ATLANTA — Among the tens of thousands of people who took part in the National Rifle Association convention here, women were an obvious minority.
The thing that seemed to unite them was an overwhelming enthusiasm for President Trump.
“Look at what he’s putting his family through for us,” said Anne Jansen, an artist selling jewelry handcrafted out of bullet and shotgun casings.
“It’s for us. Right? He’s doing nothing but things for us. … To the resistance, it’s like, follow him. Take a chance. Follow him. He’s your leader. Are you an idiot?”
Jansen had never voted for president before supporting Trump in November. At 53, the self-proclaimed bohemian from Quincy, Ill., had only cast a ballot once before in her life, when she wrote in Mickey Mouse for president.
That was ten or 15 years ago. Now, from her booth on the vast NRA exhibition floor, Jansen laments she can’t take a break to see Trump speak.
“I’ve always liked him,” she said. “Just knowing he’s here makes me feel good.”
Trump’s presence at the NRA convention Friday electrified the mostly male, mostly white crowd. But his choice to become the first sitting president to speak here since Ronald Reagan seemed to have special meaning for the women in attendance from political junkies, gun enthusiasts to saleswomen.
They couldn’t be happier with Trump, these women said in nearly two-dozen interviews. Even if they felt uncomfortable at first with the president’s attitude toward women after a race in which he was accused of being a sexual predator — even if they didn’t support him in the GOP primary, they’ve spent the last 100 days developing a profound sense of loyalty to him.
Despite running against the first major-party nominee to be a woman in Hillary Clinton, Trump won white women — without college degrees — by 27 points in November. He lost college-educated white women by 7 points to Clinton. Trump’s approval rating has been trending downward among women since being in office, with a Gallup poll taken at the end of March showing that rating at just 34 percent among all women.
But a fresh ABC News Washington Post survey revealed that 94 percent of those who supported Trump in the election now approve of his performance.
That sentiment was reflected by Patricia Valentine, 67, waiting in line Friday to hear Trump’s NRA speech, who cheered the president’s promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and to try to break up the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which ruled against the president’s travel ban.
“I’m ready for that wall to be built,” said Valentine. “I’m ready for him to cut taxes on businesses like my husband had. I think the Ninth Circuit Court, he needs to split those people up, move them around and get what he wants — what we want.”
Valentine, a petite blonde from the Atlanta suburbs, supported Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in the primary. But she beams with pride at the fact Trump is president and already fighting political correctness, fake news and illegal immigration.
“Already he’s deporting people,” she said. “He’s just going by the laws we already have on the books. That’s all I want him to do — go by the laws we already have on the books! They shouldn’t be over here and they definitely shouldn’t have sanctuary cities … I’m telling you, he’ll get it done.”
Trump’s decision to address the NRA was, in some ways, a gesture of thanks: the group endorsed him sooner than it had any other candidate in a presidential election and fueled his victory with advertising in battleground states, creating what some have called Clinton’s “‘lead’ ceiling.”
Many of the NRA ads featured women who feel empowered by the decision to own a gun, with Clinton depicted as the antagonist, preparing to take that right away.
“Every woman has a right to defend herself,” a woman said in one television spot. “Hillary Clinton disagrees with that. Donald Trump supports my right to own a gun.”
As those television ads played on giant screens Friday, NRA chief lobbyist Chris W. Cox called Trump the most outspoken pro-gun nominee in U.S. history. His comments ahead of the speech recalled Trump’s dark rhetoric about the state of the country, and served as a reminder of how potent that rhetoric became for these voters when married to the debate over gun rights.
Not every woman at the convention gave Trump a pass.
Meredith Lafavor, 41, voted for Trump because of her opposition to Clinton and to abortion rights. But she still doesn’t love everything he says.
“I would have liked to have seen somebody different,” she said, standing near a noisy gun raffle. “I just didn’t think Trump would make it.”
Lafavor grew up around guns because her family owned a sporting-goods business. Plus, she said, she was “born and raised in the woods.”
Now, as the financial manager for a local chain of gun ranges, she is especially proud of the company’s location in midtown Atlanta because it attracts a more diverse crowd. Her boss is a Democrat and the range once held an event for a Black Lives Matter group, she said.
The range also attracts a lot of women, unlike your average NRA event.
“This is a man’s playground,” she said, waving her hand toward the convention hall. “This is Disney World for men … It’s comfortable, familiar for me, personally. But most women, not so much.”
The NRA gathering happens annually, and many women remembered last year, when Trump spoke in Louisville and the NRA endorsed his candidacy.
“The Second Amendment is under threat like never before,” Trump had said. “Crooked Hillary Clinton is the most anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment candidate ever to run for office.”
This year, Lafavor bought two tickets to see Trump’s speech, but she gave them to her father and stepmother in the end.
“I’m not about public humiliation and talking down to people, and I think that’s the vibe you got from him up until now,” she said.
Upstairs, even Valentine voiced some brief concerns about Trump — about his Twitter habit and the saga of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned after it became clear he misled Vice President Pence about his contact with Russian officials.
“With Flynn, I’m sort of concerned about it,” she said. “But you know what? There are always people you’re not sure about.”
Asked about the wider issue of possible ties between Trump associates’ and Russia, she answered firmly: “No, it doesn’t bother me. I thought it was a bunch of bull.”
Down on the exhibit floor, Jansen doesn’t understand why, in her words, so many topics have become controversial, like Trump’s business ties or whether and how people own guns.
She received her first BB gun at eight-years-old, for her first communion. Now, she owns two firearms: “one for home protection,” and the other, a pistol.
Jansen said she hopes Trump can bring some calm to the political debate and reach out to people like her, who spent most of their lives avoiding identification with either party. She said she looks forward to Republicans repealing the Affordable Care Act, because she doesn’t have health insurance and is starting to see the penalty she pays every year go up.
“People criticize me when I say that, that I’m not getting Obamacare,” she said. “I said, I’ll be damned if anybody’s going to tell me that I can and can’t do something.”
“Like, owning my guns,” she continued. “Taking my guns away? I just don’t think that can happen. But there are people out there that think that it can. And I’m like, it’s just not going to happen.”
A few hours later, Trump would tell the NRA audience he will “never infringe on the right of the people to bear arms,” that “freedom is a gift from God.”
“To me, Trump is making it simple,” Jansen said. “He’s making it very simple on a lot of things I thought were complicated.”