The picture leapt off my Facebook feed as though it were spring-loaded. Right there among the cat videos, awkward jokes and advertisements for Jaguars, among the goofy quizzes and the “mind-blowing facts you weren’t taught in school,” there she was: Sandy Graves, Land O’ Lakes historian and voice of reason, in a trademark Donald Trump ball cap. Garish red, with TRUMP emblazoned in navy across the crown and below it in white the celebrity billionaire’s trademark slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
See for yourself. It’s right over there, next to all these words.
But, it wasn’t the hat so much as what was below it that held my trained eye: Graves was not grimacing. Not in the least. Instead, peering over the shoulder of her pal Debbie Hannifan, Polk County’s Republican state committeewoman, Graves was immortalized in the process of — there is no other word for this — beaming.
In that cap. That garish red, shouting cap.
This was — is — not the look of one of those establishment Republicans resigned to fate. It’s not even the look of a party regular who has examined the most likely choices for November and, as a GOP regular might who’d been force-fed John McCain or Bob Dole, shrug that, her nominee is the better of two disappointing choices, the lesser of two evils.
Nope. There’s genuineness in those eyes beneath that curved brim, and a sincere turn to the corners of her mouth. Our Sandy might have boarded the — ugh — Trump train late and even reluctantly — it surely was both, as we shall see — but now that she’s found her seat, she’s ready to make the argument on behalf of the reality TV king.
She concedes there’s obligation at work here. “As a state committeewoman,” she says, “I always was going to be for the last one standing.” And, she’s not reluctant to play the any-of-our-guys-are-better-than-their-guys (or Hillary) card.
However, in a year with an electorate fairly bellowing out a theme of disgust and discord from the left and right, November’s winner will need more than “the other one is worse” working for him/her. At last, Graves says she’s ready to make the “more” argument.
It bears noting she started the campaign a fan of Carly Fiorina. “I thought it was time for a woman,” Graves says, echoing a sentiment with which certain Democrats will readily agree, “but it had to be the right woman.”
The former head of Hewlett-Packard was the briefest of shooting stars across the crowded Republican firmament. There was the glittering performance at the first kids’ table debate that boosted her to that memorable a face-to-look-at-that-face Trump beatdown when she made the main stage. But, like the brightest meteorites, she quickly flamed out.
And Trump? Says Graves, eyes rolling, “He was in my top 18.”
On the other hand, Graves didn’t start out a Ronald Reagan fan, either. She volunteered early in 1980 for former Texas Gov. John Connolly, famous for having been wounded in the front seat of the limousine when President Kennedy was assassinated.
“Lots of Republicans didn’t want Reagan,” she says. “He did some things in California [as governor] that weren’t conservative at all.” That’s true. Google “Republican liberal California governor.”
“But, look how that worked out,” she resumes. “Ronald Reagan surprised a lot of people. It could happen again.” For the sake of argument, let’s play along.
What’s Graves’ anatomy of Trump’s appeal? For openers, he stuck up for then-candidate Ben Carson at a debate when the good doctor noted it had been long time between questions for him. “That showed me he’ll have our backs.”
She admires his children, none of whom show the slightest symptoms of “affluenza” — dopiness that comes from being an indulged child of privilege.
She thinks he’s right to demand toughness on border security and immigration, issues she considers pivotal, no matter how far down the list they’ve ranked in primary election exit polls.
Graves also gives him credit for calling out international trade deals, and for pushing allies to pony up for the cost of their national defense.
This being so very much not the place to argue the important nuances of either issue — Trump doesn’t do nuance anyway — let’s turn, instead, to what, in the final analysis, might have illuminated the smile under that cap.
After eight years of a president who has treated the country he leads like the title of a turn-of-the-Millennium Broadway musical — “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” — arrayed against the prospect of at least four more entrenching years of his policies, Sandy Graves is finally aligned with Donald Trump because “I believe [he] loves America.” Without hesitation or qualification.
And so she wears the hat. Happily.