Columbus (AFP) – They like his straightforward speaking style, his policies on immigration and the economic boom achieved during his administration.
They are still teenagers, or just past 20.
In a year from now, they will vote in their first presidential election in key swing state Ohio — and they’re giving Donald Trump their support.
Clay Danec and Olivia Myers, both 18, have more or less known for a while whose name they would check off in the voting booth.
After attending an event in the state capital of Columbus organized by the conservative group Turning Point USA, the students, who attend a Christian high school, are even more convinced about their choice.
Myers — sporting a Make America Great Again hat and hoodie — says she was raised in a “conservative” family, but didn’t want her upbringing to be the deciding factor.
“I’ve been kind of searching both on the left and right side and I’ve made the decision for myself that I’ll be voting conservative in 2020,” she told AFP.
Myers cites Trump’s hardline stance on immigration and tireless defense of the Second Amendment right to bear arms as key.
For Danec, who is wearing a Trump reelection campaign tee-shirt, the main issue is one of “values and moral beliefs.”
“I come from a family that worked really hard to get up the ladder,” explains the baby-faced teen as the crowd exits an auditorium at Ohio State University.
“The fact that Trump supports families that can keep making good money, and not having to tax us and penalize us for being able to work hard and sustain our family, I think it is really important.”
While it is, at least on paper, not formally linked to the Trump campaign, Turning Point — which says it is active at more than 1,500 universities across the country — is behind the president.
It has organized a barnstorming “Culture War Tour” this autumn in swing states from Florida to Nevada, to drum up support for the Republican incumbent among young voters.
Turning Point founder Charlie Kirk, 26, is the main tour speaker — though he has welcomed Donald Trump Jr at a few stops. Each event is somewhere between a stand-up routine and a campaign rally.
Attacks on the media and the Washington establishment were the bread and butter of the Columbus event — with generous high praise for the booming economy and America’s greatness mixed in.
– Trumpers: next-generation rebels –
Facing Kirk during the show are hundreds of young people whose political identities seem to have been unleashed by the first three years of Trump’s presidency.
John McCary is only 17 years old, but he’ll be 18 before November 3, 2020.
His red MAGA hat — the signature wardrobe staple of Trump supporters — makes it clear who he will vote for next year, but he says it’s also a symbol of his independence.
“People don’t even listen to my ideas — they see the hat and assume I agree with everything Trump says. And I don’t. There are some things that he says I don’t agree with,” McCary says.
“But because I wear this hat, people don’t even care about what I think and that’s why I love wearing it. I can have my own thoughts and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Attendees entered the auditorium before the event to a chorus of boos and chants from protesters who called themselves “revolutionary socialists.”
Chris Battisti, a 24-year-old who is studying history at university, was part of the left-leaning anti-welcoming committee. He simply cannot fathom how young people would vote for the New York billionaire.
Battisti likens a Trump vote by a young person to giving “a middle finger to the system,” and says supporting the brash leader is almost an act of rebellion — “the punk rock culture of the day.”
Andrea Spiegler is not afraid of making such a political statement, even if it means losing a few friends along the way.
The 20-year-old economics student says she does not believe in the promises made by Trump’s Democratic challengers on universal health care and forgiving student debt.
“If you want something, you need to work for it. I have two jobs at the moment, and I’m paying my student debt with no problem,” she said.
But what about charges that Trump is a racist or a misogynist? Not everyone is convinced.
“I just think a lot of the things that people say and are so mad about now, some of it happened so long ago,” said 19-year-old Janie Kopus, who serves in the National Guard.
Nate Turner, the 21-year-old local leader of Turning Point, says he tries to keep an even keel and a bit of intellectual distance from Trump’s polarizing rhetoric.
“Sometimes he has some really funny quotes on Twitter and I give that a like, but sometimes he should just keep his mouth shut a little bit if he doesn’t want to turn off a lot of voters who would end up supporting him,” Turner said.