Trump Supporters on What Would Change Their Minds

The president-elect’s coalition is composed of people with very different priorities—and that may pose a challenge for him.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Last week, I explained how the Trump administration could exceed my expectations and asked Donald Trump supporters to lay down their own markers. What would it take for them to change their minds and stop supporting the president? The first batch of responses included two emails that stood out as particularly useful. Together, they illustrate political challenges that Trump will face as he tries to hold on to the very different sorts of supporters who form his coalition.

Brendan, an immigration hawk from Colorado, represents one part of Trump’s base:

I am a first time voter, 19, and Trump would have to back down on his campaign promises for me to not support him. I am already a bit nervous about some of his cabinet appointments, such as the Goldman Sachs bankers and the establishment neoconservatives like John Bolton he has chosen.

I feel like the wall, and his strong anti-illegal immigration stance, are his signature policy proposals, and he would have to cave to pressure from establishment anti-Trump Republicans and betray his immigration policies he laid out in his AZ speech. His anti-globalization policies and ideas are very important to my family and I as well.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he has to appoint conservative, Scalia-style SCOTUS judges. Really, for me it comes down to the immigration, trade, and SCOTUS issues. If he betrays any of those, or otherwise starts acting like another Bush or like Marco Rubio, or John McCain, or Lindsey Graham, I'll feel betrayed.

Trump can tweet as much as he wants though … to me it's hilarious, even if not exactly presidential. You probably think the things I support about Trump are the worst things about him, but that's exactly why most of my conservative family and I support him (I'm not popular in college).

Since Reagan (and not even Reagan, to be honest), we haven't had a GOP President actually follow through with conservative/right-wing ideas that the base actually wants. The GOP base, and myself, never wanted “immigration reform,” we wanted less immigration, and not a hint of amnesty. We've never been for unlimited free trade, but for some reason politicians have always considered it sacred.  I don't want compromise anymore, I want to win! Anyways, I just wanted to say what I think Trump's core supporters, from the very beginning, will want Trump to do … it probably isn't what the 'moderates', RINOs and liberals want … sorry.

Among other things, Brendan’s email is a reminder that intra-Republican fault lines remain with us. (He’s mistaken, though, to say that Trump has named Bolton to a position in his administration.) Yes, Trump prevailed over Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and Lindsey Graham in primaries. At the same time, he lost the popular vote and enters office with a historically low approval rating, while those rivals are or were popular elected officials in Florida, Texas, Ohio, and South Carolina. Figures like them are sprinkled throughout the Republican Senate. (John McCain is 80 and just won a six-year term. Surely Trump can’t threaten him.)

Insofar as the McCain-Graham-Rubio agenda and the agenda preferred by Trump’s base are irreconcilable, conflict is likely. Trump can probably finesse differences on judges. Immigration and foreign-policy disagreements will prove harder to resolve.

And Trump’s challenge is complicated by another sort of voter in his coalition, represented in the next reader email. Its author is Mike, who qualifies as a moderate.

Mike began by explaining why he voted Trump:

  • A video I saw with him doing an interview with Oprah Winfrey back around 1988 I believe. He said that he would not touch Social Security.
  • I believe that he may reduce foreign aid so that there is more money to help Americans.
  • He talked about bringing jobs back that went overseas.
  • I believe he will do what he can to make sure terrorists don't wind up in our country.
  • There is a heroin epidemic going on in my state right now and I think he will try to keep people from bringing it in from the borders.

He believes that the press was going out of its way to prevent Trump from being elected; that the women accusing him of sexual assault were lying to stop his candidacy; and that Trump was falsely portrayed as racist. “He used to make all kinds of contributions to Al Sharpton’s charity, which went towards the African American community,” he wrote.  “He use to pal around with Jesse Jackson. He's friends with Don King , Muhammad Ali, and Mike Tyson... Surprisingly enough, he voted for Obama in 2008, when he was a liberal or democrat, and made contributions to Hillary Clintons campaign.” Mike voted for Barack Obama in  2008.

In 2016, Mike was a Bernie Sanders supporter, “but since the DNC and the Clinton campaign screwed Bernie I couldn't vote for him,” he explained, adding that what he saw as “dirty political tactics” by Clinton and the media cemented his vote. “I don't think Trump is a Republican,” he said, “I think he is more liberal then people believe. I also think he wants to avoid a war with Russia, which is good.”

In fact, Mike’s account of what would make him stop supporting Trump includes a whole lot of policies that many Republican members of Congress would love to see enacted:

What would make me change my mind about Trump?

  • If he tried to reduce Social Security benefits or privatize them.
  • Reduce Medicare or privatize it into a voucher system.
  • Started making cuts on health insurance and other programs that the elderly, disabled, or those in financial need or distress rely on.

That would be a big no for me.

( I don't worry about Obamacare, the truly needy have state run Medicaid programs , however I have nothing against it either. I hope he changes what is bad about it and keeps what is good like he has discussed.)

  • If he makes the price of goods go up with his anti trade agenda or causes a war with China.
  • If he creates a situation where salaries decrease or interferes with much needed minimum-wage increases.
  • If he discriminates against people because of race or religion, although I find that far-fetched and know that is not gonna happen and is just the media trying to create fear over his presidency. Besides, the Constitution won't allow for it.
  • I find Trump to be pro- gay rights, so I doubt he would discriminate against the LGBT community, but if he started overturning the gay marriage rights that were recently put into place.
  • If he creates a situation where the price of gas goes up to 4-5 dollars, but then again he may not personally have anything to do with that. I actually expected the cost of gas to either stay where it is or get a bit lower, because Trump will be a pro- energy president.
  • I expect him to work with Russia to place Assad back in control of Syria, which I think would be a good thing. It will help to end ISIS and stabilize that region.
  • I want the country to continue to have a good relationship with our European allies and other countries (China, Russia, Cuba). If he loses our allies and drags us into any war that was his own doing or didn't have to happen, then he would lose my support.

This sort of Trump supporter is familiar to any reporter who wandered America conversing with voters, but a lot of people in blue enclaves can hardly conceive that they exist.

Mike concluded:

My main worries are for Social Security, the disabled, elderly, and people in our country that are vulnerable and require some kind of government assistance. If he does anything that really impacts this group of people that would definitely be enough for me to vote against Trump in 2020 .

I want to give him a chance, let's see what he does in these 4 years . He could really surprise everyone. I think Trump is better then getting Ted Cruz, who is actually a radical Republican conservative. Whereas Trump has a lot of left-leaning ideas. Trump was the only Republican I voted for this election. The rest of my votes went to state Democrats.  I am a bit concerned that he has a Republican House and Senate, which makes it a lot easier for Republicans to push some radical conservative agenda through. And Trump may be pressured to help them with that since he ran under their party. The Supreme Court picks will have me a bit concerned.

I think Trump is more liberal/moderate and he is surrounded by a lot of radical conservatives, even some he has chosen in his cabinet picks. Hopefully, he sticks to the positive change that he talked about and doesn't let these Republicans dictate his presidency. If I see some far right agenda being pushed I will definitely vote the other way next time around .

Holding on to Brendan or Mike four years from now poses tough challenges for President Trump. Holding onto both sorts of voters without losing large swaths of the conservative movement would require extraordinary political finesse. How Trump attempts to keep his coalition together may determine his 2020 primary challenger.

Current Trump supporters with their own ideas about what would change their minds are still encouraged to email, especially if your views depart from those of Brendan and Mike. I thank them for the time and effort it took to write.