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ATLANTA—Crammed into a hotel ballroom to watch the first GOP presidential debate, hundreds of the most conservative activists in the country cheered Thursday when Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas talked Middle East policy, predictably. They booed when former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush talked education policy, also predictably.
But with Donald Trump, nothing is predictable, and it's there that the "Red State Gathering" crowd offered up a surprise: When Trump defended his reversal on abortion, his donations to Democrats like Hillary Clinton, even his refusal to rule out a third-party run should he not win the Republican nomination, the crowd responded with among the biggest cheers of the night.
If the Red State crowd is any indication, the Summer of Trump is not even close to over.
"He says a lot of politically incorrect things that a lot of people are thinking," said Randy Daniel, a dentist from the Atlanta suburb of Stockbridge.
Indeed, when Trump actually cited "political correctness" as he defended his public insults of women over the years, the 600 in attendance went wild, just as they did when he hit back at Fox News moderator Chris Wallace for his question on Trump's bankruptcies.
"They're just glad that someone's finally saying what they want said," said Erick Erickson, the head of the conservative Red State blog and the host of the annual conference.
...Mary Howard, of Indianapolis, particularly enjoyed Trump's response when Fox's Megyn Kelly asked him about his comments about women. "He turned that right back around on her," she said.