They are the hardest of the hard-core Donald Trump supporters in Minnesota, waving campaign signs and American flags atop a Minneapolis freeway pedestrian bridge against a bitter late-October wind as a stream of motorists below greet them with upturned middle fingers.
“Today is the first time in my life I’ve ever showed up for anything political like this at all,” said Andrew Gillen, 38, an Eagan resident who joined about 40 fellow Trump supporters late last week. “But I’m just really, really fed up with the way things are going with this country.”
The often crazy, always contentious presidential election of 2016 is speeding to a conclusion. For die-hard supporters of the unconventional Republican nominee, the closing days are marked by a mix of deepening skepticism toward Democrat Hillary Clinton’s persistent lead in the polls and rising anxiety and anger about the chaos that they believe would ensue if she is elected.
“My whole way of life will change” if Clinton wins, said Gillen, a long-haired Merchant Marine sailor wearing a “USA” stocking cap and a camouflage jacket. “I would think twice about buying a house. I’ll start saving a lot more of the money I make. I believe America will go into a Greece-like collapse.”
Across the country, some of Trump’s most fervent supporters are suggesting that they won’t accept the results of the presidential election if Clinton wins, vowing protests and at times even expressing fears of a violent uprising. For months on the campaign trail, Trump has coarsely denounced Clinton as a criminal, mocking her as “Crooked Hillary” and stoking chants of “lock her up” from the crowds he draws. On Friday, he claimed that she is guilty of political corruption on a scale “never seen” before. Such constant, incendiary rhetoric, coupled with Trump’s claim that the election could be rigged, has officials in both parties worried that many Trump voters won’t tolerate defeat at the polls.
For weeks now, a loose group of Twin Cities-based Trump supporters has organized the overpass demonstrations on freeway footbridges across the metropolitan area. They’ve done so at their own initiative: Trump’s New York City-based campaign has largely ignored Minnesota, where Democrats have a four-decade history of winning the state’s 10 electoral votes.
But at a rally in Phoenix Saturday night, Trump sounded upbeat about the state, saying, “We can win Minnesota” after touching on the large health care premium increases in the state’s individual market.
The Trump campaign might be giving Minnesota a fresh look, but it’s unclear if that could mean a visit by the candidate himself or his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. Neither has publicly campaigned here yet, though Trump attended a private Minneapolis fundraiser in August.
Trump has raised $960,000 for his campaign from Minnesota donors, according to the campaign finance website OpenSecrets.org. That’s dwarfed by Clinton’s $4.5 million Minnesota total.
Clinton has maintained a small Minnesota staff, but there’s little sign that Democrats see the state as in play.
The most recent Star Tribune Minnesota Poll, conducted Oct. 20-22, showed Clinton leading Trump here by 47 to 39 percent. Most recent national polls, and in a number of key swing states, have also shown Clinton ahead.
In the group gathered on the footbridge over Interstate 35W in northeast Minneapolis, there was no faith in polls.
“I don’t believe the polls are accurate,” said Paula Caliguire, 49, of St. Croix Beach. “No one has ever called me and asked me how I’m voting.”
Caliguire, who works in sales, brought her 15-year-old daughter, Victoria. They laughed as another driver flipped them the bird.
“It doesn’t even bother me,” Victoria Caliguire said. Not all the hand signals were malicious — plenty of drivers flashed a thumbs-up, and at least some of the honks were likely supportive.
Paula Caliguire is unmoved by the prospect of the nation’s first female president. “I despise her — I do,” she said of Clinton. “She would not be my president. She might be president on paper, but she would not have my respect. I would be really scared.”
Caliguire doesn’t believe the recent sexual abuse and harassment allegations that a number of women have leveled at Trump. “It’s all a little too convenient at this stage in the campaign,” she said.
That idea, that the media has stacked the deck, is common among his most fervent backers. Asked about Trump’s complaints that the election is rigged and his refusal to say whether he’d concede, most said they believe he was talking not about actual voter fraud but rather media bias (although several worried about ballot-box tampering).
“There’s a lot of double standards out there,” said Douglas Hildebrandt, a 27-year-old resident of the north metro who works in the medical device industry. “I just think a lot more attention is being paid to his allegations than what Hillary has been accused of.”
Mike Gunderson, 52, a commercial lighting contractor from St. Paul, also thinks the power of the federal government has been brought to bear for Clinton. “The Department of Justice and the FBI did the country a disservice by not prosecuting her,” he said. “I don’t think there should be rules for her and another set for everyone else. WikiLeaks is exposing a lot of it.”
Gunderson and a number of his fellow Trump fans frequently cited WikiLeaks and other alternative sources of information, including InfoWars.com and Project Veritas, two right-wing groups that traffic in conspiracy theories about the Clintons and other Democrats.
“We’re moving in a direction where fewer and fewer people at the top are controlling everything about our lives and the information we get,” said Dan Peterson, a 55-year-old plumber from Hopkins. “The corruption in the Hillary machine is just so vast.”
On Friday, the FBI revealed it was looking into whether newly uncovered e-mails were relevant to its investigation of Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server as secretary of state.
Though the crowd on the overpass leaned conservative, these were not Republican loyalists. Much of Minnesota’s GOP establishment has at best kept Trump at arm’s length, and many of his supporters interviewed said he is the first candidate for public office to truly inspire them.
“It’s the first time in my adult life that I’m excited about an election,” said Bob Anderson, 58, a Hastings dental technician. “The political system is rigged — Democrats and Republicans are the same. They fight on the floor of the Senate and then they go out for drinks together. Donald Trump is a rogue pro wrestler, and he’s going to blow up the system.”
What if Trump loses?
“It would be a major disappointment,” said Rebecca Brannon, 25, a volunteer with the Trump campaign who has organized the overpass demonstrations. “But no matter what happens, we’ve started a movement. No matter what happens, Mr. Trump has inspired a lot of people to action.”