Just a few months ago, Neil Shaffer thought Iowa was lost to Donald Trump.
“I was worried. We were in the middle of Covid and the economy was not doing so well and Trump was not handling the Covid interviews very well, and he was thinking that this was going to be a bloodbath,” said the farmer and president of a party. Republican county in the northeast of the state.
But on Election Day, rural Iowa turned strong for Trump. Not only did he decisively beat Joe Biden in a state that opinion polls consistently predicted would be close, but the president significantly increased his vote in counties that put Barack Obama in the White House and later traded Trump.
Howard County, where Shaffer lives, went from Obama to Trump by 42 points in 2016, the largest change in the nation. This year, support for the president increased by another seven points to the horror of Democrats who hoped to reduce Trump’s share of the vote, even if they did not hope to win back Howard.
In 2008, Obama won half of Iowa’s 99 counties. Two weeks ago, Biden took only six. That was a pattern that was repeated in the farmlands of the Midwest as Trump solidified support in the rural heart of the United States, deepening the divide with the cities of the region that gave Biden the victory in key states.
“Here, I think 2016 was less a vote for Trump than a vote against Hillary,” Shaffer said. “A lot of people weren’t convinced of it and that’s why they were willing to roll the dice for Trump. Now they are Trump people. They believe in it. They came out strong. “
Shaffer said Trump builds loyalty among a core of rural voters that he has not seen before in a president, and that it will not disappear even when he leaves office.
“I think this Trump moment is long. It has changed politics. It’s like Ronald Reagan, but this has become more of a movement. Nobody hung Reagan flags, “he said.
Shaffer had thought that the election would turn into a referendum on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus and that the verdict would not be a good one after the president’s disastrous daily televised briefings in which he contradicted his own scientists. But Trump increasingly won over voters in the heart of the country by raising his objections to wearing masks and shutting down businesses to impose social distancing as issues of personal independence and economic survival.
Around the same time, an unusually large wave of sympathy for George Floyd after he was assassinated by a Minneapolis police officer in May set off alarm in parts of the country over sometimes violent protests in cities like Portland, Oregon. , and the increasing demands. to “defund the police.”
“George Floyd’s protests had the support of the people,” said Cedrick Schlecht, a mechanic and Trump voter who is among those who initially backed Black Lives Matter’s demands for police accountability.
‘People felt slighted’
“They had a lot of support for reform, but then they started burning buildings and looting, and talking about underfunding, and it all went away. Reforming the police would have been a better choice of words because people here thought that defunding meant eliminating the police, and that was too far left for the people. “
Leading Democrats denounced the violence, but focused on broader issues of police reform that, viewed from rural Iowa, gave weight to Republican claims that radicals would exercise power in a Biden presidency.
But long before Trump solidified at least some of his support after a torrent of anger from some liberals who blamed prejudiced white voters in rural America for the loss of Clinton.
“People felt slighted that we were called racist sticks and talked about the backward Midwest at sticks,” Schlecht said.
Shaffer said that helped more voters turn to the president this year.
“It was a great insult to say that you support Trump because you are a racist. Many of them here voted for Obama, ”he said. “The Democrats see us as simple, uneducated thinkers with guns. It’s a great help to the Iowa Republican Party. “
Yet it is clear that some Trump voters are racist, and that other supporters put aside the president’s own race-motivated division and belligerence, while claiming they don’t like it.
“I know he says those things and it’s wrong,” said a businesswoman who voted twice for Obama and then took a risk with Trump because she thought it would be good for the economy. “I wish I would stop tweeting. But it is not enough for me not to vote for him again. If anything, I feel further away from the Democrats over the past year. They have left the reserve. I no longer recognize them. “
‘Very few farmers were supporters of Biden’
Trump, on the other hand, has successfully presented himself to many Midwestern voters as listening to their concerns and acting accordingly.
“This is probably the most pro-farming president I’ve seen in many years,” said Shaffer, a farmer who also works on river conservation. “This was the first time that a president took on trade rather than just talking about it.”
Trump lavished subsidies on farmers that he said were paid for with tariffs on Chinese imports.
“The money from these tariffs on China went into the pockets of farmers. Our little farm, we have 145 acres of farmland, had $ 18,000 of this money from China, “he said. “Very few farmers that I know of were Biden supporters.”
Trump also benefited from increased confidence in his handling of the economy, along with tax cuts, underpinning the belief in parts of rural America that he would be the best president to oversee the post-coronavirus recovery.
“One thing that helped him was the economy before the coronavirus was really strong,” Schlecht said. “Economies are like trains, it takes a while to slow down. Once they stop, it takes forever to get going again. People fear that Biden will stop the economy due to the coronavirus. “
For all that, Trump still lost the election.
Schlecht, who is less enthusiastic about the president than four years ago but voted for him again because as a hunter he fears that Biden will restrict gun ownership, said that while he generates passionate support among some voters, he alienates many others.
“Trump is kind of an idiot, clearly. Has an abrasive personality. He had his base, but he could have expanded further to attract other people for more votes and he was not interested in that at all. He liked to piss people off, ”he said.
Shaffer also believes that Trump is only to blame for losing.
“I think one of the main reasons Trump lost was that first debate. It was so terrible that even my staunch Republican friends were mortified by it. If you lose, you have no one else to blame. It was yours to lose, ”he said.
‘That mentality is going to stay’
Shaffer still questions the election results, although he is not firmly convinced that they have been manipulated as the president claims.
“This trickle of continuing to count votes every day opens you up to maybe some fraudulent things that might start showing up,” he said.
But Schlecht has no doubt that Trump lost.
“I think it is quite legitimate. There could probably have been a few thousand problem votes here and there, provisional or late-postmarked ballots. But overall, I don’t think that’s enough to make up the difference, ”he said.
Even with Trump gone, Schlecht believes his legacy in rural America will last.
“I think that kind of mentality will stick around for a while. Trump made a connection here, ”he said.
Shaffer said the consequence will be the end of what the country club’s Republican presidential nominee called and a shift in party policy in his region.
“We are no longer the country club party. That was what Romney and George Bush senior, and even George Jr. Now you’re going to have a more populist Republican party, which is good because obviously it’s easier for a populist Republican to win in Iowa than for an elitist, “he said. .
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