NYT: ‘Rolling Thunder’ Loves Trump

This article first appeared in the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Donald J. Trump, the Manhattan real estate mogul who boasts about his wealth, maintains a fleet of aircraft and sells his own brand of neckties, paid respects on Sunday to an incongruous constituency.

“Look at all these bikers,” Mr. Trump, standing before a crowd in front of the Lincoln Memorial, said with admiration. “Do we love the bikers? Yes. We love the bikers.”

Mr. Trump was addressing a gathering at the 29th annual Rolling Thunder motorcycle run, a vast event over Memorial Day weekend that is dedicated to accounting for military members taken as prisoners of war or listed as missing in action.

Bikers assembled near the Pentagon before riding en masse into the nation’s capital, with many dressed in leather vests covered in patches, their bikes rumbling throughout the afternoon.

For the blunt-spoken Mr. Trump, who likes to stress his desire to strengthen the military and improve how veterans are treated, the gathering provided a receptive audience, if one where he might otherwise seem out of place.

“He speaks what’s on his mind and means what he says,” said Tom Christian, 43, a heating and air-conditioning contractor from Tennessee. “And that’s what a biker does. That’s the way we are: We say what we think. If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, go the other way.”

The warm embrace from the crowd gave no hint of the controversy that Mr. Trump incited last year when he denigrated the war service of Senator John McCain of Arizona, a former prisoner of war in North Vietnam. Mr. Trump said Mr. McCain, a fellow Republican, was not a war hero, saying, “I like people that weren’t captured, O.K.?”

Mr. Trump is the latest political figure, but not the only one, to pay attention to bikers. Wearing a black Harley-Davidson helmet, Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, appeared at Rolling Thunder in 2011, months before saying she would not run for president in 2012.

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