© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Will Democrats Who Backed Trump in 2016 Back The GOP In 2018?


Today marks the start of the 2018 midterms. It is primary day in Texas. The big question in this year's elections is what sort of aftershocks we'll see from the political earthquake that came with Donald Trump's 2016 victory. Trump won the presidency on huge support from white working-class voters, including many Democrats. Key to this year's election outcome is whether they'll cross over to vote GOP again this year. NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid went to eastern Ohio to hear from voters there.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: In this area halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, it's not hard to find folks who voted for President Obama in 2008 or 2012 but then voted for President Trump in 2016. I'm eating breakfast at the Yankee Kitchen near Youngstown when I meet Jeff Zatchok. In between bites of egg he tells me the Democrats have become too extreme.

JEFF ZATCHOK: To me, the Democrats used to be kind of middle America. And it seems they've gotten away from that. Either my views or the Democratic Party views changed.

KHALID: And so after voting for Obama, he decided to give Trump a try. And like a lot of people I meet, he's happy with that choice.

ZATCHOK: Hundred percent satisfied. And I would do it again tomorrow. And I'll do it again in three years if that (laughter) - if that happens.

KHALID: Zatchok says these days he's feeling more like a Republican. And that's a big deal because this area is dominated by the Democratic Party. The Democrats hold almost every local office. People tell me they're Democrats because it's in their blood.

CONNIE KESSLER: My whole family was Democrat. I was born and raised in a Democrat home.

KHALID: That's Connie Kessler. She's a retired hairdresser who now spends nearly every day at the local Republican Party headquarters answering the phone.

KESSLER: I'm going to send you some more information.

KHALID: She started volunteering here because of Trump.

KESSLER: If Trump wasn't running, I'd probably still be a Democrat. He made me be what I am today.

KHALID: Become a Republican.

KESSLER: Yes. Yes.

KHALID: Kessler worries about Democrats obstructing the president, so she's working to elect local Republicans. She's had a full-on conversion, and now she's trying to spread the Republican gospel to anyone willing to listen. She wants God back in schools, and she thinks the Democrats have lost their way on immigration.

KESSLER: I think our immigration system is terrible. The DACA system is terrible. The DREAMers are terrible. I don't believe they should be here. I think they should all go back where they came from.

KHALID: When you listen to Kessler, it's a reminder that when it comes to religion, abortion and immigration, Democrats here are often conservative. One woman I met thumbed through a prayer book as we talked politics under a giant painting of the Last Supper on her dining room wall. Still, a lot of these Trump voters are loyal Democrats reluctant to abandon the party completely. I meet John Schultz as he's wrapping up a cigar break. He's an attorney who voted for Trump. He tells me it's the first time he voted Republican in his 66-year-old life. And so I ask him, what is he? Is he no longer a Democrat?

JOHN SCHULTZ: No, I'm a Democrat. I'm a registered Democrat. I will vote for Democrat candidates.

KHALID: And then he repeats himself and insists he is not converting.

SCHULTZ: No, I'm a Democrat. I'm a Democrat who voted for Donald Trump.

KHALID: Schultz says people like him still believe in the basic economic values of the Democratic Party. He says people here need jobs and the national Democratic Party is ignoring them or, worse, doesn't understand them anymore.

SCHULTZ: I was offended when Nancy Pelosi made a remark, well, oh, they're going to get a thousand dollars tax refund or - and that those are crumbs. No, those aren't crumbs. A thousand dollars is a hell of a lot of crumbs.

KHALID: A major question in 2018 is whether the Midwest is going through a tectonic political shift and deserting the Democratic Party. Schultz dismisses that idea. And he might be right. The other night, a few hundred people came out to hear from Democrats running for governor.

SCHULTZ: I don't think it's realigning. I do think that this area is maybe rebelling.

KHALID: But if this is a rebellion, it's not clear national Democrats are listening - at least if you ask local Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan. He says his party keeps getting distracted from the economy.

TIM RYAN: And that we may win in spite of that, but I don't think we're going to be in the majority for a long time if we don't get back to a message that unites everybody around their economic aspirations.

KHALID: He says some local Democrats are setting an example, showing why an economic message could be so effective for the party.

RYAN: People, whether they're white, black, brown, gay, straight - they want a job. They want high wages and a secure pension and secure health care. That's it.

KHALID: Republicans believe they'll keep control of Congress this fall if people feel good about the economy and the GOP tax cuts. Democrats have enthusiasm on their side. It's coming from an anti-Trump anger. The question is how many of these Democratic Trump voters will stick with their party's candidates. Asma Khalid, NPR News, Youngstown, Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a political correspondent for NPR who co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.