A FEW weeks ago, at a big, raucous rally in Florida, Donald Trump launched his bid to be re-elected president in 2020. The “send her back” furore had yet to happen, but there was still a lot of what you’d expect at a Trump event – loud chanting, loud T-shirts, and a promise from the man who said he would make America great again to keep it great.

However, according to Damian Bates – one of the thousands of people who attended the event – there was plenty that was surprising about it too. “There were 25,000 people there,” says the former newspaper editor, “and a friend said to me ‘I bet they were all red-necks’. But they weren’t. It was young, middle class, and African American.

"I thought it would be that sort of rump of America, but it was all levels of society. It was not what I imagined at all.”

READ MORE: Boris Johnson to launch Scottish charm offensive 

This is not the first time Bates has been struck by the gap between Trump’s public image and the reality – in fact, the journalist has co-written a book with the aim of showing that a lot of what we imagine about the president isn’t true. His co-author is George A Sorial, who worked for Trump for 12 years, but Bates, an ex-editor of Aberdeen’s Evening Express, has known Trump for a long time too – ever since the tycoon proposed building a golf course in the area 10 years ago. Bates also married the woman who ran the project, Sarah Malone.

The theory behind Bates’s book is friends and allies have just as much right to a say on the man as his enemies do. “We’d seen a lot of books by writers that claim to know Donald Trump but had never spoken to him,” says Bates. “My view was: I’d known him over the years. We’re not saying this book is the Bible, we’re saying this is our view. Just read it and make your own mind up.”

What makes Bates’s view particularly interesting is the fact he’s a journalist and has got to know a president who often rails against journalism. Bates, who’s 50 and is from Lancashire, has worked in newspapers all over the UK, including 16 years in Scotland, and he tells me his philosophy has always been to try to give people fair hearings, which is why he published a column by Trump when he was at the Press & Journal. “I got battered for that,” he says. “Hate mail, death threats, but my view was ‘let’s give this guy the chance to speak’.”

Bates also believes much of Trump’s fury against “fake news” is tongue-in-cheek and fears too that the media has become obsessed with the president’s negative image. “We no longer see nuance,” he says.

READ MORE: Dream job up for grabs as Raasay seeks to hire first resident nurse in a decade 

He cites the crisis over Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the US Supreme Court. Bates was in the White House at the height of the crisis and says he was struck by the difference between what many of the papers said was happening – chaos in the White House – and what he saw for himself: a president dealing with the situation calmly and coolly.

“As a newspaper man, I feel a little uncomfortable that we’re not portraying the right image,” says Bates. “We’re so caught up in wanting to show the worst of people, particularly at that level, we’re not prepared to go ‘let’s step back and there might be a different narrative’.”

Bates’s narrative is essentially that Trump is unlike the popular image in many ways and somewhat like it in others. He has seen his bad temper for example, but says he’s also seen the president’s empathetic side – “when staff are sick he’s on the phone and wants to know how they are”.

Bates does not, however, think Trump is a saint and recognises the problem of his Twitter use. We talk about the furore over the president’s call for four Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to their home countries.

READ MORE: Theresa May's legacy? She enabled a right-wing populist takeover 

Bates says it’s an example of the president’s blunt use of social media but also his focus on the people who vote for him.

“If he nuanced the comment about ‘home states’ and the ‘home states’ of people who come in and start criticising America, you’d go ‘I get that’, but with Trump it’s so blunt it makes people wince at times. He asked George and I about Twitter and we said ‘that’s not the sort of thing I would do, but heh, that’s what got you there’.

“Middle America, the people who have seen their jobs disappear to China, these are the people who are going to vote for Trump. He is focused on his objective and that is trying to get a deal for the people of America. If I was there, I would want something done about the porous state borders that allow people to come in. I would want jobs back to America. I’d want tax cuts. Would I want it more nuanced? Probably.”

Bates is also relaxed about the president’s temper, partly because he’s worked in newspapers and has seen worse. “When he blows his top it’s not pleasant but it made me laugh because people would say ‘oh my God, he’s got a terrible temper’ but I’ve seen newspaper editors who are way worse. I’ve been pinned against a wall by an editor.

“The one thing I would say is you know where you stand with Trump. If we’re going to fight, it’s going to be dirty. I don’t mind that. Alex Salmond used to berate me down the phone but I used to enjoy the clarity you get from that.”

This robustness has helped Bates deal with the criticism he received for supporting Trump’s golf course in Aberdeenshire. Some said the project would damage a Site of Special Scientific Interest, but Bates says the project was good for the economy and the damage minimal.

“We sometimes cut off our nose to spite our face,” he says. “Less than four per cent of the SSSI was directly impacted. The area also relied on one industry – oil and gas – but diversification was critical for our survival and still is.”

Bates has also come to terms with the hatred aimed at him and his wife Sarah Malone, who is executive vice-president of Trump International, Scotland, although he insists the opposition to the golf course from locals was exaggerated. “There was a vociferous minority,” he says, “but when I was at the Evening Express we did a survey of the local community and 82 per cent believed it was a project worth supporting.

“Some people also believed there was a conspiracy, that I was somehow gaining through a connection with Trump, but that was nonsense. Sarah and I got together and married after the golf course opened. I didn’t know her when the first process was happening. But that doesn’t stop the conspiracy theorists. Where it’s different is when people threaten your family. I’ve had death threats, Sarah has been spat upon. I don’t agree with many things Trump does or says but my role as a journalist was to understand these people for myself.”

Bates believes he has applied this philosophy fairly to Trump and others should do the same. Look at the president’s record, he says: the US economy is booming. Bates also believes there’s little chance of Trump being defeated in 2020, partly because of what he saw at that rally in Orlando. “I’ve seen the support he has,” says Bates, “And look at the opposition. I can’t see anybody unseating him.”

The Real Deal by George A Sorial and Damian Bates is published by Broadside at £20.