Participant 1: The hardest thing to watch has been the Evangelical Christians sell out to this false prophet.
Participant 2: Someone said they'd rather vote for a tuna fish sandwich than Donald Trump. Same. His actions are deplorable. His attitude towards people of color, women, it's disgusting. The constant lies, the distortions of truth. It's just unreliable. Unleashed, unpresidential.
Participant 3: I've never seen a man in public view act like this, be so immoral, petulant, and vindictive. A person who has supported our mortal enemies. This man has no positive qualities.
Participant 4: I think that as long as Trump prevails, as long as Trumpism prevails, we cannot have the leader that we as a nation are entitled to.
Kai Wright: It's Notes From America. I'm Kai Wright. Welcome to the show. Those were voices gathered by the organization Republican Voters Against Trump during the last presidential election. Of course, you wouldn't know it because it's deja vu all over again. A quick backstory for this show, Notes From America. It actually began as a reporting project back in 2016. We wanted to know what was really driving people into Donald Trump's MAGA movement. Beyond all the heated rhetoric, what was happening at that moment in history?
This was still early in the election. Kind of like now in this election, and at the time, we kept saying, "Listen, regardless of who wins the presidency, this movement is going to shape our political culture for a long time to come." Here we are, eight years later, and Donald Trump is almost certainly going to be the Republican nominee for a third election in a row. All indications suggest that both major parties are eager to have essentially the same debate over again for a third election in a row.
This time around, I'm wondering what these frustrating facts conceal about the trends and evolving dynamics of our country's political culture. If polling and surveying are accurate, there is not a ton of excitement for either Trump or Joe Biden. As a thought experiment, consider what we'd learn if we could cleave ourselves away from these two parties as the defining vehicles of all political engagement. What would the debate look and sound like then? What kinds of unexpected coalitions or new ideas about how to organize our society might emerge?
What could we learn about each other's real politics right now? Throughout this election year, we're going to try to answer that question here on Notes From America in conversations with all of you, because I suspect our politics are more nuanced and diverse than they seem at the partisan level. We're going to engage with specific places on the political map, and we're going to engage with specific communities of identity, including ideological affinities.
We begin this week by asking listeners who consider themselves conservative to tell us what's on your minds. Note that I did not say who consider themselves Republicans. Rather, if you consider yourself conservative, whatever that means to you, I know that is a hotly debated term, but whatever that means to you, and you do not feel like the Republican Party under Donald Trump represents you, I want to know what you care about right now and where you are putting your political energy.
If you're conservative, whatever that means to you, and you do not feel represented by the Republican Party or Donald Trump, what do you care about that they're missing? Where are you going to put your political energy? Maybe it's something local or something outside of politics altogether. I don't know. As we take your calls throughout the show, I'm joined by two people who are also thinking a lot about our political culture and how individuals find themselves within it.
Theodore R. Johnson is a senior advisor at New America who studies voter behavior and race. He is a contributing columnist for the Washington Post. David Siders is a politics editor at POLITICO who has been traveling the country talking to local political players and voters about the battle to redefine America's political parties. We'll hear some of David's stories from the road. David and Ted, thanks for joining us.
David Siders: Thanks for having us.
Theodore R. Johnson: Thanks for having us. Good to be here.
Kai Wright: So let us start with the obvious top line. Donald Trump has run away with the Republican primary so far, as expected, but each of you give us your biggest takeaway from the Republican primary in these opening and probably closing weeks. Ted, why don't you go first?
Theodore R. Johnson: Yes. Look, as you said, everyone pretty much knew that Donald Trump was probably going to win the Republican primary going away and that's proven to be the case. The real question has been, can anyone come close? I think there's two big things that stand out to me. Number one is Trump decided not to do any of the debates. I think he or his team or I think the strategist recognized the more people see of Trump, they're entertained initially, and then they don't like the guy very much.
Keeping him out of the public eye, which is great against, I think, his sensibilities or his preferences, I think has actually served him well in the primary because the things that people don't like about him. Many of them have probably forgotten over the last five years those things that if they're swayable, and so they're able to fill in some of those blanks with he's not as bad as people make him out to be. There's some of that happening. Again, these are for folks that are swayable, not for those that have made up their mind.
Then on the other end, I think there's a fear that if the criminal prosecutions, civil prosecutions, if Trump ends up in jail or otherwise ineligible, there's a race for number two, and it's not so much for the VP, I think, as it is for having the next highest number of delegates or being a viable candidate should the party suddenly find itself in need of a nominee. I think that's part of Nikki Haley's biggest case for sticking around at least through Super Tuesday. If she can make it close, perhaps it'll be interesting.
I think the more people see of Trump over this election year, I think we'll begin to see some of their previous inclinations return.
Kai Wright: We're going to unpack a lot of that stuff in detail as the hour goes but, David, what about you? One thing you have noted is that if you look at the New Hampshire primary, for instance, I think it was something like 40% of people voted for neither Donald Trump or Joe Biden of the people who voted. What do you take from that?
David Siders: It is something striking and a little bit hard to reconcile with the general election polling that we see with Trump ahead, but I do think striking from this primary so far is that, yes, Trump is running away with it, but we talk a lot about, say, Biden's problem with the Democratic coalition and bringing Democrats together. Trump's got a problem, too, in the general election, and that is pulling some of these Republicans who are more skeptical of him into the fold, especially in New Hampshire, like you mentioned, that that percentage is high.
Then there was the polling in Iowa ahead of the caucuses that some pretty large number of Nikki Haley supporters saying that they would vote for Biden over Trump. Now, that's not a majority of Republicans, but if you end up with a close general election, he does have some coalition problem here, I think.
Kai Wright: Coalition problems. The phones are popping as we would expect from our questions. Let's immediately get to callers as we talk with the two of you. Let's go to David in Azusa, California. David, welcome to the show.
David: Thanks. Can you hear me okay?
Kai Wright: We sure can. You are, I gather, a registered Republican, but you perhaps don't feel like the party represents you.
David: Certainly not because Trump is basically acting-- he's already acting as a dictator to the Republican Party. You're familiar with the Atlantic article. I really respect the Christian Science Monitor, and even they did an extensive article about how he is showing dictatorial signs already. I voted for him in 2016. I lived in New York for a while and I knew Donald Trump was a con man. He's a liar, he cheats, he's been cheating his employees, but he's a con man. He's a very convincing con man. I thought I was upset with the Affordable Care Act and I voted for Donald Trump. I lived in New York. I didn't expect that anything would come of it.
Kai Wright: David, I'm just going to move you along a little bit because we got a ton of callers, but I can hear that you're frustrated with him for the dictatorship piece. What's that going to mean for you in terms of where you're going to put your political energy quickly for me?
David: I'm doing everything I can to stop him. Right now I donate to Nikki Haley, but I'm hedging my bets. I'm also donating to the Democratic Party. As soon as I get my Social Security check, I donate quite a bit.
Kai Wright: Okay. Thank you for that, David. We got a text message that says, "I consider myself a conservative. I am disgusted by Trump. I'm disgusted by the kowtowing of the GOP to an individual. Having said that, I don't find a political home with Biden and the Democrats, many of the young ones who I feel are far too left for my taste." Ted, what about my thesis here from those two remarks that 2020, it's a repeat, nobody wants it, and it's concealing some true nuances and diversity of politics in the country. Do you see that in the work you're doing?
Theodore R. Johnson: I'll tell you. The biggest thing I think is, folks are, they know what the Republican Party is, they know what the Democratic Party is, they know Trump and Biden, and so their vote is really a judgment on the parties and the direction the parties are going, not necessarily voting in favor of the one they prefer but voting against the one they're more afraid of.
If you have say a moderate conservative who is open to voting for Biden but is truly a Republican at heart and they feel that the Democratic Party is moving further left faster, then Trump is running roughshod over the Republican Party like the institutional part of the Republican Party, they may be still open to voting for Trump because it's the evil they know or the thing that is most familiar to them in a party that isn't all terrible from top to bottom. There might be local or state officials that they're supporting and so the party still feels like a natural home, even if Trump is particularly unappealing.
That is only countered by the sense that the Democratic Party is moving further left faster than the rest of the country. For those who see the Democratic Party, their intraparty squabble as healthy for democracy and prefer that and the grown-up in the room that Biden presents as to the circus that Trump likes to bring along with him, then their vote for Biden will be more an indictment of the Republican Party and its direction than it is support for Biden. This is turning into an election where folks are voting against the thing they don't want more than they're voting for the thing that they do.
Kai Wright: This is Notes from America. I'm talking with Theodore R. Johnson, a senior advisor at New America and a columnist for the Washington Post, and with David Siders, a politics editor at POLITICO who has been traveling the country talking with people and politicians about the battle to define America's political parties. We're taking calls from conservatives who do not feel represented by the Republican Party under Donald Trump. More with Ted and David and your calls coming up.
Felice León: Hey, it's Felice León from the show team at Notes from America with Kai Wright. Something happens to me when I listen to the show. No matter the topic or the guest, I can always think of someone I want to tell about what I just heard, and I do. If you're thinking about who in your life would enjoy this episode or another episode you've heard, please share it with them now. The folks in your life trust your good taste and we would appreciate you spreading the word. Thanks.
Kai Wright: This is Notes from America, I'm Kai Wright, and shout out to our new listeners at K-E-R-A in Dallas. Glad to have you in the community. This week, we are convening our first vibe check among voters of 2024. Throughout the year, we're going to open the phones to hear from particular groups of people we think can tell us something about our country's political culture beyond the partisan binary. We begin this week by hearing from listeners who consider themselves conservative, whatever that means to you, and who do not feel represented by Donald Trump's Republican Party.
You can call or send us a text message. I'm joined by two people who have been studying voters and voter behavior closely. Theodore R. Johnson is a senior advisor at New America and a contributing columnist at the Washington Post. David Siders is a politics editor at POLITICO who writes their Road Trip series. He's been traveling around the country talking to people about the state of the parties. We can also take questions for Ted and David about their work in addition to hearing from conservatives.
David, before the break, Ted was telling us that it feels like this is an election in which people are voting against something to register their opposition to the other party more than anything else. You, in December, wrote a story about the road trip you'd been on all year. You'd been talking to voters and local political actors. You said that what you heard across the spectrum was basically depression. That everybody is processing politics through loss. Tell me about that, and can you give me an example of what you mean?
David Siders: I think I was so struck by what Ted said before the break too. I think it's exactly right. We sometimes call these people double-haters and I think more and more they're deciding elections. People who are frustrated with everything. I do think you see a sense of its loss and also fear of losing more. You hear this on the conservative side from people who this is the same argument Trump would appeal to in the 2016 election that America was great. Not anymore. Make it great again.
You feel it from Democrats too, this crippling fear that Biden may not be up to it and there may be a loss here this year. I do sense I think depression is the right way to put it in the electorate and that's borne out in the polling. Nobody wants this general election. Nobody's too strong. Many, many voters don't want this general election between these two people and yet, that's what we're careening towards.
Kai Wright: Ted, do you see this pessimism, that pessimism piece as well? You study non-white voters, which is a group that is typically quite optimistic. Have you seen a shift to pessimism?
Theodore R. Johnson: I have. There's still a general optimism about life and making it among these groups, and that is true to form but there is this flagging or lagging faith in democracy and not the idea of it but the idea that it can deliver on its promises that government derives it's just powers from the consent of the governed. That's what the declaration says but a lot of people don't think government listens to them. The vote is, you almost can't get what you want when you vote for the thing you want. You end up voting for the thing you really don't want because at least you can stop that from happening, even if the government doesn't work for you.
There is and I think this lack of faith or this decreasing faith in democracy is a direct piece of commentary on the lack of faith in politicians and in the Congress or the Supreme Court or whoever or the presidency to do the thing that people feel like those institutions should be doing working on their behalf instead of soaking tensions and then leveraging those tensions to shove partisan agendas down the nation's throat. There is a dire need for optimism about the state of our democracy even among those people that are generally optimistic about their life chances, even in some instances, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Kai Wright: Let's go to Frank in Long Beach, California. Frank, welcome to the show.
Frank: Thank you so much for having me. I think right now, as a former Republican, as somebody who used to for many, many years registered and voted Republican, I feel abandoned. I'm in Southern California. I think the Democratic Party has been in power here for almost my whole lifetime and for the most part, all we've seen is terrible policies regarding the homelessness issue and problems just increasing at a national level.
Trump certainly does not represent me. I think he's a narcissist and is only interested in his own historical legacy. He has no real ideas but then again, I think at this point, neither does the Republican Party. At this point, I really feel a sense of abandonment. On the other side, I don't think Joe Biden is fit to govern at this point. I don't think they would let him debate because I don't think he can answer basic questions in a functional manner.
Kai Wright: Do you mean because of his age, Frank, is that what you're talking about?
Frank: Correct. When you see him interact, I don't think he is functioning sufficiently to be in charge of this country. I think that I certainly would welcome a breath of fresh air and if it was from either party, I would love to see it.
Kai Wright: Let me ask you this, Frank. Just because we got a lot of folks but just to move you along. Let me ask you this. What is this going to mean for what you're doing with your political energy this year? As quick as you can.
Frank: I'm more focusing on a local level. I'm focusing on a very local level. As far as at the presidential vote, I've never voted for Trump, I never will, but I will just be a very depressed voter on election day when it comes to presidential politics.
Kai Wright: Thank you for that, Frank. Let's go to Abshire in St. Paul, Minnesota. Abshire, welcome to the show.
Abshire: Thank you for having me. Personally, I think that Trump plays too much of identity politics rather than pushing policies that affect us. I won't be voting for him this year but last year, I did vote for him mainly because I wanted to just to change the system but he's changed the system into a way that just works for him and his legacy. I don't think he is for the American people or the Republican Party. One thing I don't--
Kai Wright: Can I ask you, you said you voted for him because you wanted to change the system, he didn't do that. Where do you put that change the system energy now?
Abshire: I think he's just playing the system at this point and just playing identity politics to the point that he's just talking back and forth rather than real change. Most of the people I know--
Kai Wright: For you, where do you put that energy that you had? Where do you find an outlet for that desire to change the system?
Abshire: I think years of promises made by Democrats and Republicans that haven't left anything but people staying in politics for 20-plus years. Locally, I vote Democrat and Republican. I'm voting for people who are eager to not stay in politics forever and build a legacy for themselves, but really just change the country.
Kai Wright: Got it. Thank you so much for that. One of the callers there from Long Beach is I presume suburbs. I'll call Long Beach suburban. Sorry for folks in Long Beach if you disagree with me. Suburban voters that fit this profile of conservatives who like Abshire or like Frank, just can't get down with Donald Trump at this point, have been pivotal in the last couple of elections. Ted, can I start with you? Do you see that as still an important group right now and if so, what is the dynamic you see amongst them?
Theodore R. Johnson: Yes, absolutely. Look, this is going to be a turnout election. I guess all elections [laughs] foundationally are but here I think suburban voters, and I think this was the case in 2020, they are going to be the ones that determine who wins in these purple states in particular. If you look at a place like Georgia in 2020, the governor is a Republican, wins reelection, the Secretary of State Republican wins reelection by more comfortable margins than they did in 2016, but Trump loses the state to Biden and the two senators are also Democrats.
At the statewide election level for the Republicans that Georgia is sending out to the country, out to DC, all Democrats, but internal, almost all of the statewide election officials are Republicans. I think this is what we're going to see more of. Republican conservatives, particularly those that are moderate and in the suburbs and white middle class and educated, and maybe some working class but mostly educated, are going to split ticket their voting. They're not going to support Trump at the top, maybe they leave it blank, maybe they vote for Biden, maybe it's third party, and then down ballot, at the state and local level, they'll vote for Republicans.
Trump is losing those folks. The folks that he won in 2016 like the caller who said, "I was looking for change, just looking for something different," he had the opportunity to deliver that and didn't, and now people aren't buying the shtick in the same way. Those suburban voters are going to be the most difficult to convince, if you're a Trump strategist, to bring them back to where they were in 2016 and to abandon their 2020 positions, which helped Biden and the Democrats quite a bit. That's my sense of where these suburban voters are going to fall out.
The question will be how many of them show up to vote at all. Typically, they're a high-turnout crowd, so it could be quite consequential in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia.
Kai Wright: You bring up Wisconsin. David, you reported from there on this question in part, at least, in your Road Trip series. You opened that story with an anecdote about a historic site for the party in Ripon, Wisconsin as a scene of what's happening for Republicans there. Can you set the seed for us from that?
David Siders: The little white schoolhouse was where the ancestral home of the GOP was getting moved and Republicans there were pretty frustrated with it. The broader thing I think going on in Wisconsin was just how big a deal abortion ended up being. That is a story not just to the suburbs but motivating college towns and even playing with some independents in more rural areas. I think Ted's right that this election gets decided in the suburbs just because of the math you divide. In the electorate last couple of presidential elections, looks like around half is in the suburbs and the rest are split between urban areas and rural areas.
I do think issues like abortion, as it played in Wisconsin, will be big again in the presidential election, as will questions of democracy and some of these court cases. Again, to what Ted spoke about, the idea of education, you see that being a big shift in the party's coalitions I think. Where Democrats more and more are the white-collar, college-educated party, and the reason that you see Republicans making some inroads with blue-collar workers is because they're appealing more to voters who don't have that college education. That's a shift, I think, away from some of the other demographic coalitions in the parties to instead one based around education.
So interesting that Frank is from Long Beach where he's seen this-- he's not in Orange County, he's in LA County, but is so close there to have seen that shift in Orange County.
Kai Wright: Let's go to Tim in Raleigh, North Carolina. Tim, welcome to the show.
Tim: Thank you for having me. My comment is simply that as I remember the Republican Party when I was growing up and was a number of an office holder in, was a sense of a moral compass, which it seems to me they've abandoned. They used to be conservative, that's why I no longer consider myself a Republican I'm now registered independent, but conservatives don't have a home in the Trump party and it's really disheartening. This will be an election where I see myself not voting, which is awful because I feel it's my civic duty to do that, and I simply don't have a viable choice.
Kai Wright: What are you going to do instead? If you don't vote, what are you going to do with that energy inside? You say you feel awful, but where are you putting that political energy then?
Tim: For the time being, I'm putting it in Nikki Haley just as a protest vote. I'd like to see her get something respectable. There's no way she's going to get the nomination, everybody knows that, Nikki Haley knows that, but that's where my voice is currently. Down ballot, the effects for conservatives are awful. Here in North Carolina, it's a dumpster fire for everybody trying to run for the Trump vote. It is just remarkable. I've heard the word used so many times on your program, I'm like it's so depressing that this is what we've become.
Kai Wright: Thank you for that, Tim. Let's go to Carol in Chicago. Carol, welcome to the show.
Carol: Hi. Thanks for having me. I would like to correct the whole messaging because, in my opinion, Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans are not conservatives. It's not conservative to want to tell a woman what she can do with her body, it's not conservative to tell parents what books their kids can read or what healthcare they can access, and it's certainly not conservative to try and overturn an election. I really think that we have to make a point of saying that the current Republican Party is not a conservative movement. There are very few true conservatives left in it.
Kai Wright: Thank you for that, Carol. David, we heard the word depressing, we've used depressed a couple of times. One of the things that you reported on is, in talking to local Republican officials, how much you found them truly literally depressed about the state of things. Is that an accurate representation? What did you see?
David Siders: Yes, I definitely think so, especially among the people who are, I think we heard somebody say they feel homeless in the GOP. I think for people who are critical of Trump and the Republican Party, there is that, and the reason that it is so depressing for them is that these are people who maybe not like you or me or normal-- these are people who dedicate their lives to-- they serve on school boards or they go to the weekly county GOP meeting.
They're not doing that because they anticipate some fantastic future in politics, they're doing that because for whatever reasons, and there's different ones, they care about, in some cases, public service or in some cases, they care about the machinations of politics. In some cases, they care about ideology. I do think there has been a wrenching depression for some of those people seeing the party move from the-- only for the people who are opposed to Trump and MAGAism, I guess, to see the party move in that direction.
Now, I don't want to overstate their case though because one of the incongruities here I think is we hear from people, including on this show, saying, "I'm not going to participate. I might just have to sit out," but turnout's been up. People are angry and mad about their politics, but we've seen empirically, the last couple of elections, people are participating. I'm not exactly sure how to square that but, in fact, they are coming out and voting.
Kai Wright: Sounds like you wanted to chime in on that, Ted. Quickly, we got about 30 seconds before we got to go to break.
Theodore R. Johnson: Oh yes, I was just agreeing that, for a certain part of the population, anger increases turnout, so when they're dissatisfied with what government's doing, they go vote. For other parts of the population, actually turnout increases when it comes to being inspired. Someone with an optimistic vision for the country. Just one quick point on Republicans not being conservatives, if you are a conservative in the Republican party, you have a couple of options. One is to leave or be primaried out, and then the other is to be quiet.
That's what a lot of them are doing. Then a few, the notable ones that we see on TV most they switch and they become MAGA Republicans instead of conservatives because that's where their political futures in this current version of the party can be best realized. It's unfortunate.
Kai Wright: This is Notes from America. I'm Kai Wright talking with Theodore Johnson and David Siders and taking your calls. More after a break.
This is Notes from America. I'm Kai Wright. Before we get back to our vibe check with conservative voters this week, a word about another vibe check we're going to do soon. I want to hear from Democrats who are upset about the way the Biden administration has responded to Israel's invasion of Gaza, and maybe so much so that it could affect the way you do or don't vote in the fall.
You can record a voice memo and email it to us at email@example.com for Democrats out there who are upset about the way Biden has handled Gaza. As I said, throughout the year, we're going to ask particular groups of listeners to chime in about the state of their own politics. The hope is we can learn something about our country's political culture beyond the partisan binary by doing so.
This week, we're hearing from conservative voters who do not feel represented by the Republican Party. I'm joined by Theodore R. Johnson, a senior advisor at New America, and by David Siders, a politics editor at POLITICO. We can also take questions for Ted and David about the election itself. I want to talk about another particular group of voters, and this is Black voters who are more conservative.
Again, I'm not talking about necessarily being Republicans, I mean being conservative. Ted, these voters are getting a lot of attention in recent months because there has been some surprising polling that shows a meaningful number of Black voters considering Trump in 2024. Can you first just explain the trends that are showing up in polls, and then we can talk about what you think is real and not? First off, what is it we're seeing?
Theodore R. Johnson: What we're seeing, particularly in the approval numbers, are Biden's approval numbers with Black voters tanking relative for a Democratic president, which means like in the 60s and there being some openness to a second Trump presidency. Most of that movement among Black voters appears to be concentrated among Black men. Usually those in their 20s and early 30s, they typically are on the younger end of the spectrum.
What we don't know is how these approval number ratings will translate into electoral decision-making. In the past, even when a democratic president is not doing well with Black voters, when the election shows up, about 90% of them end up voting for the Democratic president. Turnout numbers often determine whether or not those numbers determine who wins the election.
Quickly just to put this in historical context, between 1964 and 2004, about 12% of Black voters supported the Republican nominee for president as high as 15% or so I think with Nixon in '72-ish, and as low as 7% or 8% with Reagan in the first time around. Since Barack Obama's came on the scene, Republicans have not been able to get double digits at all with Black voters. 4% in '08, 6% in '12, another 6%, 7% and '16, and then 8% with this last election that Trump got in 2020.
If you only look at the last 12 years from 2008 to 2012 or 2020, it looks like Republican support among Black voters has doubled from 4% in '08 to 8% today or in 2020. That is still ⅓ below of what the Republican average was for four decades. I think what we're seeing is a rebalancing after Obama has left the scene, those Black folks that were voting Republican before he arrived, they stopped when he was here around, and now they're returning to the fold.
The question is whether this version of the Republican party led by Trump can increase upon the 8% they got in 2020 and maybe get back to the historical average since '64 of 11% or 12%. If they're able to do that, it will be the story of this election and will baffle lots of political scientists in the process.
Kai Wright: Wow. Just to underline here, the point is that Obama years was actually the anomaly-
Theodore R. Johnson: Yes, absolutely.
Kai Wright: -for the amount of Black support for Republicans. Which is to say there are meaningful numbers of Black people who are conservative and I think both in the Republican and the Democratic voter camps.
Theodore R. Johnson: That's right.
Kai Wright: I'm wondering about what that means for them. First off, listeners, if that's you, if you're hearing yourself being described right now, call us up if you are Black and you are conservative and you are trying to find a home for yourself. Ted, setting aside whether or not they will or will not migrate to Donald Trump under today's Republican party, what does it mean for our political culture in general? Is it a meaningful part of our politics, this group of Black people in both parties who are conservative and don't necessarily have a place to go? What do they want, and where might they go? Maybe that's the question.
Theodore R. Johnson: The last numbers I've seen are about one in five Black folks identify as conservative. About 40%, 45% is moderate, and then about a quarter as progressive or liberal. One in five Black folks being conservative, if they were Republicans, Republicans may not have lost an election since Reagan in this time. One in five was the sweet spot for lots of Republican strategists.
What does it mean to be Black and conservative in America? Generally speaking, and this is a generalization for sure, Black conservatives are just like white conservatives across the board, except for one area, civil rights. The role of government when it comes to ensuring racial equality is enforced and available to folks across the country. Most Black folks recognize the role of the federal government in ensuring those protections are afforded and available.
There are some Black conservatives that just don't-- it's almost in the Black Panther or Black pride tradition. We don't need government's help, we need government to get out of the way and we can take care of ourselves. Those kinds of Black conservatives tend to be the Black men that you will find voting for someone like Trump or voting Republican. It's the issue of civil rights that causes Black conservatism to depart from white conservatism, which also decreases the number of Black conservatives that support Republican candidates.
Kai Wright: David, you reported from South Carolina on just the overall trend about Black voters this year. The state is, of course, a bastion of Black democratic party politics and is famously credited with being Joe Biden's firewall in 2020. You found meaningful concern amongst local Black Democrats about people losing some enthusiasm. Tell me what you heard.
David Siders: I think Democrats there take this very, very seriously because they see it locally. I was sitting around with some young Democrats in Columbia one night and this is exactly what they were talking about. They'd just seen a bunch of victories for Democrats in races around the country, but they were talking about these polls with Black voters expressing more either favorability for Trump or disappointment with Biden.
This isn't just one-offs. Democrats see this in focus groups around the country too, strategists talk about. I think part of it is the unevenness of the economic recovery. There is not a feeling in some communities that the benefits have been widely felt. I think the foreign entanglements that the Biden administration is involved in don't sit well with some Black voters who say, "We have a lot of problems here at home."
I think more generally, there's some feeling that especially Black women, but Black voters in general, this reliable voting block for Democrats for so long. A question of, what do we have to show for it? I do sense a lot of frustration. I'm not sure. Anybody thinks that the numbers at the end of the day will look like they do in the polling right now. As Ted says, if it even changes a little bit, that has big implications, not just for this election, but for the Democratic party for a long time. The whole promise for Democrats of demographic change had been that as the country became more diverse, Democrats would be ascendant.
We're at this moment in politics, I think, where that's really in question.
Kai Wright: Let's go to Catherine in Hardwick, Vermont. Catherine, welcome to the show.
Catherine: Hi, how are you doing? Thanks for having me.
Kai Wright: Thanks for calling. What'd you want to chime in about?
Catherine: I just want to say that in my lifetime I have been both Republican and Democrat as well as independent, and I am a lot more conservative than I used to be. There's just no way that I could vote for Trump. I don't see him as an honest, honorable man. I'm going to go independent and vote for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. because I think he has a lot more to offer than either of the other candidates.
Kai Wright: Okay. Thank you for that, Catherine. There's a vote that is in fact going to break out of the two-party system this year. Let's go to Cheryl in Oregon. Cheryl, welcome to the show.
Cheryl: Hello. Approximately six states hold all the Electoral College votes, and we know that's how Trump was elected. Why should those of us who live in states with few electoral votes vote?
Kai Wright: That's a very good question, Cheryl. Before I go to our guest to chime in on this, Cheryl, if you feel that way, where do you put your political energy
Cheryl: Currently, I am putting it all on watching the Middle East situation. It's something that is vital to, I think everyone, not only we in America, but I have not at this point, decided that I will vote at all. This is a first for me. I am a very devoted political worker, I have been for many years. This question about the Electoral College, I think is vital. One, I would like to have seen us do something about it in the interim, however, we did not, but let's get some answers on this, please.
Kai Wright: Thank you, Cheryl. To Ted, both of you, and David, there's two ideas there. One, meaningful third-party candidates. Ted, I guess let's start in your reporting. How much are you seeing something that feels like this might be different in this election than previous ones that people are meaningfully saying, "I'm going to take another option here"?
Theodore R. Johnson: I'm not sure. It's still too early. My sense of it is it looks a lot like 16 and 20 where there was a little while where people like Tom Steyer or Michael Bloomberg were polling really well, and then as soon as the rubber met the road, they completely fell off and then their campaign died out. My sense of it is that the same thing will happen with Kennedy and the Democratic party and then perhaps probably Haley and the Republican side, even though she's a more viable competitor in that party than I think Kennedy is in the Democratic party.
Let's say folks expend their third-party energy during the primary system and now it's election day November, and it's Trump v [unintelligible 00:43:09] maybe third party, maybe no labels, puts a third party candidate there. The protest vote that goes there, my sense of it, they will be more likely disaffected Republicans exercising it than Democrats. I think that's because Democrats learned their lesson or democratic-leaning voters learned the lesson from 2016, that a third-party vote might be the one that prevents your preferred candidate that you may not love from winning, but that you would've much rather have won over Trump and that's Hillary Clinton, of course, in '16.
I think it makes for interesting primaries. I don't think it's going to make much of a difference once we get to the general.
Kai Wright: David, what about the idea of people in states that don't feel like, "This doesn't matter to me at all, actually, I don't have a role here"? How much have you heard that in your travels around the country?
David Siders: Interesting. Quite a bit I think. Oregon, I don't know, what was that, a 15-point win or something for Biden? That's probably a pretty safe bet. I can understand the frustration, the desire not to participate. Yes, I do hear that. You also hear from a lot of people in swing states who they say they don't know how they're going to vote. They're not sure if they'll-- they can't stomach Trump, they're not sure they can stomach Biden. It's interesting not to get the binaries of the choice. I spoke recently with this person, Asa Hutchinson, who ran for president on a very Trump alternative line. His pledge during the campaign was that he would never vote for somebody convicted of a felony.
He refuses to say if he would vote for Trump if he's not convicted of a felony, which is a scenario he says he can't imagine, but here's somebody who's committed to stop it. He's a clear conservative, has a conservative track record, he's committed to stopping Trump, and yet even there, it's not 100% certain that he would vote against Trump. He says he definitely won't vote for Biden. I do think this idea of not viewing this as a binary choice is very interesting to me.
Kai Wright: We've got a couple of minutes left and I do want to game out a couple of just election stuff from you two who are watching this stuff closely. What about running mate? Does Trump's running mate make any difference in any of this conversation for any particular group of voters? I'll start with you, Ted.
Theodore R. Johnson: It's a great question. If you had asked me this two or three years ago, I would've said yes. If he had chosen someone like Tim Scott, conservative Black man as his number two, then maybe those Black numbers we see on approval ratings might solidify a little bit more in an electoral sense. I don't think that's the case anymore. I just think Tim Scott's reputation was harmed over the last year or two, especially during his presidential run. Look, political scientists have looked at this. Running mates really don't give you much of a bump at all.
What folks are doing, what I think Trump will do is to select a running mate that guards against your weakest flank, and the weakest flank that's movable. Black voters for Trump, he's doing as best as he can, and a Black running mate would help.
Kai Wright: [crosstalk] he's going to do isn't going to help.
Theodore R. Johnson: Exactly. Kristi Noem and governor in South Dakota, I think a white female governor for Trump gives him the best shot at assuaging some of those suburban voters we were talking about earlier.
Kai Wright: David, I'm going to put to you instead because we got about 90 seconds here. What if Trump doesn't stay on the ballot? I know it's hard to imagine, but let's say, let's just game it out. What if somehow Trump doesn't stay on the ballot, what do you think that means for a lot of these disaffected conservative voters in particular?
David Siders: What Ted said earlier about the rationale for Nikki Haley, or one of the rationales anyway, is very interesting. That she sticks around, she collects some delegates, ends up at the convention. I'm not sure that if Trump is not on the ballot that Republicans elect to put Nikki Haley on the ballot, that they don't go in some other direction. I'm not sure that they wouldn't. I'm not sure that it's convincing to me that yes, they definitely would go with this person. Then that makes gaming out how Republicans would do it in November. I think very hard. I hate to hazard a guess
Kai Wright: That's bad news for Nikki Haley. We're going to have to leave it there. David Siders is a politics editor at POLITICO. He's writing a series called Road Trip 2024, in which he's traveling the country talking to voters and local political players about the state of the parties. Theodore R. Johnson is a senior advisor at New America who studies voting behavior and particularly amongst Black voters and a contributing colonist at the Washington Post. Thanks to you both, and thanks to all our listeners, especially those who called in. Do keep talking to us. Just leave us a voicemail or you can record a voice memo and email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You'll help us plan out our next upcoming voter live chat. Notes From America is a production of WNYC Studios. Check us out wherever you get your podcasts and on Instagram @noteswithkai. This episode was produced by Felice León. Our theme music was designed by Jared Paul. Matthew Miranda is our live engineer. Our team also includes Katerina Barton, Regina de Heer, Karen Frillmann, Suzanne Gaber, Mike Kutchman and Lindsay Foster Thomas. I am Kai Wright. Thank you so much for spending time with us.
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