ST. LOUIS (MEDIA GENERAL) — America’s heartland pulses with anticipation as it moves front and center in a presidential race rocked by an audio tape of Donald Trump bragging about the possibility of sexually assaulting women.
Mixed with that anticipation, there is a highly concentrated dose of revulsion among millennials.
“It’s a joke that he’s running,” said Washington University sophomore Paulome Srivastava. “He’s already denounced over 50 percent of the U.S. population, especially with his comments toward women.”
College students interviewed for this story, a generally reliable progressive group that’s shown only tepid support for Hillary Clinton thus far, were uniformly opposed to Trump at Washington University, the site of Sunday evening’s debate.
“Some people would even go as far as to say they don’t feel safe, which I think is totally legitimate,” said Clinton supporter Monica Sass.
Kielah Harvert, a junior advocating for the Black Lives Matter movement, added, “When I think about Trump and I think about the rhetoric that he incites, I don’t agree with it. I feel like it’s a slap in our face in regards to us yelling that we just want to be respected.”
And the disillusionment extends well beyond Wash U’s lush quad.
Missouri is usually flyover country for luxury aircraft like Trump Force One. This debate was their moment to finally be heard.
But now many voters who once saw the flashy Manhattanite as an unlikely spokesman for the country’s forgotten class now regard him as just the latest in a long line of disappointments.
“That woman thing killed him,” declared Mo, a 50-something taxi driver who’s heard passenger after passenger talk about the controversy since the Washington Post broke it on Friday.
The last 48 hours has been unprecedentedly damaging to the Republican nominee, and nobody knows quite what to expect when Trump and Hillary Clinton take the stage at 9 p.m. ET.
Many pundits thought the gateway to the west would also be Trump’s 2016 chicken exit, preferring to boycott the debate rather than face humiliation, but the billionaire insists he’ll show up.
The GOP nominee has insinuated that he’ll punch hard, and low.
Just hours before the debate, Trump was re-tweeting a woman who accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault two decades before.
Trump’s short and scandal-plagued political career has been prematurely declared dead several times in the past, but it’s unquestionable that he’s reeling after freshly losing the support of more than 40 top Republican officials.
In short, he’s desperately in need of a reset.
The Trump clan is doing all it can to make that happen, with wife Melania and his kids reportedly accompanying him to St. Louis.
His family will be in the audience as town hall participants press for answers about the 2005 hot mic incident in which a 59-year-old married Trump relishes his practice of forcing himself on women with kisses and grabbing their genitals.
But while the Trump family may have forgiven their patriarch, the GOP nominee shouldn’t expect overwhelming warmth from the usually Midwestern-nice crowd.
However, one student who only identified himself as Luke said he believes there is a faction of silent Trump supporters who support the nominee regardless of the recent upheaval.
“It’s a very interesting atmosphere, because I do know a lot of people who really do support Trump,” said Luke, “but they just really don’t talk about it.”
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales