A Letter to Donald Trump Supporters With One Big Question

You’re right to mistrust conventional politicians. But why do you think he’ll treat you any better?

Rebecca Cook / Reuters

Dear Donald Trump Supporters:

You’re fed up. This much I understand. You’re fed up with politicians who say one thing on the campaign trail, like that they’re going to stop illegal immigration, and then do another in Washington; you’re fed up with insiders who rig the system for their benefit at your expense; and you’re fed up with coastal media elites and their insular subculture.

On some level I sympathize. In the last presidential election, I couldn’t bring myself to vote for any of the candidates. I just left it blank. I wanted nothing to do with my awful options.

What I don’t understand is why you think a President Trump would treat us better. If you elect the billionaire, what makes you think that he will use whatever talents that he possesses to address your grievances rather than to benefit himself? After all, he’s a man who has zealously pursued his self-interest all his life.

He’s done so as a developer in New York City, where one must be a connected insider to succeed in real estate. He is himself a member of the media elite: a reality television start who had lucrative relationships with NBC and Univision. When he has a problem with Fox News, he calls Roger Ailes on the phone!

Remember that moment in the Republican debate where he talked about giving money to politicians so that, if he wanted them to do something, they would? Then he was asked, you gave money to Hillary Clinton, so what, exactly, did she do for you? He replied that when he called and told her to come to his wedding, she did. If you were getting married, would you want Hillary Clinton sitting in the front row? While pondering what he wanted his wedding day to be like, he decided he wanted one of the biggest political-establishment insiders in America sitting there as he said ‘I do,’ and you, who hate political insiders, think that he is going to destroy them if elected?

I’m not sure if Trump believes himself to be in the same tribe as the Clintons, or if he invited them to his wedding as part of a Machiavellian strategy for leverage. Isn’t either scenario troubling to you as someone who mistrusts our class of political insiders? Do you think Ben Carson or Rand Paul invited the Clintons to their weddings?

Right now, Trump is telling you all the things you want to hear.

There was a time when his two ex-wives and the many former business partners he has since sued felt the same way. Those relationships didn’t work out very well for them.

Why do you think that you’ll fare better?

“Trump brags about making a lot of money in Atlantic City, then ditching the place as it slid into misery,” Michael Brendan Dougherty observed in The Week. “Believing Trump will bring America back is as foolish as believing he would bring Atlantic City back. Unlike Rubio and Bush, he's a free man—and perfectly willing to walk away and say it was your fault, but that he enjoyed the ride anyway.”

Trump is a billionaire, you say, so he won’t need to pander to special interests––unlike other Republicans, he can ignore the business lobby and stop illegal immigration.

But that makes no sense. Granted, Trump has all the money he’ll ever need, yet that’s been true for decades, and he’s continued to expend a lot of effort to earn still more money. Like other men with significant, diversified business holdings––some of them hotels and golf courses, no less!––a large supply of cheap immigrant labor is in his personal financial interests. If the business elite is for illegal immigration, he is the business elite! And he’ll face the exact same political incentives as every other elected Republican from George W. Bush to John McCain.

Perhaps that would be nothing for you to worry about if he’d spent all his life inveighing against illegal immigration; or if he’d held a lower office, like congressman or senator or governor, in which he’d consistently voted as you’d have wanted on the issue.

Instead you’re just taking him on faith. Why? Does Trump strike you as a person who is unusually inclined to keep his word? Someone who never flip-flops? Come on. I know that you’ve read all the articles about his changing positions over the years.

So I don’t get it.

Why do you trust him of all people to stay your champion? Don’t ask me who is better. I’m not telling you to support any of the other candidates. I don’t know that I will.

I want to know why him?

Trump is a good negotiator, you say, and he’ll get us a better deal with the Chinese. What makes you think that President Trump would be thinking about your interests while he negotiates with the Chinese, and not his own? Are your interests the same as a billionaire with vast real estate holdings in blue states? Trump has made clear that his negotiating prowess relies heavily on leverage: the billions he has, the politicians he has bought, his mastery of U.S. bankruptcy laws, his high-priced lawyers. But foreign leaders aren’t intimidated by his billions; his lawyers can’t sue them into submission; he doesn’t have any Chinese politicians in his pocket; and in negotiations with the Chinese, he’ll have no more and no less leverage than any other American president. And because he is a former realty TV star and beauty pageant owner, one would assume that some foreign leaders won’t even take him seriously. How will that result in a strong America?

I don’t get it, Donald Trump supporters, and I wish you would explain it. You’ll have to persuade some skeptics like me that Trump really is superior to more traditional politicians if the billionaire is going to have a chance in any general election. So try me. My email address is conor@theatlantic.com—I’ll read everything you write, and if a note helps me to understand why you trust Trump to do the right thing in Washington, I’ll publish it even if I disagree with your positions.