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The Commons
Photo 1

White House photo

Donald Trump takes the oath of office.

Voices / Viewpoint

Confessions of a wary Trumpist

'Donald Trump is off to a quick start. Will he make mistakes? Yes, and that's pretty normal for every president. But I am hopeful.'

Richard Morton serves both as Windham County chair of the Republican Party and the chair of the Brattleboro Town GOP committee. “My musings are shared as an individual who also happens to have a political role,” he says, noting that he is not speaking as a representative of the GOP at any level.

Originally published in The Commons issue #395 (Wednesday, February 15, 2017). This story appeared on page D3.

I stayed up watching the Super Bowl right to the very end. Up until about the six-minute mark in the fourth quarter, it seemed hopeless and very discouraging for a Patriots fan. Then it turned, dramatically.

I remember similar feelings all night long on election night. It wasn’t until after 11 p.m. that there was some sense this race was actually close and might go Donald Trump’s way. I stayed up until past 3:30 a.m., hugely surprised and pleased.

It might surprise some to realize that even in deep-blue Vermont, quite a few folks have a different take on the election and the current political circus atmosphere.

Although Hillary Clinton thoroughly beat Trump in Vermont by roughly 55 percent to 30 percent, in Windham County the margin was even more lopsided: 68 percent to 26 percent.

The national news media as a whole, with a few exceptions, seem especially skeptical and even hostile to our new president. Yet what about the views of the 25 to 30 percent of the electorate — those Vermonters who quietly supported Trump?

As one of those who voted for Donald Trump, I would like to recount my 2016 political journey, share some views of the current political situation, and also offer my feelings about the future.

* * *

With the looming constitutionally mandated end to the historic presidency of Barack Obama, a lot of Republicans chose to offer their vision for our nation’s near-term future and became candidates.

I was thrilled to see so many highly qualified, experienced, and well-spoken candidates contending for my party’s nomination. Some were “outsiders” like Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina. Most were governors, senators, or former candidates.

Most of the Republican field was reliably Christian — and by that, I mean Evangelical, as I consider myself. I know some people in politics can try to portray that commitment in order to advance their political prospects.

One measure of that commitment which is important to me is their view on abortion. For me, and most Christians I know, there is a genuine concern for the tragic loss of an innocent, helpless, life made in God’s image. I shake my head and tears come to my eyes when I consider the mounting loss of life (about 55 million since 1973).

As the candidates’ ranks grew, I was proud of what they stood for and, for the most part, how they conducted themselves.

But then Donald Trump announced his interest in running. Like most others, I considered that grandstanding, unserious, and publicity seeking, and I discounted any chance he would actually do it.

Then he did it.

I was surprised how well Trump seemed to do in the early primary contests. He won in New Hampshire, earning 35 percent of the vote, more than twice the number of votes as John Kasich, at 16 percent. In most of the primaries he won but did not get more than 30 percent to 35 percent in most contests.

The longer he was in the race and kept winning primaries, the more anxious I got.

* * *

Donald Trump was not my choice for the GOP nomination. As far as I could see, he was a crude, rude publicity hog.

Yes, I fleetingly toyed with fears that he might have been in collusion with Hillary Clinton, just as I thought Ross Perot might have done in the election of Bill Clinton decades earlier, siphoning off votes from his Republican opponent, President George H. W. Bush. Or, I worried, he might even deliberately sabotage his own campaign to throw it to Clinton.

I sent in money to support my choices for the GOP nomination but I did not send any money to Donald Trump — not my guy. The debates swung back and forth, but Trump seemed to suck up all the oxygen in the news coverage. He even got the networks to broadcast an empty podium behind the talking heads when he was late to make an announcement one evening.

Over the course of the election, coverage of Trump’s views on abortion and how they changed, from pro-choice to pro-life, was not reassuring. That change made me skeptical of his sincerity or genuine feelings.

However, I found security in the endorsement of Trump by people at Liberty University, meetings he had with evangelical leaders during the campaign, and reports about those meetings. I watched a Facebook video post of a group of such leaders praying as a group for Trump and his willing receptivity to their concerns.

And as the primary season went on, Donald Trump generated ratings and viewers, but it seemed inconceivable to me that he could actually surpass the 2,472 delegates needed to win the GOP nomination.

Then he did it.

* * *

On May 10, 2016, the Vermont Republican Party held its state convention to, among other things, choose delegates to attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

The top 23 vote-getters at the state convention would be delegates or alternates in Cleveland. I am not sure what prompted me to do so, but I ran for the opportunity to represent the Vermont GOP.

As a party official, I was qualified to run but had a lot going against me: I was a newcomer and neither well-known nor well connected. I did not offer a lot of accomplishments, and I hailed from a very weak part of the state, as far as the GOP is concerned.

Yet surprisingly I was able to convince enough people to vote for me that I tied for the 23rd and last spot in the delegation.

I won a coin toss, and off to Cleveland I went.

This was my first-ever national political convention. It was quite an experience. Even as an alternate, I enjoyed the whole thing. The atmosphere was positive, healthy, upbeat, friendly, festive, and quite expensive.

I remember thinking that Donald Trump was going to be the nominee, and I still was not convinced he would be a successful one. Even though I still questioned some of his views, he espoused many others that I could support.

I noted that the arena was filled with many enthusiastic Trump supporters. Also noteworthy for me was the parade of speakers from his corporations whom he had promoted from within based on the quality of their efforts.

Also, the choice of Mike Pence for vice president was very reassuring to me. Pence said, “I am a Christian first, a conservative second, and a Republican third.” I liked that.

When Trump’s adult children spoke, I was immensely impressed with them as well. Mike Pence said something I remember well: “You can’t fake good kids.”

The convention crystalized that change in my attitude toward Trump. I came to support him, trust his statements, and work for his election.

Trump’s victory in Cleveland was an unlikely outcome for the GOP nomination process.

Then he did it.

* * *

My wife and I are pretty much political news junkies and watch TV news each evening. Generally, I outlast her.

I did not like the odds, the polls, or the coverage I saw. Donald Trump was going up against the noted Clinton machine, a Democratic party unified around her, $1 billion raised and ready, other well-funded PACs, a generally hostile or skeptical press, dismal polls, a divided GOP, his own lack of experience, a funding shortfall, and his propensity to step in it.

“Yeah! What could go wrong?” I thought skeptically.

Still, I paid attention and hoped.

With all the advantages Hillary Clinton had, she was still dogged by issues that would not go away, even with a mostly sympathetic press corps.

With all the disadvantages that Donald Trump had to fight, I thought the WikiLeaks releases against Clinton somewhat but not completely evened the playing field. However one-sided the WikiLeaks dumps against Clinton, to my knowledge no one has ever challenged their veracity.

The final weeks of the campaign were a whirlwind. FBI Director James Comey reopened the email case on Clinton, then closed it again. And then, the video.

The tape, showing Trump making braggadocios and derogatory claims about women, was politically explosive and seemed to be timed as an October surprise (one that came from a third party to maintain deniability, it seemed to me).

Clinton needed something to change the subject. That video seemed to work, at least according to mainstream news media coverage.

All along, polls seemed consistently adverse but tantalizingly close, or possibly even narrowing slightly. During the campaign, of course, I was rooting for Donald Trump to win. I was sending money from time to time. (To a billionaire, of all people. Sigh.)

I went into election night expecting a Trump loss and possibly even a quick outcome. It seemed each hour, as more states were declared, Clinton and Trump essentially split the electors, maintaining a pretty close tally.

Yet Trump’s very tough and unlikely path to victory was very narrow and would need success in North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, and one of several others states (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, or Pennsylvania).

Eventually and surprisingly, Trump hovered around 256 electors for about two hours as the networks could not bring themselves to declare him the winner. I suspect they could not believe it, either.

Pennsylvania hung in the balance the whole time. I stubbornly awaited Donald Trump’s crossing the threshold of 270 electoral votes before I would call it a night.

Then he did it.

* * *

The post-election period has been a lift in my spirit about along in line with the lift in the stock market: ups and downs, to be sure, but mostly — and quite significantly — up. As a wary Trumpist, I am cautiously optimistic, hopeful, and eager to turn on the TV news each night.

I see a president quickly keeping his promises. I see what I consider quality nominees for posts in his cabinet. I see his very admirable Supreme Court nominee. I am encouraged by all of that.

I know there is increasingly hysterical and incredible opposition to our new president, and I am sure some, perhaps many, readers will be aghast at these sentiments. Perhaps they think “the sky is almost literally falling” in Washington, D.C., considering what Trump is actually doing, who his nominees are, and what they are likely to do. He made a lot of promises. Many thought he would never keep them.

Now he is doing it.

The unceasing and vitriolic hostility of those opposed to this president is evident to all. However, extreme violence does not validate their viewpoint. I am not a fan of talking louder than one’s political opponent in order to intimate or dominate them.

Ideas matter. Ideas and philosophies should be the point of contention, not the decibel level of the discourse. Reason should rule: intellect, not insult; discussion, not divisiveness.

Some might be incredulous that a Trumpist would be saying things like that, but I am.

* * *

I see Trump as a blue-collar billionaire, a street fighter. He’s rough around the edges, uninhibited, and confident but also hard-working, capable, insightful about people, quick to recognize talent in others and advance them. He wants to shake up an establishment that is comfortable with perks, pork, and power: keeping the “little guy” down.

Some have styled Trumpists as the silent majority, while others label us as closet racists, misogynists, and all kinds of other “ists.”

Not so. I have been proud that our nation elected a Black man as president. But I have not approved of his political choices, priorities, or policies in most cases.

I have opposed those policies, not the person. I did not, nor did many other who believe as I do, gather in black-clad violent throngs to oppose Obamacare and its flawed rollout.

Nor did we cover our faces while attacking Starbucks during the multitude of executive orders circumventing Congress.

Nor did we burn cars, shout obscenities, or hold crude placards when Obama released violent terrorists from Guantánamo Bay detention camp or when he took myriad other actions that I opposed.

I just waited until Nov. 8, 2016.

Then I did it.

* * *

During his campaign, Donald Trump promised help for the forgotten man and woman; economic help and safety in their communities; tax simplification and reform for all; regulatory relief and reduction for individuals and small businesses; a smaller footprint of the government colossus; a stronger but more nimble military to protect us and respond to crises and disasters where the country’s most critical interests lie; a country safer from terrorist attack.

He is off to a quick start. I like that.

Will he make mistakes? Yes, and that’s pretty normal.

But I am hopeful. I am surprised that I am hopeful. I am pleased that I am hopeful.

A partisan political aside: I am also pleased at all the Democratic obstructionism. I don’t believe it will succeed. Playing to their base on the left, Democrats risk losing their middle, especially if there is any marked level of success in Trump reaching his economic, budgetary, organizational, and diplomatic objectives.

If those objectives are reached relatively quickly, the Republicans should do quite well in the 2018 Senate races in blue states that Trump won in 2016 — if they field strong candidates.

After that election victory, we might see Trump victorious again in 2020. Trump dynasty, anyone? A Trump son or daughter in 2024? In 2028?

Eventually, the pendulum will swing back to the other party. It always has. But perhaps not until the last Trump.

I can’t resist, so I will, tongue in cheek, offer this Bible verse in closing, from 1 Corinthians 15:52 (the King James version):

“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

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