(Bloomberg) — Sitting with his new wife in their new home, Ish Yniesta spoke of the life they rebuilt together after individual struggles with divorce, bankruptcy and loss. To them, Donald Trump represents the best chance for an unmoored country to achieve similar security.
Yniesta, 47, American-born son of a Filipino immigrant, works in a plastics plant and had to live with his mother for three years between marriages. Rita Smith-Yniesta, the 61-year-old daughter of a cotton-mill worker, is a homemaker who lost her former husband to cancer in 2012 and had to live off savings. They married in October and moved into their Summerville, South Carolina, house in November. Last week, they attended their first political rally when Trump, the real-estate heir, television fixture and Republican presidential frontrunner, spoke near Charleston.
“We’re happy,” Yniesta said between sips of sweet tea two days later as the couple’s shih tzu, Abby, napped nearby. “We’re all about being proactive and doing something—creating our own reality show, so to speak.”
Trump has tapped into a cohort of Americans who have experienced the uglier side of a grinding, decades-long economic transformation. Middle-class households are the minority for the first time since at least 1971. Inequality has soared to a 45-year peak.
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Trump leads in polls, thanks to proposals such as barring Muslims from the U.S., sealing the Mexican border and deporting the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. A CNN survey Dec. 4 showed Trump with 36 percent support among registered Republicans, with the highest support among whites and those with no college degree. Fifty-five percent of Republicans polled said Trump could best handle the economy.
A visit to the Yniestas’ split-level home off a private road 30 miles (50 kilometers) northwest of Charleston provides insight into how a brash New York billionaire can find wells of support among those buffeted by the deepest downturn since the Depression.
The Yniestas voted for the buttoned-down Mitt Romney in 2012. Now, Trump’s blunt talk, combined with his wealth and perception that he won’t be beholden to anyone, makes him the ideal candidate to create economic security, Smith-Yniesta said.
“You put two politicians, like it’s always been, in the White House, what happens? Nothing, basically,” she said.
She fears what the country’s direction means for the couple’s three children and four grandchildren, the oldest of whom is 9.
“Our grandchildren are the ones that are going to have to face whatever happens with the next president,” Smith-Yniesta said.
The children are growing up in straitened times. The U.S. middle class, defined as those who earn between two-thirds and double the median household income, is shrinking. Lower- and upper-income households together outnumber those in between for the first time since 1971, according to the Pew Research Center.
Smith-Yniesta married right out of high school in Greenville, South Carolina, and worked odd jobs while raising her two sons. Her husband ran a service station and sold tow trucks. Because she has loved to sing since she was a child, he bought her a karaoke machine and they later started a business offering the diversion at bars and restaurants.
Her first husband “was a great saver,” yet, after he died, Smith-Yniesta worried about getting a job, and who would be willing to hire her at her age.
It was a karaoke bar that brought Smith-Yniesta and Yniesta together in a chance meeting while both were traveling separately through Georgia with friends. The group discovered they were all from South Carolina, and she remembers him as “a genuine gentleman.” Tall, with long, dark hair, she struck him as “a Southern belle.”