I recently had dinner with a woman who plans to vote for Donald Trump, and the conversation was interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which was its implications for the Clinton campaign.
Betty (not her real name) is in her 70s and is a politically aware, active member of a prominent and well-connected Republican family in a red state. (This state supported McCain over Obama in 2008 by better than a 2-1 margin and it voted for Romney by ~2.5-1.)
Here are the things I took away from our dinner conversation. (I’m doing my best to paraphrase literally, although here and there a bit of interpretation is required.)
- Betty despises everything about Ted Cruz and sees the GOP’s social conservative wing as being responsible for ruining the party. She understands the ways in which the nation’s demographics are changing the landscape and seems to agree with the notion that the social conservative movement is in decline.
- She finds all the attention being paid to issues like Roe vs Wade and North Carolina’s HB2 to be a waste of time because the country has real problems it should instead be focused on.
- That said, she is uncomfortable with government actions that single out certain groups for special protections. When pushed, she grudgingly acknowledges that sometimes these laws are prompted by those who discriminate against minority populations.
- She believes there is no chance that Roe will ever be overturned (and she does not believe it should be).
- She’s baffled by how willing certain elements in her own party are to intrude on the social freedoms of citizens. “We’re supposed to be the party of freedom,” she says, and efforts to restrict how people choose to live are anathema to her.
- She does not like Donald Trump and is very put off by much of what he says…
- …but she makes clear that she “is not afraid of him.”
- She appears to regard many of his offensive statements and positions as being merely electioneering. She does not believe that if elected he would act on the things that scare his opponents.
- I suspect, from conversations I have had with one of her family members, that this position has been settled on fairly recently. Apparently her disgust with all parties during the state’s primary/caucus process was such that she literally walked out.
- She will not vote, under any circumstances, for Hillary Clinton.
I suspect that a deeper excavation of points 7 and 8 would yield some fascinating insights. Were I conducting such an interview, I think my primary goal might be to understand whether the stance is a result of what she actually believes, or is it instead a function of cognitive dissonance driven by her distaste for Clinton. That is, does she really believe Trump doesn’t mean what he says, or has she talked herself into that position because her feelings about Hillary force her to make peace with a candidate she might otherwise loathe?
I don’t know. And in truth what Betty thinks couldn’t matter less. In her state Clinton would be lucky to pull 25% of the vote if she were running against Osama bin Laden.
What does matter is the degree to which Betty’s thought processes reflect those of undecided voters in battleground states like Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Colorado. Are Hillary’s negatives so strong that significant numbers of voters in swing states can be talked into the idea that Trump doesn’t mean what he says, that despite a long and well-chronicled record of Donald Being Donald he’s secretly rational?
This isn’t a question for the Democrats in 2016. It’s the question for Democrats in 2016.