Three new deep dives into Donald Trump's strength in Midwestern counties that were previously Democratic strongholds - written by conservatives, liberals and a nonpartisan journalist - each highlight a deep craving for respect among supporters of the president and an enduring resentment toward coastal elites that buoys his popularity.
Republicans and Democrats who have traveled to Macomb County in the Detroit suburbs, which Trump won by 12 points after Barack Obama carried it twice, including by 16 points in 2008, came away struck by these dynamics.
• Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, who helped orchestrate Bill Clinton's 1992 victory, has obsessively studied the "Reagan Democrats" in Macomb for more than three decades. He went back after the 2016 election to understand how Trump won Michigan and recently returned to conduct another round of focus groups. "Trump voters complain that there is no respect for President Trump or for people like them who voted for him," Greenberg writes in a new memo summarizing his latest findings, with Nancy Zdunkewicz of Democracy Corps.
One older white working-class woman recalled that, when she first started voting, "There was so much respect for the president. And I don't care what he did, or what he said, there was always respect. It was always 'Mr. President.'" She said she is disgusted by the way people talk about Trump.
"A healthy diet of Fox News is feeding the white working-class men fending off the challenges of Trump's opponents, including those within their own families," Greenberg and Zdunkewicz write. "They . . . feel vindicated that a businessman like Trump has produced a strong macro-economy and kept his promises on immigration. They continue to appreciate how he speaks his mind, unlike a typical politician. . . . One white working class man shared that he 'lost contact with [his] own daughter because of the election.' Others complain that their children and millennial friends challenge their views and suggest the media manipulates them. . . . Families dividing over the 2016 election reflects just how central feelings about Trump have become to people's identities."
• Respect is also a central undercurrent in "The Great Revolt," a new book by Republican operative Brad Todd and conservative columnist Salena Zito. Macomb is one of 10 counties they studied across the five states that tipped the election to Trump to chronicle how he forged his conservative-populist coalition. Here is sampling of quotes from Trump voters interviewed for the book:
"We voted for President Obama and still we are ridiculed. Still we are considered racists," said Cindy Hutchins, a store owner and nurse in Baldwin, Michigan. "There is no respect for anyone who is just average and trying to do the right things."
"Our culture in Hollywood or in the media gives off the distinct air of disregard to people who live in the middle of the country, as if we have no value or do not contribute to the betterment of society," said Amy Giles-Maurer of Kenosha, Wisconsin. "It's frustrating. It really wants to make you stand up and yell, 'We count,' except of course we don't. At least not in their eyes."
"Live in a small or medium-sized town, and you would think we were dragging the country down," said Michael Martin of Erie, Pennsylvania. "We aren't a country just made up of large metropolitan areas. Our politics and our culture up until now has dictated that we are less than in the scale of importance and value."
Todd is a partner at OnMessage, a powerhouse GOP consulting firm, who has helped elect seven sitting senators, five governors and more than two dozen congressmen. Zito is a syndicated columnist from Pittsburgh. Together, they identify seven archetypes of voters who fueled Trump's victory. The chapters include vignettes about three individual voters who fit each mold. Some categories are obvious, like blue-collar workers who have personally experienced a job loss in the past seven years or independents who were amenable to Ross Perot's campaigns two decades earlier. Others are more surprising, such as women under 45 who support gun rights for self-defense reasons. A majority in that category admit in post-election polling that they felt uncomfortable telling friends they supported Trump because they knew they would face disapproval.
"King Cyrus Republicans" is what the authors call evangelicals who stuck with Trump after the "Access Hollywood" tape came out because they wanted a conservative to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. That's a reference to the sixth-century pagan Persian king who released Jews from bondage in Babylon.
Trump's margin was weaker than Mitt Romney's in 86 of the 100 most educated counties in the country. Trump's level of support was higher than Romney's in 1,449 of the 1,500 American counties with the lowest concentration of bachelor's degrees. "The driver of this split is not the college education itself, but the social pressure that comes with living exclusively among other college graduates," Zito and Todd write. "Rotary Reliables" is the name the authors give to the kind of country-club Republicans who refused to support Trump in more highly educated areas of the country but stuck with him in the Rust Belt because they spend their days hanging or working around less-educated blue-collar types.
Notably, people in all seven of their categories expressed frustration, even a year after the election, that they are not understood, respected or valued by the powers that be on the East and West coasts. "In the short span of a generation, the face and focus of the Democratic Party nationally has shifted from a glorification of the working-class ethos to multiculturalist militancy pushed by the Far Left of the party," Zito and Todd argue. "The driving construct of otherness . . . is at its core driven by perceptions of respect. . . . The professional Left focuses heavily on race-related questions in analyzing the Trump vote, but race-tinged subjects were rarely cited by Trump voters interviewed for this book."
• Trump appealed to the "forgotten man," a term his campaign often used, with a message that was infused less with ideology than grievance. He repeatedly benefited from his opponent giving him fodder. "You could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables," Hillary Clinton said in September 2016 at an "LGBT for Hillary" gala in New York. "The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic
• you name it. And, unfortunately, there are people like that. And he has lifted them up."
The Democratic nominee added that "the other half" of Trump's supporters were "people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they're just desperate for change." But this nuance was lost. Many heard Clinton saying they were deplorable, and the gaffe helped galvanized wobbly Republicans. It still stings in some quarters.
• Dan Balz, The Washington Post's chief correspondent, spent the past 16 months interviewing voters in rural areas of the upper Mississippi River valley where Obama won but then broke decisively for Trump. Macomb is suburban and wasn't part of the area Balz explored, but there are notable echoes in his piece. His fascinating report filled a special section in Sunday's newspaper. Some relevant nuggets:
"One of the places I would agree with the hardcore Trump people, they're tired of being treated as the enemy by Barack Obama," said Dennis Schminke, 65, a retired manager at Hormel, the company makes Spam in Austin, Minnesota, an area just north of the border with Iowa.
Trump was the first Republican to carry Mower County, which includes the meatpacking town, since Richard Nixon beat John F. Kennedy there in 1960. Schminke said Trump's appeal there was born in part of resentment toward the Obama presidency. "His comment, the whole thing, it's been worn out to death, that clinging to God and guns, God and guns and afraid of people who don't look like them, blah, blah, blah. Just quit talking down to me," he explained. "I despise Barack Obama. I think primarily because I don't think he thinks very much of people like me. That's just the long and short of it."
Andrew Chesney, 36, a conservative businessman in Freeport, Illinois - the site of the second Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858 and a county that Obama carried in 2008 - said Midwesterners feel let down by political leaders from both parties. "We're constantly being preached to by those that in many cases have never done it," he said. "This is an area that we try to work hard, play by the rules. It's not a fast pace, it's not a fancy pace, but we appreciate it. We like our big vehicles and our large parking spots, and that works for some people and it doesn't work for others."
• Other reporters on our staff routinely hear similar sentiments when interviewing voters. David Miller, a white 54-year-old, talked with The Post at a polling place in Cleveland last Tuesday as he pulled a Republican primary ballot for the first time he could remember to vote in the governor's race. Like so many others, he said he came to feel left behind before the 2016 election. "I mainly was a mainstream Democrat," he told Afi Scruggs. "Every time I turned on the TV, there's a Democrat calling me a racist and I just got tired of it."
• One reason Balz's piece is great is that it's longitudinal: It tracks in a nuanced way how specific people's attitudes about Trump have shifted gradually since he took office. In some cases, folks who reluctantly backed him are more strongly supportive now than then. Others have peeled away as they became fatigued by the drama and scandal that follows this president.
The best illustration is Kurt Glazier, 50, from Sterling, Illinois. He's a state worker, a union member and chairman of the Republican Party in Whiteside County, where Ronald Reagan was born. Balz visited him four times, including long talks in the dining room of his home.
Eight days before the inauguration, Glazier lamented the political divisions that had been building for years. "I very much dislike the fact that a lot of people stereotype Republican individuals, Republican people, that we're racists. I think that is further from the truth," he said.
By midsummer of 2017, Glazier had growing concerns about Trump. "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. "I hoped for more of the making America great again . . . It's almost like it's 'The Apprentice' on a daily basis."
Near the first anniversary of the president taking office, Glazier worried especially that those who voted for Trump are now viewed by others as therefore being like Trump. "I'm far from being a racist," he said. "I'm far from being a bigot. Not everybody makes the crude comments. Not everybody walks and talks like he's a big bully, like the president can do sometimes."
A few weeks ago, Glazier watched Stormy Daniels's interview on CBS's "60 Minutes" and felt "a little saddened" by the steady stream of Trump's self-inflicted mistakes. "It does nothing for his reputation," he said. "Of course, the real die-hard Donald Trump lovers eat this up and they eat these scandals up."
But Glazier drew a distinction between the staunchest Trump supporters and other Republicans - like him. "I think the real party faithful, the educated voters, might be beginning to distance themselves from him, and I wouldn't be too surprised to see a Republican challenger or challengers against Trump," he said. "They wanted so much of a change. But he has some changing to do himself before I would be supportive of him again. . . . A 71-year-old man like he is, I don't foresee him changing a whole lot."