Talking with white people about Trump in Grand Rapids

It would appear as though the folks at NBC News have identified Kent County, Michigan as one of five critical battleground counties across the country that could, along with places like Beaver County, Pennsylvania and Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, provide some insights as to who the next president of the United States might be. So, yesterday, on Meet the Press, Chuck Todd, as part of a new reporting series they’re calling “County to County,” ran excerpts from a focus group held recently at Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids. While a number of people online have been focusing on that fact that NBC News chose to talk only with white Republicans during this segment, I thought that maybe I’d focus more on the numbers shared in the article announcing this new reporting project. First, though, here’s the video of the six white Republicans drinking pint glasses of ice water at the brewery while talking about how they think the impeachment of Donald Trump is “uninteresting” “political theater.”

Before we get to the other stuff, I wanted to first say that I very much get the anger directed at Meet the Press. Given the realities of the world today, it comes across as incredibly tone deaf at best to discuss something as serious as Donald Trump’s impeachable behavior with a panel consisting solely of white Republicans, especially when they’re allowed to spout nonsense unchallenged. With that said, however, I’d like to say two things. First, it’s my hope that this is just the first of many sessions we’ll see on Meet the Press with Grand Rapids voters as part of this series, and I have to think future ones will be more diverse. [My hope is that they just couldn’t find a Republican of color in the entire county.] And, second, as much as the above exchange bothered me, I’m glad that I watched it, as it’s good to be reminded on occasion that not everyone on the other side is a MAGA hat-wearing, Trump rally-attending lunatic motivated primarily by grievance, fear and racial animus. These people, while I disagree with them about the importance of the impeachment, seem to be sincere, and I appreciate their willingness to talk openly about their views.

OK, so with that said, here’s an excerpt from the NBC News article about the launch of the “County to County” project, explaining what they find interesting about Kent County.

…Kent County offers a different view of the push and pull among key voter groups going into 2020. The county, which is home to Grand Rapids, was a place where Trump underperformed in 2016.

Trump flipped Michigan to the GOP side of the ledger in 2016, doing about 3 points better than Mitt Romney did in the state in 2012. But in Kent, a long-time Republican stronghold, Trump did worse – by more than 5 points.

In fact, Trump’s 47.6 percent in the county represented a low-water mark for a GOP presidential candidate in the last two decades.

Driving that drop in the vote for Trump is the kind of voter – and particularly the kid of Republican – that dominates Kent County, wealthy and educated.

Kent County was the long-time home of former president Gerald Ford, it holds the museum that bears his name and it is still home to the moderate, “chamber of commerce Republicans” that were once the biggest base of the GOP. The median household income in Kent is about $5,000 over the Michigan state figure and the percentage of adults with a college degree is seven points above the state numbers.

In recent years, those with college degrees have been trending away from the GOP as the party sees its strength grow with blue-collar voters. Data suggest Trump’s presidency has accelerated those changes.

Kent offers a good perch to watch what those more establishment Republicans will do in 2020. And in a broader sense, it’s a stand-in for other counties that hold similar kinds of voters including Delaware County Ohio and Douglas County Colorado…

OK, so here’s my point with all of this… Everyone’s getting caught up in the fact that Meet the Press talked with these six white folks from Grand Rapids about impeachment, but, for the most part, they appear to be overlooking the context, which is that quite a few Grand Rapids Republicans — maybe even people seated at this table at Brewery Vivant — turned against Donald Trump in 2016. While Trump ended up getting 9,497 more votes than Clinton in Kent County in the 2016 election, he performed worse than any other Republican presidential candidate in decades. And there are lessons to be learned there. For instance, given what we’re seeing nationally, with suburban women beginning to turn away from Trump, one wonders if, this time around, we might see even more Republican women in Kent County either sitting this election out, or voting against Trump. Clearly there was uneasiness about him in 2016, and one has to imagine that’s only grown over the subsequent years. And, let’s remember that Trump only won the state of Michigan by .23% in 2016, the narrowest margin of victory in a presidential election in Michigan’s history. That was just 10,704 votes. And, if we’re going to make up the difference this time out, and turn Michigan blue again, we’re not only going to have to appeal to black voters, who didn’t turn out for Clinton like they did for Obama, but also find out why places like Kent County started growing less red in 2016, when that wasn’t the trend elsewhere in the state… So, yeah, as much as it may pain us to do so, we need to listen to these folks on Meet the Press.


Talking with white people about Trump in Grand Rapids