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Why so many voters are drawn to Donald Trump

The way the presidential campaign is shaping up, Ventura musician Jon Gindick may do something he's never done before.

"I've never voted for a Republican," the registered Democrat told me.

"I like Trump."

Gindick plays and teaches blues harmonica. He emailed me after my column about the Donald Trump rally last Saturday in Phoenix:

"It's OK with me if you don't like Trump, but you should report on this other side of the story, too."

He wasn't the only one here or in Arizona who wanted to set me straight.

In Phoenix, I talked to a couple dozen people. Not all of them were parroting the Donald's name-calling and incendiary talk on immigrants. Many were simply mesmerized by Trump the unconventional, Trump the unpredictable.

The message of this campaign is that there's a hunger for nontraditional candidates.

Like Bernie Sanders, the status quo-bashing dark horse who's whipping up crowds that dwarf other candidates'.

And Trump, who breaks the mold and then kicks the pieces around gleefully.

Maybe some Trump followers just like his campaign's high-decibel spectacle. But others hear straight talk about problems that have them in a lather.

A waiter told me he thought Trump's trade restrictions would create more jobs at higher wages. A couple wearing matching red, white and blue shirts told me their healthcare costs had tripled under Obamacare — a program Trump says he'll shred.

To Gindick, Trump's remarks about criminals coming across the border were refreshingly honest, and not at all a condemnation of all immigrants or Latinos in general.

He thinks Trump's critics misrepresent him, that they're unfair in calling him a racist.

"I saw it as a huge lie being repeated by the GOP establishment and Democrats," he said.

He became even more of a Trump fan during one of the early debates, when Trump repudiated Jeb Bush for saying his brother George kept us safe during 9/11. He liked that Trump told Jeb that George had lied to us about weapons of mass destruction.

"The GOP booed him," Gindick said. "And he didn't care."

Trump challenged another GOP orthodoxy in a later debate.

"It was Planned Parenthood," said Gindick. "They were all in favor of getting rid of it, and Trump said, 'You know, Planned Parenthood is a good thing. I wouldn't fund abortion, but I would keep all those other things.'"

A social liberal and fiscal conservative, Gindick had found a candidate who wasn't pre-programmed. Not that there isn't a downside to spontaneity. Gindick didn't appreciate Trump's remarks about Ted Cruz's wife, and his vote is not locked up just yet.

But as he sees it, Hillary Clinton is another of the "neocons" who have led the U.S. into unwinnable wars, and he thinks Trump would be much less of an interventionist.

Some see Trump's rhetoric on Muslims and Muslim immigration as a recipe for more radicalization.

To Gindick, it's a smart reaction to the threat of terrorism.

Richard McCay, a Laguna Beach businessman who sent his own condemnation of my column, thinks the terrorist attack in Belgium this week is another reason for voters to seriously consider Trump.

"I think it plays right into his wheelhouse," said McCay.

In McCay's view, average Americans don't necessarily have an answer for the threat to global and national security. But neither does President Obama

or any of the conventional candidates trying to succeed him, they figure.

"Something is happening," McCay said. "I think by sheer instinct the people have finally had enough. Only those with an interest in the status quo would want more of the same that Hillary Clinton or some Republican establishment candidate represents."

Take poverty, he said. It remains entrenched despite years of very expensive attempts to end it.

"The dial hasn't moved."

The national debt is soaring, and the borders are porous.

"The people are sensing it. They're saying to themselves, 'Nothing ever gets delivered,'" said McCay.

He concedes there would be risk in a Trump presidency, but McCay sees the candidate as a successful businessman and deal maker, and in McCay's mind that means he'd be more effective than Obama has been at negotiating with Congress to get things done.

McCay said he was president of the Republican club while a student at UC Berkeley, but he's an independent now. That makes him part of a growing army of those who don't fit comfortably into either of the declining major parties, voters for whom nontraditional candidates hold appeal.

Carol, a San Fernando Valley small-business owner who asked me not to use her last name, is hanging on to her Republican label. But it's an amended label: A pro-choice Catholic, environmentalist, gay marriage supporting Republican who regrets having voted for Obama and saw much to like in Trump from the moment he began running.

"I just felt like he spoke what was on his mind," she said. "I like that because a lot of politicians say whatever they need to say to get votes from the party they're in."

Carol said she believes in helping those who work, or make an honest effort to find work, and she believes in amnesty for otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants.

But she's tired of paying for what she calls a sense of entitlement. And she doesn't think of herself as racist for being opposed to illegal immigration or the social costs borne by taxpayers, or for wanting her government to aggressively screen Muslims who are in this country or trying to enter it.

"I don't agree with everything Trump says," Carol told me. And she's not even certain she'll vote for him.

But being rich doesn't mean he's out of touch with working folks, Carol said, just as being a Christian and Republican doesn't mean she fits neatly into anyone's expectations of how she should think.

That rebelliousness is the contagion of this campaign, and it brings me back to Gindick, the blues man.

Maybe one reason he likes Trump, the Democrat told me, is that he doesn't seem like much of a Republican.

"He's an honest broker, I think," said Gindick.

The musician added an assessment that I couldn't disagree with:

"He's a special cat."

steve.lopez@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATstevelopez

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 25, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Taken by the unconventional - Many Trump fans say his straight talk won them over" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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