
"It brought a lot of Americans together," said Derek Kreifels, a delegate from Shawnee, Kansas. The most powerful parts, he thought, were about law enforcement and "going after terrorism and calling it what it is."
Kreifels didn’t support Trump initially. And he admitted that he is "not the ideal candidate" and "at times is awkward" in his phrasing. But "I’m a Republican," he said. "I’m going to support the nominee." And he felt Trump’s speech made it easier for him to do that.
Many viewers were particularly surprised when Trump spoke positively and inclusively about LGBTQ people in the context of the Orlando shootings. And Leslie Thomas, a delegate from Texas, said she found Trump’s speech to be conservative, including that line.
"I’m a Christian, but the reason he got applause — he said he was surprised — we don’t kill people for who they are," Thomas said. "We preach at them, but that’s the worst they’ll get. We don’t throw them off buildings. If they want a party of protection, we welcome them."
Some Trump supporters praised the candidate for hitting his usual greatest hits, such as his calls to build a border wall with Mexico: "He told it just like everyone wants to hear," said Jim Uram of Pennsylvania.
But far more said they listened to a speech devoted in large part to the dangers posed by Muslims, illegal immigrants, and criminals, and walked away thinking it had a positive, inclusive message.
"He did not get down in the muck, and that was great," said Bill Kolo of Connecticut. (It’s true that although Trump called Clinton a criminal, he did say she should be defeated rather than thrown in prison.)
Trump didn’t get universal, unqualified rave reviews — his speech was admittedly long, several delegates said, and I overheard two people walking out of the arena complaining that he would "bring socialism to America."
But the disconnect between what the many viewers, including some former Bush administration officials, heard and the message Trump’s supporters take away is notable. It’s another reminder that Trump’s campaign looks very different depending on who you are.