Black-bearded Internet outlaw Dan Bilzerian — the so-called “King of Instagram” — routinely posts videos of himself unloading hundreds of rounds from the 50-caliber fully-automatic rifle he rides around with in the back of his truck. There are photos of him emerging from a private jet here accompanied by topless women, as well as pictures of him diving out of a helicopter into water.
Mr. Bilzerian, it is safe to say, is not a regular on the national GOP political scene. Until now, that is.
“I’m not super-political,” he said Tuesday in the lobby of the Trump International Hotel, where he had just stopped by to meet the Bad Boy of politics, real estate developer and Republican front-runner Donald Trump ahead of Tuesday evening’s latest GOP candidate debate.
“He’s pro-gun,” Mr. Bilzerian said of Mr. Trump. “Speaks his mind. He’s not politically correct.”
Because of his macho online charisma, unabashed patriotism and devotion to wounded veteran causes, Mr. Bilzerian has built up a massive Web following. An unending stream of images of loaded guns, naked models and fast cars doesn’t hurt. He boasts over 14 million followers on Instagram and nearly 10 million followers on Facebook.
It is not exactly The Federalist Papers, but Mr. Bilzerian’s exuberant love of American freedom comes shining through as he makes his first foray into electoral politics.
“I am more of a constitutionalist libertarian,” he said, clearly uncomfortable talking so overtly about politics. “I believe in the Constitution.”
And Mr. Bilzerian says he is genuinely worried about the direction of the country.
“Everybody is living now in fear and the only answer is more laws and more laws and more laws,” he said. “On and on it goes, and once the government gets bigger it never goes back.”
Despite the strong feelings — positive and negative — he generates, Mr. Trump has undeniably turned the political world — starting with the GOP — upside-down, reaching far outside the pool of traditional Republican voters. He’s reaching, for instance, people like Mr. Bilzerian and his many, many Internet followers.
Mr. Trump’s appeal to these new voters is deeply worrisome for establishment Republican strategists and candidates who have enjoyed a stranglehold on their highly defined voter rolls.
For six months now, GOPers have dismissed Mr. Trump’s huge polling advantage as a fluke. They said it wouldn’t last. They said he would hit a ceiling. And now he enjoys a double-digit lead nationally over rivals, having just broken through 40 percent support among Republican voters.
Now some of Mr. Trump’s most ardent critics worry that just maybe the billionaire developer is actually being underrepresented in the polls, precisely because of his appeal to voters well outside the normal Republican base, voters like Mr. Bilzerian.
Even with one prominent recent poll showing Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, taking a lead in Iowa’s Republican caucuses over Mr. Trump, GOP strategists worry that the polls aren’t accounting for some of these new voters who have become so enamored of Mr. Trump’s blunt talk.
“It is the lack of apology, you know,” Mr. Bilzerian said. “Just owning who he is and just refusing to apologize because people said he should or whatever.”