“Have they changed their minds yet?”
Over nearly a year, as I have researched voters from all ends of the political spectrum, this is the question I have heard the most from Democrats. Have the Trump voters finally come to their senses? Did that last tweet make them realize how unhinged he is? Are they starting to realize that their lives won’t be better with this president?
These are good questions. After all, health care reform has collapsed for now, there is no tax reform yet, White House staff are at each other’s throats, and the president is complaining about it all to the Boy Scouts.
Lisa from Virginia is a Clinton voter who agrees: “From where I sit, the American people have to be waking up to Trump. His voters must realize that they have been sold a bill of goods and that the emperor has no clothes.”
Ron from Arizona adds, “My friends who voted for Trump are certainly happy about the funding for a wall and the fact that ISIS seems to be vulnerable. I just hope they also see that the swamp is getting thicker and more gooey every day. Give them another year and they will also notice that they have the same old jobs, worse health care, and a president who is just plain clueless about how the government works.”
My research shows that although the Trump base has eroded somewhat, at least 25 percent of the country is solidly in his camp and, more important, is not likely to budge.
As Carl from Massachusetts told me, “I don’t give a hoot about Donald Trump Jr. and whether he is an idiot. I am not wild about what is going on with the recent staff firings and all of the drama, but I don’t care about that much either. I do care about the largest health care fraud bust in history that happened recently. I do care about our economy. I do care that ISIS is almost defeated. I do care about the resolution of this health care bill. I do care about lowering taxes for the middle class. I don’t care about an awkward handshake or a bad tweet.”
The Trump base believes that he is doing a great job, beleaguered by the mistakes of his staff and constantly taunted by a mainstream media that doesn’t want to report on anything that makes the president look successful.
They are solidly on the Trump Team, and that kind of loyalty is rare. Or is it?
In many ways, their passion is like what we see in Patriots fans. Here in New England, the Patriots are beloved: a team that seems to always find a way to win, with a combination of grit, strategy, and talent; a brilliant coach; the most superhuman quarterback in the history of the sport; and a set of values that puts the team first. My friend Ryan, a fan with season tickets nine rows back from the field, loves their work ethic and their commitment to Do Your Job. Ryan and his friends tailgate together, wear the shirts and caps, know every player’s stats, and are outrageously loyal. These fans have the Patriots’ backs no matter what. In fact, the hell with Spygate, Deflategate, Roger Goodell, and all of the clueless football experts who imply that the Patriots ever even considered cheating. And that includes the media, led by evil ESPN. In fact, the more others bad-mouth the Patriots, the more the fans love their winning team.
Outside of New England, football fans are incredulous. Most feel that we have the worst, most immoral team in the history of any sport and that, on any given day, the Patriots will break rules and ruthlessly cheat their way to victory. Professor David DeSteno of Northeastern University, a social psychologist who has written extensively about the power of teams, explains that people who identify strongly with a particular group tend to look for anything that supports their team and will ignore the bad news.
Like Patriots Nation, Trump Nation has no interest in distractions from people who aren’t part of their team. They see critics as jealous losers who like to whine. They explain away the missteps and concentrate on the wins and epic swagger. And just like the Patriots’ fan base when, say, the Super Bowl score has you at a 28-3 disadvantage, the worse things get, the more loyal they are, and the louder they cheer. The team needs them, and they need each other.
“How can you not want to be part of Trump Nation?” asks Brad from Ohio. “At the core, we believe in being in charge of your own life. Do you want someone that doesn’t know you telling you what to do, how to spend your money, and looking over your shoulder 24/7? No! Do you want to work hard in multiple jobs and then have your money divvied up to the nonworkers? No! There would be no incentive to work then, and the US would become another Third World country.”
As Michael from Texas explains, “Trump is doing what he said he was going to do. I don’t love the sloppiness, but I give him huge props for his obsession with accountability. He made promises, and he is taking them seriously. Everyone in this country knows what he promised, and now we are watching him trying diligently every day to deliver on those promises — from the wall to repealing Obamacare. You might not like those policies, but those who voted for him do. “
He’s a different kind of leader, and that’s what his voters wanted. Corinne from South Dakota says he’s a breath of fresh air, Jerry from Arkansas says Trump is the Action President, and Joe from Nebraska cheers, “The Trump team are novices in the political arena, but remember that’s what we wanted. We didn’t want politicians, and so I forgive them their missteps. Drain the sewer!”
From the point of view of voters on the Trump team, their leader deserves respect for trying to keep his promises while he is under siege from a biased press. They know that John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, will find the leakers and that Obamacare is still a disaster.
Many Democrats assume that they can sit by and watch a one-term president who will self-destruct. Sure, it’s possible. But it is unlikely that the Trump base will suddenly walk away from the team they love, any more than Patriots fans were willing to jump ship over a few slightly deflated footballs. And the more the base experiences criticism and challenges, the more they will hunker down, put on their red caps, and cheer at the rallies. In fact, if the economy continues to do well, some of those who have recently left The Red Team just might come back.
Clearly, this is our country and not football, but our inability to see both sides of the same coin limits us. What if Democrats worked as hard to understand Trump voters as many people did to understand why some people see a white and gold dress and others see a black and blue dress in that viral set of photos from last year? Just the same, what if Trump voters did the same in reverse? We could all gain by walking in each other’s shoes, by thinking about times when we were so committed to a cause that it seemed to defy logic.
Democrats can come through in the clutch by strengthening their own team and rethinking the priorities of their community. That means more than crying for impeachment or resisting. Instead of feeding on the latest intrigue in the West Wing — a tempting reality show, for sure — a new team needs to form with new leaders and a fresh agenda that inspires more working-class people. The Democrats need a revitalized game plan: their own version of Obamacare 2.0, their own solutions for job growth, a compelling policy for welcoming immigrants into our country, and their own innovative ideas for how the United States can win in the 21st century. That also means finding moderate Republicans to work with and walking away from the partisanship and one-upmanship that belittles our country.
Diane Hessan is an entrepreneur, author, and chair of C Space. She has been in conversation with 200 Clinton voters and 200 Trump voters weekly since last December. Follow her on Twitter at @DianeHessan.