Without reservation, I voted for Trump both times he ran for president. If he runs in 2024, I will vote for him again, subject to the condition set out further down. But first, this …
I believe the 2020 election was rigged. While the few rallies Biden held struggled to attract miniscule attendance, Trump drew massive and wildly enthusiastic crowds wherever he went—examples: Butler, PA and National record-setting Trump Train in Arizona.
Using the pandemic as an excuse, Biden mostly stayed hunkered down in his basement during what was arguably the most consequential presidential campaign in U.S. history.
A few days before the 2020 election here in Georgia, I made get-out-the-vote reminder calls to 37 long-time conservative acquaintances, all of whom voted for Trump in 2016. What I learned during those calls came as a shock: six of the 37 told me they would not be voting for Trump this time under any circumstances.
One of the six is a conservative Christian Republican I’ve known for more than half a century. Four years earlier, it took some hard selling on my part to convince her to vote for Trump—she was turned off by crude things he said during the campaign. When I called her prior to the 2020 election, this is what she told me, and these were her exact words:
“John, I will never vote for him again. I hate him. He is so mean.”
I tried encouraging my friend to change her thinking, but ran into a stone wall.
Although happy with Trump’s accomplishments as president, she just couldn’t get past the unpleasant side of his personality. The other five felt the same. In a free society, some people will not vote for a candidate they do not like, regardless of that candidate’s qualifications. Given the enormity of what was at stake in 2020—the survival of our Republic, literally—I believe not voting for Trump because of his personality was like cutting off America’s head to spite its nose. But whether I agreed with that decision or not, in a democracy every voter gets to make up his or her own mind.
Revulsion to the unseemly side of Trump’s personality is why suburban women were credited with delivering the House to Democrats in 2018. That was certainly true where I live. Suburban women here in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District gave the seat to a Democrat for the first time in 39 years.
Many Trump supporters say they like him because he’s a fighter: “When Trump gets punched, he punches back!” I too like that he’s a fighter, up to the point where his style of punching back causes even some of his own supporters to recoil.
A lot of people who ended up voting for him in 2020 were nevertheless dispirited at the smash-mouth way he often responded to critics. At times he seemed to struggle with distinguishing things that were important from those that weren’t. To use a golfing analogy, he often strayed from the short grass and got bogged down in the rough, where the Trump-hating media relentlessly pummeled him for days on end.
What was so discouraging to many Trump voters is there are ways to punch back that don’t come across as mean-spirited. It’s hard to understand how mocking LeBron James’ intelligence or Carly Fiorina’s face would attract a single fence-sitter to the Republican side. Ditto referring to NFL kneelers as “SOBs,” Rosie O’Donnell as a “fat pig,” Omarosa as a “dog,” or an aging porn star (Stormy Daniels) as “horseface.”
That kind of punching back made him come across as spiteful … and therefore unlikeable. Voters generally will not support a president they dislike, and some will take out their ill feelings on that president’s party, as happened in the 2018 midterms.
Trump became wealthy in one of the toughest real estate markets in the world, so I can understand why he developed the habit of striking back at critics with razor-sharp elbows. But winning the hearts and minds of undecided voters is an entirely different game that requires a far higher level of finesse.
MY PRE-ELECTION SURVEY
In 2020, Georgia had 7.6 million registered voters, 41% of whom identified as Republicans. Using those figures, 3.16 million Republican votes were available to have been cast for Trump. (He actually received 2,461,854 votes compared to 2,473,666 for Biden, a winning margin of 11,779 for Biden.)
According to my admittedly unscientific pre-election survey referred to near the top of this article, 16.2% of people I surveyed who’d voted for Trump in 2016 did not vote for him in 2020 (6 people out of 37 surveyed equals 16.2%). That intuitively seems too high to extrapolate to the overall election, so for the sake of argument let’s say that only one-tenth of that percentage—or 1.62% of statistically available Republican voters—didn’t vote for Trump because they’d had all they could take of his unrefined remarks.
1.62% of 3.16 million potential Republican votes equals 51,192 lost votes, more than four times the amount needed to have given the election to Trump. Trump would have won the election in a walk if not for the off-putting side of his personality.
MY CONDITIONAL SUPPORT FOR TRUMP IN 2024
If Trump is the GOP nominee three years from now, I will vote for him without hesitation. But to earn my support in the Republican primary, he will have to change in a way I’m not sure his outsized ego will allow.
To assure another presidency along with an overwhelming mandate from the American people, I believe he must broaden his appeal well beyond his conservative base. I further believe the best, and possibly only, way he can achieve that is to deliver a heartfelt address to the nation, promising if elected to project the kind of presidential demeanor most Americans expect and apologizing for over-the-top comments he’s made in the past.
Would he ever do such a thing? There’s not much downside.
By John Eidson, Blue State Conservative
A 1968 electrical engineering graduate of Georgia Teach and now retired, John Eidson is a freelance writer in Atlanta and a regular contributor to The Blue State Conservative.
Photo by Gilbert Mercier at Flickr.