One of the Democrats’ greatest challenges is winning back the so called “Trump triers.” These are the Democrats, Independents and some Republicans that voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, but then switched to vote for Trump in 2016. Extensive interviews conducted by the Washington Post suggest that many of these Trump triers may be pleased with Trump policies, but they remain very uncomfortable with Trump’s tweets, abhorrent behavior and his chaotic management. Do Democrats just write off these people as racist deplorables, or are there common bonds of decency and civility that we all share? Can Democrats bring some of these Trump triers back by appealing to their sense of morality and honesty?
The Washington Post traveled for the first 15 months of Trump’s presidency through the upper Mississippi Valley region. They conducted repeated interviews with Democratic and Republican party leaders, local elected officials and with ordinary citizens. These interviews, specifically with Republicans, yield some valuable and interesting information for Democrats as they try to win back Trump voters.
One of their interviews was with our neighbor, Democratic Congresswoman Cheri Bustos. She represents a western Illinois congressional district carried by Trump. Her insight is especially relevant since she carried this urban/rural district by 60% while Trump edged out Clinton by 1 percent.
Bustos is a Democratic success story that Iowa Starting Line wrote about in January, “A Must Read for Iowa Democrats: How to Talk to Rural Voters.”
Bustos labels the kinds of voters that wanted a change as “Trump triers,” many who voted for President Obama in the past. Obviously, Bustos has some credibility on ways to win back some of the Trump triers since some probably voted for both she and Trump. She summed up the disconnect Democrats have with both rural America and working-class voters by saying, “I think we as a party as a whole wrote off too much of rural America.”
Bustos listed the two-decade economic decline in her district as the primary motivating factor to Trump’s success. Trump’s promises to bring back jobs, end unfair trade pacts and build the wall seemed to the Trump triers as reasonable solutions that Democrats weren’t addressing. “We have to acknowledge why they lost faith in us,” said Bustos.
The Washington Post’s interviews offer insights into the motivation of Trump triers and how Democrats may be able to connect with them.
It’s obvious from the interviews many of these Trump voters are uneasy with Trump’s behavior and tweets. Democrats should be able to find common ground with them while condemning Trump’s abhorrent behavior.
Trump supporters may like the sounds of Trump policies such as his Supreme Court replacement, cutting regulations and draining the swamp, but they condemn his over-the-top comments.
Everett Pannier, Mayor of Morrison, Illinois and registered Independent, offered a perspective on why he has reservations about Trump. “We needed a change,” he said. “They (Trump voters) were caught up in the fact that the guy didn’t back down on what he said. He just kept saying it whether it was well received or not.”
“I’m not quite so sure I should call him a narcissist, but yet I think so…I still look at him as being a big bully,” he said. “When you come out and say, ‘My button is bigger than your button,’ it’s like, wait a minute, this is like playground stuff.”
Dennis Schminke, a Republican Party activist from Austin, Minnesota voiced his concern about the constant chaos and turnover in Trump’s White House.
“In my professional life, I found turnover to be among the most disruptive things that you could have,” he said. “If you want things to get behind and stuff to not get done, then just keep churning people through.” Beyond that, he worried about the effect of the constant turmoil around the president. “People don’t like chaos,” said Schminke.
Kurt Glazier, Sterling, Illinois Republican County Chair echoed the concern about the Trump created turmoil.
“We want to see our country again back to the way it was…Every night when I watch the national news, I wonder what circus is going to be on the news, what they’re going to talk about,” he said. “It’s almost like it’s ‘The Apprentice’ on a daily basis,” Glazier declared.
Mike Valley a commercial fisherman and Trump voter from Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, agreed that Trump pandemonium is harming the country.
“I voted for him,” he said. “We needed change, but I don’t think it’s a change that I expected. Not even close.” (Why?) “The fighting, the bickering, not getting along with one another,” he replied. Valley called the president’s behavior “a little off the rails,” and said, “You gotta start getting along with people.”
Andrew Chesney, a businessman and Republican politician in the northwestern corner of Illinois, expressed his objection to Trump’s attacks on immigrants and other countries.
“I am very close to this issue (immigration) and I don’t share the sentiments of some of my Republican colleagues,” he said. “I can’t speak for everybody,” he said, “but there’s some acceptance to the inflammatory rhetoric — I’m not saying I agree with it — in exchange for policies that are near and dear to our heart.” Chesney added that Trump’s reference to some nations in Africa as “shithole” countries was “unacceptable.”
Austin, Minnesota Mayor Tom Stiehm referred to the unease with the influx of immigrants following a Hormel strike in 1985.
“We saw different groups come in for a number of years. In the mid-’90s, we started getting the Hispanics in, and they stayed and they’re here yet.” Stiehm suggested anti-immigration played a role in Trump’s election. “I wouldn’t say it was a determining factor, but I’d say it was a factor.”
Chris Underwood, a Gay Mills, Wisconsin retired police officer likes Trump but wants him to bring people together. “I like a forceful hand,” he said. “I like when somebody says they’re going to do something and they do it.” But he added, “You can’t accomplish anything if you’re making everybody mad as a president.”
These comments offer at least two takeaways for Democrats. Democrats must have a clear message on job creation, good paying jobs and wage growth.
In addition, Trump voters have real concerns about the President’s behavior, rants and anger. It would appear Democrats can reach some of these Trump voters by emphasizing the need for civility, normalcy and seeking common ground. Putting Democrats in control of the House and Senate is the best insurance policy against greater Trump chaos.
by Rick Smith