Lora Drobetsky, an Ashkenazi Jew from Uzbekistan, emigrated to the U.S. in 1990 and settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Drobetsky was then a 23-year-old single mom with a two-year-old daughter. On a trip to New York that year, she visited Trump Tower, the lavish skyscraper on Fifth Avenue. “It was breathtaking,” she recalls. “You walk in and you’re in paradise. The waterfalls. Everything’s pink and shiny and gorgeous. It’s so big. I thought, ‘This is America.'”
Drobestsky got a master’s in health administration from the University of Scranton, then moved to Chicago in 1994. She became a citizen in 1997. Now she’s 49 and living in a Streeterville high-rise, and her name’s on the ballot in today’s presidential primary: she’s a delegate for the Republican candidate who’s leading the race—Donald Trump.
Trump supporters have been characterized as people who are disgusted with the U.S., but Drobetsky says, “I love my government. I just think it could be much, much more efficient.”
She’s convinced Trump can make it that way. She’s still smitten with the person who developed that soaring marvel she saw in New York 25 years ago—and, since then, another one near where she lives. She admires his “can-do attitude,” and considers him “brilliant” and “fearless.” Even his name bespeaks authority, she says: “‘Trump’ is such a powerful word—it’s the most important card.” He’s an American icon, she adds: “Outside America, you know a few things about the country. You know Coca-Cola, and you know Trump.” With Trump as president, “things will get done, and we will be great again.”
One of the first books Drobetsky read in English, in 1994, was Trump’s The Art of the Deal. The business advice guide and memoir was perfect for someone learning the language, Drobetsky says: “It was simple, like he was talking to me. It didn’t feel intimidating. There weren’t a lot of details.” She still uses many of the strategies she learned from the book. “He was giving you a picture of an attitude. What’s your goal? From what position do you want to negotiate? You think big, but you have to be flexible. When things change, you have to rethink your position. But you always have your final goal in mind.”
Drobetsky says she’s an economic conservative, but “not a Republican Republican.” The awe she has for Trump now she once had for Bill Clinton. When he was president, “I liked how he spoke, how he looked at people. He made you feel cool and calm. He was so American.”
But she thinks Trump’s brand of capitalism will renew prosperity here. She’s had her own financial struggles. She was laid off from a marketing position for a nursing home. She opened two art galleries downtown in the early 2000s, but had to close them after the economy crashed in 2008. She currently does supervised counseling in a psychiatrist’s office while she pursues a counseling license.
Having grown up in a Soviet republic, “I have an allergy to socialism,” she says. “I come from a country where everything was free, but we were poor. If we have a collectivistic instead of an individualistic society in America, it will ruin the incentives.”
She likes Trump’s stance on immigration too. “Most of us immigrants came here from lawless countries. We came here because it’s a country of laws. I can’t imagine breaking immigration law. People should come here legally.”
Trump has suggested he’d seek to deport the millions of undocumented immigrants already here, but Drobetsky says that’s just posturing. “He is a businessperson—he is not stupid,” she says. “It’s just a business maneuver. You put the most ridiculous idea out there, and then you negotiate to the middle.”
Nor is she concerned about Trump’s stance on Muslims. He’s called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country, and last week he told CNN “I think Islam hates us.” Drobetsky notes that she grew up in a Muslim country. “I love a lot about their culture. The ones who are here are Americans just like me. What Trump says is we have to identify the people who want to harm us.”
At his rallies, Trump has repeatedly urged supporters and security personnel to rough up protesters. Drobetsky again is forgiving: “We all say things we should not say.” When protesters interrupt his rallies, “it brings him to a knee-jerk reaction.” The protesters “should just let him speak. If you don’t like it, go and vote against him.”
Most of the protesters have been black or Hispanic, but “it would never cross my mind that Trump is a racist,” she says. “If you’re good, it doesn’t matter who you are. He will support you and give you a chance.”
She allows that Trump has been demeaning to women. It bothered her when he said in September, about business executive Carly Fiorina—then a rival for the GOP nomination—”Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” Such comments by Trump “make him smaller,” Drobetsky says. “They’re a real turnoff. He’s not used to being accountable for what he says—he’s just a big boss.” He’ll have to quit talking like that if he hopes to win the general election, she adds.
Last fall, Drobetsky contacted Kent Gray, the Springfield lawyer who’s directing Trump’s campaign in Illinois, and let him know she’d like to be a delegate. “At that time, nobody thought Trump would have a chance, but I knew,” she says. Soon after, she was informed she’d been selected.
In November, Gray invited the Illinois delegates to Springfield to meet Trump before he spoke at a rally. Drobetsky was mesmerized by Trump. “He’s so tall it’s unbelievable. [He’s six-foot-two.] He was so good-looking, his hair looked great, beautifully dressed, beautiful tie. Exactly like you see him on TV, but better. His authority, his command—I couldn’t take my eyes away. Especially as a woman, when you look at a man of that stature, it makes you feel safe, protected, like he’ll take care of you.”
Wearing a red “Make America Great Again” cap, Drobetsky walked around her neighborhood in late November and early December, gathering the signatures she needed to get on the ballot. She received some funny looks but encountered little hostility, she says.
In today’s primary, Illinois Republican voters will be selecting 54 delegates—three in each of the state’s 18 congressional districts. The statewide winner of the popular vote among the presidential nominees also gets 12 at-large delegates. Drobretsky is one of the three Trump delegates in the seventh congressional district, which extends from the near north side through the west side and into the western suburbs of Oak Park, Forest Park, Bellwood, and Maywood. The Trump delegates are running against delegate slates for Texas senator Ted Cruz, Florida senator Marco Rubio, and Ohio governor John Kasich. Even if Trump wins the statewide vote, Drobetsky won’t become a delegate to the national convention in Cleveland in July unless the voters put her among the top three delegates in her district.
Today she’ll take the elevator down to her polling place—the lobby of her own building. She’ll probably vote for herself even before she votes for Trump, she says with a laugh. “It’s surreal—someone who was born in Central Asia now is a delegate for the future president of the United States. Someday I’m going to tell my grandchildren I was there when history was made.”