If you’d made a bingo card in anticipation of tonight’s Miami town hall with President Donald Trump, a few squares would be obvious. Trump says he’s feeling better than ever after his COVID-19 diagnosis? Check. A dig at antifa? Sure. A woman telling the president, “You’re so handsome when you smile”?
No one could have predicted that.
But that’s exactly what happened at the tail end of tonight’s event at the Perez Art Museum Miami, where Trump answered questions from South Florida voters. Paulette Dale, a registered Republican who’s leaning toward voting for Trump’s challenger Joe Biden, took the microphone to ask the president a question about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the policy that allows young undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. But first, she offered Trump a compliment that left him beaming.
“I have to say, you have a great smile,” Dale told the president. “You’re so handsome when you smile.”
Her remarks lit up the internet — within moments, a fake Paulette Dale account emerged on Twitter, and her observation became an instant meme. Some television viewers noted Dale’s likeness to actress Allison Janney, betting that Saturday Night Live will re-enact the moment this weekend.
But despite her complimentary words, Dale wants it known that she does not actually like Trump.
New Times caught up with Dale on her way home from the town hall — and she made it clear that she is no fan of 45.
“I wish he would smile more and talk less,” she quipped.
Asked to elaborate, Dale said the president “steps in it every time he opens his mouth.”
“I think the man has a nice smile. However, I’m not a fan,” she further clarified.
(After publication, several New Times readers pointed out that “smile more and talk less” is more or less what Aaron Burr says to Alexander Hamilton in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway play Hamilton.)
A former resident of Miami, Dale now lives in Palm Beach County in the town of Highland Beach. After 35 years as a professor at Miami Dade College, she retired about a decade ago.
Dale said her big television appearance was fairly last-minute. For years, she has been a part of a focus group called Ask Miami, and on Wednesday she responded to a questionnaire for voters interested in posing a question to Trump or Biden. She said she was contacted hours later by someone at NBC who said they liked a question she submitted for Trump about DACA.
At the town hall, Dale described having grandparents from Russia and Poland.
“As the daughter of immigrants to the United States who fled Eastern Europe due to religious persecution, the United States’ immigration policies are very personal for me,” she said. “Surveys show that most Americans and the majority of Republicans support the Dreamers program. So my question for you, Mr. President, is: If you are elected to a second term, do you expect to pursue your previous efforts to cut the DACA program?”
Trump gave a rambling answer about the border wall and Mexico’s COVID-19 caseload.
“We are working very hard on the DACA program and you will be, I think, very happy over the course of the next year, because I feel the same way that you do about it,” the president assured Dale.
Dale said she was pleased with Trump’s response, but it wouldn’t be enough to sway her vote. She plans to vote for Biden during Florida’s early-voting period, which begins on Monday.
Dale said she asked about immigration based partly on her experience at Miami Dade College. She said many of her students were Dreamers, and she worries about their future under Trump.
“I know these kids are the cream of the crop and are so worthy, and I was very concerned that the rug would be pulled out from under them and they would be sent back,” she said.
Dale said she’d actually submitted two questions for Trump. The one that didn’t get chosen was about climate change — a topic that wasn’t discussed at the town hall, despite Miami’s reputation as one of the cities most vulnerable to sea-level rise.
“The other question that I had in mind was: ‘Mr. Trump, you say you believe in science and what the scientists have to say. The scientists have clearly proven that carbon pollution is a cause of global warming, yet you deny climate change. How do you reconcile your denial of climate change with your assertion that you believe the scientists?'” Dale told New Times.
Overall, Dale said, Trump hasn’t earned her vote.
“He’s very combative and he doesn’t believe in science, and that’s a big concern to me,” she said. “And by his own words, he knows more than the [military] generals, knows more than the public-health experts, knows more than anybody. I believe Joe Biden will listen to the experts.”
But she really meant it when she complimented the president’s grin.
“I believe the man has a very nice smile; there was no reason not to comment on it,” she said. “Smiles are important to me. I like nice teeth.”