Now that Donald Trump’s presidency is over, how do the Americans who supported him at the beginning of his political run feel about his performance in the Oval Office? I put that question to 30 men and women who wrote to me in August 2015 to explain their reasons for backing his insurgent candidacy.
Among the eight who replied, all in the second week of January, after the storming of the Capitol, some persist in supporting Trump; others have turned against him; still others have lost faith in the whole political system. They do not constitute a representative sample of Trump voters. But their views, rendered in their own words, offer more texture than polls that tell us an approval rating.
As I did in 2015, I’ll let the Trump voters have their say. But this time I’ll conclude with some thoughts of my own, in my capacity as a Trump critic who knows that Americans have no choice but to coexist, as best we can, because our political and ideological differences are never going away.
Our first correspondent, a communications executive for a hospital, argued in 2015 that Trump was a good choice because he was an authentic leader and negotiator who had run large organizations. He voted for Trump again in 2020. Here is what he’s thinking today:
I’ve been a Republican all my life. I subscribe to conservative values both economically and morally, and the Republican Party has always been my political home. The best way I can sum up the past four years is that Trump made it very hard for someone like me to be a Republican. My life is as close to the American dream as possible. I have been married for almost 20 years to the same woman, I have two boys—one is disabled (autism), but I have the resources to take care of him, and a comfortable middle-class job. I attend a church and generally don’t suffer any real external strife. I’m very fortunate.
There were things about the Trump administration I liked. I was a huge fan of his Supreme Court appointments. I supported his economic policies. COVID-19 has been horrible for the nation, but in assessing Trump’s response, I think he did the best he could and it could have been a lot worse. More than 300,000 Americans dead is a tragedy but the original projections were in the millions, so he must have done something right. [Note: Almost 400,000 had died by the time this was written, and the initial projections had varied; some were as low as 81,000.] I think when the history of Operation Warp Speed is written by disinterested professional historians, it will be remembered in the same manner we remember the Manhattan Project. Maybe Trump will get credit for that, maybe he won’t, but I do think he deserves some.
The problem with Trump is that every time he opens his mouth he says something racist, misogynistic, or, in the past week, downright treasonous that makes me want to crawl under a rock. For the first few years, I would defend his behavior, but eventually I just couldn’t.
The events of this past week by a few thousand protesters egged on by President Trump are a travesty that no reasonable person can excuse. I don’t talk much politics anymore, unless it’s with close friends or relatives. For the first time in my professional life I feel [that] stating my political affiliation would cost me, if not my job, then at least my professional standing with peers. For that reason I ask again that you keep these comments anonymous.
So while I think Trump’s policies were supportable, his rhetoric and personal style was not. Savannah Guthrie actually summed up the problem pretty well when she said, “You are the president of the United States, not someone’s crazy uncle.” I don’t think Trump ever got that.
I think in the long term the country will be fine. We’ve been through a lot as a nation and the arc of history bends toward justice, but in the short term I think Trump’s rhetoric and actions will leave a huge part of the country adrift. The actions of the rioters last week are inexcusable, but what about the millions of people who voted for Trump because they just always check the box marked “R” or agree with him on his policies? Where are they going to go? Will they have a political home? And if they don’t, what happens to our elected body politic?
I am going to be watching the Joe Biden administration closely. I do not think the election was stolen; I think he won fair and square. I had an opportunity to meet Biden when he was doing the Cancer Moonshot at the end of the Obama administration. He has built a political career on two pillars: relationship-building consensus and personal empathy. That’s not exciting to the left who would rather be led by someone like Bernie Sanders or [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], but it may be what the country needs right now. And in case you were wondering, I’m not talking about bipartisanship for its own sake. I thought in 2008 and continue to think Barack Obama is a pompous asshole. I don’t feel the same way about Biden.
The second correspondent argued in 2015 that Trump knows politics is a joke. “It really doesn’t matter who becomes president; it still doesn’t give the American people any power,” she wrote. “At least with Trump, I’ll be greatly entertained & maybe, just maybe, he can shake up the system. Many are right; it’s not about trusting Trump; it’s a collective middle finger to the establishment.”
“I didn’t vote for Trump the second time,” she emailed. “I didn’t vote for anyone. I still don’t believe in our current political system. I feel the chips are stacked against us and there’s not much we can do to change that. I thought Trump could’ve been different but learned quickly that he was just like all the other politicians and maybe even worse.” She has now “completely stepped away from politics” because she cannot handle the drama and hate. “Trump is a very manipulative and polarizing figure. He’s definitely contributed to the immense divisiveness of the country,” she wrote. “At first, I felt guilty for ever supporting Trump, but I think the Republican and Democratic Parties are mostly to blame. They’re the ones that created the hot mess for him to thrive in.”
The third correspondent told me in 2015 that he’d vote for Trump, despite knowing that he would do a terrible job:
I really am at the point of letting the whole thing burn down and explode. Trump would help us get there faster and more efficiently. Like the Joker from The Dark Knight, I just want to see the world burn … Once it’s all burnt down maybe we can have that constitutional convention we really need to fix things and get this country back on track if it still exists.
In fact, he now says, he reconsidered his position in 2016, once it became clear that Trump could actually win.
Never voted for him and voted for Joe in 2020. But Trump did live true to what I thought about him being like the Joker from Batman. He tore it all down and in a very bad way. Worst president in U.S. history. I guess one thing is that it may tear apart the Republican party, so we get more than two parties in this country. A center right party that isn’t run by a wannabe dictator would be good for progress maybe. The Trump side of the Republican Party is hopeless … Government was rigged in a way before to benefit special interests, corporations, rich people paying less taxes, etc. But the sheer graft and crony politics from him is madness.
In contrast, the fourth correspondent claimed in 2015 that “Trump is refreshingly blunt, honest, and pro-American.” Today? “Trump will go down as the most charismatic and successful president despite a mere four-year term,” he wrote. “Trump might not run again, but his voters now know what the standard is.” In his telling, “My observations were slightly off back in 2015.
I underestimated the number of attacks that the intelligence bureaus would launch against Trump. I underestimated the fervor of the media in its incessant effort to destroy him … Trump was and is an existential threat to the Washington establishment. They had to remove Trump even if it meant fixing two elections and manufacturing two impeachments.” (I always find it odd that Trump and some of his staunchest supporters claim that even the 2016 election, which he won, was rigged.)
The fifth correspondent, who wrote in 2015, “It’s going to take a successful capitalist to stop and repair the damage that’s already been done by Barack Obama in his attempt to destroy the greatest capitalistic nation ever,” had this to say after observing Trump in the White House:
As far as the country’s economy goes and the advancement in job creation, the building of a border wall, tax cuts, eliminating job-killing regulations and making our lives financially better and more stable, President Trump was phenomenally successful. He was even successful on foreign affairs, doing what no President has done before, by scaling back the number of troops and conflicts, [and] brokering peace deals in the Middle East.
The only problem this President has, and has had, for over four years, is the Democrats, along with the media and their constant dismissal of his win. It’s been exhausting that they didn’t do anything but lie and obstruct him at every point, instead of helping him in his attempt to make America great again. He has exposed everything bad about our country and its elected officials. He was our last great hope, and almost did everything that he promised us, and then the coordinated worldwide attack to take him down along with our country happened. We are tired and exhausted, but we know that this man should be remembered in history as one of the greatest Presidents, ever. I’m proud to have supported him.
The sixth correspondent explained in 2015 that on two issues he cared about greatly, trade protectionism and immigration restrictionism, Trump had been consistent in his position for years.
How does he feel about Trump today? Not good:
I became disillusioned with the Trump Presidency almost right out of the gate. I watched with growing frustration as Trump refused to act on DACA, immolated his honeymoon period in stupid fights over inauguration crowd size, and incompetent executive action via a rushed travel ban. The disillusionment moved to disgust with Trump’s actions against [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions. One of the most effective, ideologically sympathetic, and loyal officials in the Trump administration who was unceremoniously dumped simply for trying to avoid the appearance of impropriety by recusing himself from the Russia investigation.
There haven’t been a lot of wins in the Trump years for people that were hoping Trump represented an opportunity to change the GOP and enact good policy. The GOP largely has adopted all the character flaws of Trump and morphed [them] into a kind of confrontational Reaganism. The sole bright spot has been on trade issues largely because U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has proven himself to be qualified and ideologically sympathetic, and the assistance of Jerome Powell in monetary policy during the trade war can’t be understated either. But even trade hasn’t been without its moments. The decision to levy tariffs against our allies rather than trying to build a bloc to confront China is a failure.
In 2020 I did reluctantly vote for Trump again after debating voting for Howie Hawkins and the Green Party. I largely decided to vote for Trump again due to the rhetoric coming out after the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett and punitive measures proposed as revenge for the audacity of Trump to nominate a Supreme Court justice during his term of office: statehood proposals for Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, court packing schemes, etc.
Every day since November 3 I have regretted my vote. I have watched friends and loved ones descend rabbit holes of conspiracy theory. Most of my interactions online have been trying to convince people I care about that the election was not stolen. It has been like playing whack-a-mole starting with Sharpiegate in Arizona, to Dominion voting-machine conspiracies, to the idea [that] state legislatures can unilaterally choose new electors, to the lie that the Vice President can override the certified electoral votes from the states. I have watched with horror as otherwise smart and successful people gobble this garbage up.
These lies have done enormous damage to the country, culminating in the shameful and disgusting events of January 6. The lies were started by Donald Trump, they were fueled by elements of conservative media, and cynically exploited by elected Republicans to fundraise and build a name for themselves. Even if you wanted to ignore that the President ginned up a coordinated attack on the Article I branch of government (which you shouldn’t!), he betrayed his supporters by lying to them and his lies have gotten them killed.
Trump needs to be impeached and removed from office on a unanimous basis, and it should be done as quickly as possible. Not just for the sake of preventing Trump from a future of holding office, but also because the precedent needs to be set that similar moves taken by other Presidents in the future will not be tolerated. On January 6, the unthinkable (a violent mob descending on the Capitol to achieve a political outcome) became the thinkable. Impeachment and removal will be a step toward making it unthinkable again.
On a less important but relevant note for those on the Right, it would also allow us the freedom to advocate for populist policies without the distraction and deadweight Trump has been.
The seventh correspondent is a self-described liberal who cast votes for John Kerry and Barack Obama before backing Trump because he was worried that the United States of America was not winning anymore. “I do not believe that I am a racist, sexist, homophobic, or any other negative label that has been affixed to Trump supports,” he wrote in 2015. “Yes, I really do feel that Donald Trump has the interests of America at heart. He has already made his money and lived a life of glamour and fame, and another few billion dollars won’t have any real impact on his quality of life. Rather, I genuinely believe that Trump feels the need to fight for the country he loves.”
His assessment today:
A lot has changed in my life over the past five years. Then, I was an atheist. Now I am a devout Christian. Then, I was a newly married 29-year-old man. Now I am a 34-year-old father of two. Then, I had just started to turn away from the Democrat Party and embrace Donald J. Trump as a long-shot Presidential candidate, now I live and breathe MAGA.
The truth is that my support for President Trump has never wavered, and has only grown over the years. President Trump did something that very few politicians in my lifetime have done: He followed through on his campaign promises. He put America first; he renegotiated trade deals; he built the wall; he has worked to end wars that should have been ended long ago; he forged new Middle East peace deals; he strengthened our military greatly and drastically improved the VA; and he made the economy absolutely boom. [Note: The wall along the border is far from complete and Trump’s record on the VA is mixed, to say the least.]
He is worried by Trump’s loss but retains hope in America and counsels love across political divides:
Do I wish that President Trump would continue to serve as our President for the next four years? Of course! In fact, I believe with every ounce of my being that President Trump won the 2020 Election. But the Swamp (also known as the Deep State, or Uniparty) is much deeper, more threatening, and downright corrupt and malicious than many of us imagined. And now with Big Tech banishing President Trump and countless other Conservatives from their platforms in the most brazen act of censorship this side of North Korea, I fear that the fabric of our country is fraying.
BUT … all hope is not lost. I love Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I love this country, and I love my fellow Americans. So many forces within our country and abroad (looking at you, CCP) are trying to turn Americans against each other. They are practically urging a second Civil War, with Conservatives pitted against Liberals in a bitter fight to the death. But as tempting as that may be for extremists on both sides, most of us just want to raise a loving family, hold a decent job, and be kind to others. Many of my best friends and closest family members are Liberals or Joe Biden voters, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. As Jesus said in Mark 12:31, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In this volatile age, those are words that I think we should all take to heart.
The final correspondent argued in 2015 that Trump was an alpha male who loved America. Her 2020 email was easily the longest––so long that I can’t include it all. Here is the main thrust of it:
Please keep my name secret as we are living in dangerous times for Trump supporters, and people are getting canceled and losing their jobs, punished for wrongthink, etc. I don’t think we have free speech anymore in this country. I don’t attend rallies, wear Trump gear, or actually go anyplace these days except to buy groceries. I try and keep a low profile but I devour the news on the internet so I think I am pretty well-informed on Trump, election fraud, and COVID, which are all important topics to me. Here are my thoughts:
President Trump did more for the world in the cause of liberty, prosperity, and peace than any other president in my lifetime, and I am 71. He brought peace to the Middle East, FFS. Unlike Obama, he didn't just talk about it; he did it, and he deserves at least three Nobel Peace Prizes, maybe four, hard to keep up. I will continue to support him for the rest of my life.
I am 100 percent certain that this election was stolen and that Donald J. Trump is our rightful president for the next four years. I saw the evidence, the videos, the news clips which showed him leading and then he lost votes which went to a third-party placeholder before being given to Biden. I saw the boarded up windows which prevented the Republican poll watchers from participating, and how in some places where the judge allowed them in, they had to use binoculars because the Democrats still kept them 20 feet away if not more … All we wanted was a free and fair election and a chance to be heard. That was denied us …
Democrats bitched for four years about the election being stolen from Hillary [Clinton] but we didn’t shut them up and curtail their free speech like Democrats are doing to us, as well as Twitter, Facebook, etc. Now they all are trying to shut us up. Why, if the election was fair and honest? Twitter is a cesspool of hate; I do not understand why anybody goes on there. That being said, Social Media has no right to decide what information I am permitted to read. They are supposed to be a platform for free speech and the exchange of ideas, but instead they block President Trump and ban conservative views. Then they went after Parler. Then they went after Gab. Facebook. Twitter, all of them are in this suppression together. What are they afraid of? Free speech? They should be regulated like Ma Bell because they are basically a utility company now, and without social media a politician’s message cannot be heard. Hence no free speech in the public square.
If you don’t agree with Democrats, then the Dems use social media to punish you for wrongthink. You are canceled. You can lose your job. You go on a blacklist. People who support Trump or worked in his administration are now blacklisted as punishment for their beliefs. This is what they do in communist countries, not free America. What the hell has happened to our country in the past year anyway? Riots and looting are permitted if performed by antifa but not peaceful protests by Trump supporters. Antifa infiltrates our rallies to make us look bad. Nobody cares. It is not investigated. [The Freedom of Information Act] is denied, citing privacy concerns. Thus anger among conservatives continues to build up like a volcano about to explode because we are stymied at every turn and there is no outlet, no justice, just corruption.
We had the greatest economy going for everybody … Unemployment was down for Blacks and hispanics. Business was booming. And then along came the Wuhan Flu from China (note: Hong Kong Flu was never called racist, Spanish Flu was never called racist, just all of a sudden we can’t name the flu after the country of origin anymore because “racism” WTF). This Flu was supposed to be so deadly that people were going to drop dead in the streets and foam at the mouth, so the President asked that we shut down the country for two weeks to flatten the curve to make sure the hospitals were not overrun. I complied. I had enough toilet paper and paper towels for a month. But then the lockdown continued … week after week … month after month … I have to stand in line at the store to be allowed in and hope the shelves are not bare … just like in commie countries. People are selling single rolls of TP in the parking lot. I am running out of supplies. I can’t get a haircut, let alone a dye job.
We are now nine months into the two-week shutdown. Small businesses have been destroyed including my little arts and craft business, which provided supplemental income to my retirement. Even if the lockdown were lifted tomorrow and people were told that the crisis was over, small business is never coming back. Why bother when we now know the government can shut us down again at any time and we can lose our investment? Besides, the brainwashing is too complete. People are still going to wear masks forever (not me) because they won’t trust that the crisis is over. They will still be afraid to eat out at a restaurant and attend events because the brainwashing is that ingrained into them now and we do not trust our institutions to tell us the truth anymore anyway …
They told us to self-isolate and not see our family for months on end … to cancel Thanksgiving and Christmas. They told us we couldn’t go to church and sing but we could go to Democrat-approved BLM riots which were based on a lie anyway. The government, especially the Dem governors, got to determine which businesses were essential and could remain open, and what they could sell. Back in the spring [Governor Gretchen] Whitmer decided that we couldn’t buy seeds to plant gardens, or buy baby clothes. Who gave the government the right to do this stuff? How come I can go to Walmart and Costco but can’t go to a mom and pop store, which would probably be less crowded? The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees every American the right to life, liberty, and property, but the government took away my property and my ability to make a living with the lockdown. It was unconstitutional (to say nothing of it not working, as the states with the most severe lockdowns have the most cases of COVID, if you can trust the numbers, i.e., Florida vs. California). Where are the lawsuits? How come nobody is standing up for my rights, including my elected GOP reps? Everything is a health crisis now so it’s okay to suspend the Constitution without due process. Only Trump stands up against the Dems for my rights.
In closing, I’d like to address this last correspondent directly. First, I’m so sorry about the loss of your business. And I share your dismay at the pandemic. I’ve been locked down for months. I miss my friends so much. I didn’t get to see my grandparents this Christmas, not because anyone told me I couldn’t, but because I studied the spread of COVID-19, and gathering didn’t seem safe. I miss restaurants and bars, too. I will return to them. And believe me: The majority of Biden voters want so badly for this pandemic to end, and to return to normal as soon as possible.
Because I am a journalist who frequently criticized Trump, you may regard me as an “enemy of the people.” But as much as I wanted Biden to win, I still actively sought out allegations of election irregularities. If my inquiries had turned up any evidence of fraud that could’ve changed the outcome, I would’ve shouted it from the rooftops. Instead, I found a lot of misinformation being spread in an effort to raise money from the Republican base. Some very unethical but savvy people turn disaffection into political contributions. I urge you to look into how much was raised and how it was spent––and, more generally, to at least consider the perspectives of the conservative writers that the Christian author and essayist Alan Jacobs assembles here. I imagine that when Barack Obama was president, you sometimes criticized him, and when you did so, that didn’t mean you were disrespecting everyone who voted for him. The same goes for many of the attacks on Trump: They are aimed at the man himself, not all of his supporters. As for the future, every one of my anti-Trump friends in the deep-blue state where I live is committed to fair federal elections every two years in perpetuity. And while a small faction would like to limit your free-speech rights and mine, or take away your guns, lots of us who voted against Trump twice and for Biden are staunchly opposed. I expect my side to win.
When I’m feeling discouraged about America’s future, I turn to history, not because all of its lessons are encouraging, but because it reminds me that the United States has overcome challenges more formidable than any we face today––thank goodness we are not in a Civil War where brothers are fighting on battlefields, in a decade-long Depression, or facing Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany as they try to take over the world. Let us celebrate the pleasant surprises and mobilize to meet the catastrophes as neighbors trying to improve the future, not paralyzed by the present or stewing about the past.