“YOU HAVE TO ADMIT, Trump has done more in the 14 months he’s been in office to further the best interests of the country than anyone on the left can accept,” says Jack, a Republican from California. Although Jack supports increased gun control, and worries about Trump’s meeting with North Korea, he is generally happy with the president’s progress. “There is certainly a lot to cringe about, but when I consider the alternative — a career politician with more skeletons in her closet than a Halloween party store — I am OK with the brash, nasty guy.”
While progressives focus on the Robert Mueller Russia investigation, the constant churn in White House staff, tariffs that seem to be backfiring, and the president’s unwillingness to read his notes prior to a phone call with Vladmir Putin, all is well — mostly — in Trumpland.
In my ongoing research with 450 voters from across the political spectrum, 225 voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Despite the drama and chaos surrounding our president, over 90 percent of those who voted for him tell me that they have no regrets about their choice. To them, hope and change is finally here: a president whose outrage matches theirs, who is committed daily to focusing on their key issues, and who is moving at record speed. Says Theresa from Virginia, “The establishment is turning out to be the Titanic — and the rogue captain is off on a speedboat.”
The predominant theme for Trump voters is the economy. Jeff, a Wall Street executive, sends me statistics weekly about improvements in the Dow Jones, unemployment rates, and consumer confidence. For most, however, it’s more about how those metrics are affecting both their psyches and their pocketbooks. Just as Hillary Clinton’s remark about “deplorables” was the nail in the coffin for her candidacy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s remark about tax cuts producing “crumbs” for workers made over 80 percent of my voters recoil. “I would like Pelosi to take a look at my paycheck,” says Hope from Ohio. “Maybe an extra $252 every month isn’t much to her or to the liberal elites, but to me, it has been life-changing.” Hope says her neighbors feel the same way, and that one neighbor was moved to tears when she saw the difference in her take-home pay. Ron, a conservative from Mississippi, agrees. “Down here, there is a feeling of momentum. In our churches and even in our bars, people are talking about more business, more pay and less taxes. I know that there are other issues in the country, but when you are in debt and trying to feed your family, not much else matters.”
People often ask me how Trump supporters can ignore the chaos in the White House, the character flaws, and the lying. It’s mostly because over half of Americans can’t make ends meet; people report how they pay more than half of their income in rent, avoid going to the doctor because they can’t afford the copayment, and lie awake at night worrying about whether they can pay utility bills. Says Stan, of West Virginia, who took on an extra evening job temporarily so that his family could travel to his niece’s wedding: “I am so tired that I barely know what those kids in Parkland are marching for.”
Trump supporters are troubled by the president’s behavior, but it doesn’t surprise them. Says Kenny from Louisiana, “I think Trump lies daily, and by that I mean, he’s a classic salesman. Everything is millions and billions, smooth and the best. He won’t be negative about anything. Do I think he has stuff in the closet that he doesn’t want out and may lie about? Yes. I couldn’t care less. He never preached he was a saint and then all of the sudden we found out he had horns. We all knew this and accepted it.”
“Trump was not my first, second, or third choice in the GOP pool,” says Lucinda from Kentucky. “I think he needs to quit tweeting and quit responding to personal attacks from the media and celebrities. He just needs to tweet about what he is doing for the country. To me, he is very immature, but performance-wise, he’s doing a great job.” Lucinda and others have a list of what they see as the president’s accomplishments: more than 2 million jobs created, the elimination of unnecessary regulations, reduced illegal immigration, the decline in the threat of ISIS, and the renegotiation of unfair trade agreements.
Adds Britta from Michigan, “Whenever we are appalled about Trump’s sexual misconduct, let’s remember that he is not the first sexual predator to occupy the Oval Office.”
Interestingly, two-thirds of Trump supporters tell me they believe that Mueller should be allowed to continue his investigation. Most believe that the special counsel’s effort is a very expensive “witch hunt,” but they believe that the optics of firing Mueller would mean that Trump has something to hide.
Translation: We like the economy, we like the progress, we don’t like the man very much.
When I ask Trump supporters about the Democrats, most no longer know what the party stands for. Some see a party that doesn’t represent them: They believe that the Democrats cater to the very rich (“celebrities, football players, and Ivy Leaguers”) or the very poor — but not to them. Or, they observe a party obsessed with racial and gender issues above all else. Phil, from Florida, responded by sending me a comic strip, showing a TV announcer: “Tonight we skip the tremendous growing economy and go straight to a bad word Trump said.”
Here’s the irony. Trump supporters tell me they are open to voting for people from either party whose priorities are close to theirs. They are especially interested in candidates “with good values” who care about helping them prosper. Says Jonas from New Mexico, “I just cannot see myself voting for a liberal Democrat who hates guns and loves abortion, like some of the leaders in Congress — but I can certainly get excited about some new, more reasonable leader who wants to help my children realize the American Dream.” This is partially why moderate Democratic candidates, like Doug Jones of Alabama and Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, are succeeding. They are getting support both from progressives and from moderate Republicans, including those who voted for the President.
As the Democrats search for the soul of their party, these nuances make all the difference. Although the president lies, Trump supporters believe almost all politicians lie; although they don’t like the president’s style, they overlook it in support of priorities that matter to them; although they cringe at the president’s words, they support him because of what they feel he has accomplished. And, although they would never vote for someone on the far left, they are open to someone – Republican or Democrat – whom they believe has their back.
Until then, that brash, nasty guy remains their champion.
Clarification: The voters in this column were given pseudonyms to protect their identity.Diane Hessan is an entrepreneur, author, and chair of C Space.She has been in conversation with 450 voters across the political spectrum weekly since December 2016. Follow her on Twitter @DianeHessan.