Why do so many Republicans support someone like Donald Trump?
I get asked that question a lot, most recently by a couple of reporters who work here in North Dakota. They don’t understand why someone like President Donald Trump – a serial philanderer with only a rhetorical adherence to the mores of social conservative, an erratic administrator with little regard for the prudent budgeting preferred by fiscal conservatives – could be so strongly supported by Republicans.
Part of it is the culture war. A very large faction of Trump’s base feels forgotten, and why wouldn’t they? They’re ridiculed in popular culture. Democrats eschew their support for more urban, coastal populations and most Republican politicians have been taking them for granted for a long, long time. Even news media journalists tend to treat their reporting assignments into rural, “fly over” America as safaris into some Conradian heart of darkness.
This, recently, from Twitter as an example of that last:
Just hit Fargo and @KormannAlex asks me, “Do they have an airport here?” I say yes. He looks at me: “You mean, they have commercial flights here?”
— John Reinan (@StribGuy) August 12, 2019
Trump, for better or worse, has positioned himself as the champion of this faction of Americans who will cheerfully attack the aforementioned.
But there is another faction of Republicans who aren’t sold on this schtick. Who find Trump’s antics as off-putting, at best, and detrimental to the sound governance of our nation at worst. Yet these people are still counted among the roughly 90 percent of Republicans who support Trump.
Probably because they see the Democratic alternatives as worse. These Republicans probably supported other candidates during the 2016 primaries, but lined up behind Donald Trump because however odious they may find the man the pragmatic choice is to support him.
That’s likely to be true again in 2020, because look at the positions the Democratic candidates are staking out.
Just last month the Democratic front runner, former Vice President Joe Biden, said fossil fuels like oil and coal and natural gas would have no place in America under a Biden administration.
Now Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is on Biden’s heels in the polls, has said she’ll shut down the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines if elected:
When tribal concerns have conflicted with corporate profits or resource extraction, tribes lose. This has to change. When I’m president, energy projects that impact Indian Country won’t proceed without consent. That means revoking Trump’s KeystoneXL and DAPL permits.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) August 16, 2019
“I’ll revoke the the ill-advised and improperly granted permits for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access (DAPL) pipelines, and reject permitting of new projects where these processes are not followed,” the Senator reiterated in a Medium post.
Both of those projects are of distinct importance to North Dakota. The Dakota Access Pipeline, specifically, is currently carrying roughly half of all of North Dakota’s second-largest-in-the-nation oil production to market. It’s impact on the state’s oil industry has been profound. It has lowered the cost of shipping North Dakota out of state, thus making the state’s oil jobs far more resilient to price fluctuations.
That Warren would speak, glibly, of shutting down the pipeline with little regard for the impact on tens of thousands of North Dakotans is remarkable. Warren made this announcement to ingratiate herself to tribal interests, but we shouldn’t forget that among those who would be wounded by a shutdown of DAPL would be the members of the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Forth Berthold reservation. Home to a not at all insignificant chunk of North Dakota’s oil production.
Warren says the permit for DAPL was “improperly granted,” but that pipeline endured years of scrutiny not just from various agencies within the federal government but across the multiple states it operates in. What’s more, that process has been challenged repeatedly in the courts, and survived the judicial scrutiny. By an Obama-appointed Judge, no less.
What Warren and Biden – currently at the top of the polls for Democrats running in 2020 – are proposing would be economically devastating for North Dakota. Heck, one out of every two dollars of taxes the State of North Dakota collects comes from the oil and gas industry.
If you’re a Republican in North Dakota, or even just a North Dakotan, what’s the appeal in supporting candidates who would do so much harm to where you live?
If Democrats want to lure voters in places like North Dakota away from Donald Trump they have to find candidates who care about places like North Dakota.