After the 2016 presidential election, Washington Post Reporter Dan Balz traveled across the upper Midwest speaking with supporters of President Trump about their reactions to his presidency so far.
"This started with a very simple question," Balz told MPR News host Kerri Miller. "And that was, 'What really happened? And why?' ... When 60 percent of the people who voted on election day said they didn't think Donald Trump was qualified to be president, how did he end up as president?"
Balz started by going back to the county where he'd grown up in Northwestern Illinois. In the process of digging through voter data, he discovered that there were about 100 counties nationally that had voted in at least four or five consecutive presidential elections for Democrats and then had "flipped" to Trump. About half of these counties were in the upper Midwest — specifically in eastern Iowa, northwest Illinois, southwest Wisconsin and Minnesota.
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"One of the things I found," Balz said, "was that the longer I kept going and talking to people, the more this became a story of how the country, and particularly Trump voters, were absorbing the Trump presidency."
While most people Balz interviewed agreed Trump was keeping with his promises to put America first economically, others were disappointed in his lack of decorum and early-morning Twitter rantings.
"There is a deeper unease that filters through conversations with some of those who voted for him," Balz wrote in his May 2018 piece for the Washington Post, "a recognition that to gain something, they must give something — that to see policy changes they favor they must tolerate behavior they sometimes find inexcusable."
Balz joined Miller to discuss his reporting, and to hear from MPR News listeners about their own feelings on Trump's tenure so far.
A listener named Cynthia — a self-described Christian, a veteran and Trump voter — called to say she knows Trump's not perfect, but, she said, "That man has a spine. And that's what we need in this country: a president with backbone. I'm taking more money home in my paycheck than I did. We've got our embassy in Jerusalem, and he is finally protecting Christians for a change."
Balz said this was a common sentiment from the people he interviewed. "There's a kind of category of voter that I found when I was traveling intermittently throughout the Midwest," he said. "They are the people who were not sure what to do in 2016, but were attracted to Donald Trump for a variety of reasons ... and to the degree to which he says or does things that upset them or unnerve them. At this point they're willing to put that aside because they think, on balance, he's doing the kinds of things that they wanted."
Several listeners called in to say they had been longtime Democrats who voted for President Trump. Dennis, a 50-year union member and lifelong Democrat from Rochester, said he voted for Trump because he thinks the Democrats have come to stand for three issues he doesn't support: gay marriage, abortion and illegal immigration. "And I can't take that anymore," Dennis said.
Balz said that echoes the way many of his interviewees felt about the Democratic Party. Democrats "think the economic message they have talked about for many years is enough to attract those voters," Balz said. "But I think that the cultural and social issues that people see as being priorities of the Democratic party don't sit well with voters like this. And it was a way that Trump was able to reach that."
Use the audio player above to hear the full discussion.