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.

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  1. iRobert
    Posted December 16, 2019 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    Clinton, her campaign, and Democratic Party officials avoid talking about it, but those black folks who didn’t get out and vote in 2016 were those who only do so when pushed or pulled to the polls by a functioning GOTV organization. As I’ve said many times, much evidence suggests that was due to voter ID and GOTV operations being sterilized and shut down from the inside.

    It isn’t talked about for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that it doesn’t serve or even fit the chosen narrative.

  2. Oliva
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Doing GOTV work for the Dems in 2016, talking to people who had never missed a presidential election, older Dem voters would say, repeatedly, that they were so upset that they might not vote. When I asked why, plenty of people said they heard Trump and Sanders call Clinton a crook, and words like that, and now they didn’t trust anyone. The terrible cost of self-immolation. It’s so easy to mock others, weaken civic trust, make it a game—and the game goes on, fun times for those with the least to lose. It will take humbling self-inspection to overcome the easy appeal of cynicism and de-humanization.

  3. iRobert
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    So usually in circumstances like these I’d say there is no way in Hell the Michigan Democratic Party would allow their GOTV operations shut down again in a consecutive cycle.

    But after seeing how the MDP allowed the 2014 Schauer campaign to be flooded with GOP moles, I have very little confidence in them. They seem incuribly naive, unsophisticated, and unprepared.

    Look what they’ve done with the Flint water crisis investigations. Have they accomplished anything? Has anyone been held accountable?

  4. Sad
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Exactly the kind of place Mayor Pete would do well.

    Luckily I think Pete will have much more control of his campaign and won’t rely on the morons and halfwits at the MDP.

  5. iRobert
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 9:53 am | Permalink


    GOTV doesn’t target ‘maybes’. You wouldn’t have been meeting undecided or waffling supporters except that the campaign’s ID operations were being mixed up by design. I’ve been talking to some people working in the MDP’s campaign and everything they tell me about the details of their experiences and observations is suggestive of deliberate mis-targeting during the ID process.

    The ID/GOTV aspects of campaign operations is a simple numbers game, and Democrats have a deep pool to dip from, so when numbers are lost to waffling individuals, it is made for by seeking and identifying up and coming support. That’s young people and semi-active voters. You don’t have to bother with waffling types.

    The ID/GOTV game is much more sheer cold strategy than people generally realize.

  6. John
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    This is incredible… I live a handful of blocks from Brewery Vivant. I’m just at a loss of words…

  7. Frosted Flakes
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    We should all call our representatives to make sure this does not ever happen again. White people giving their opinions on a TV news program? Oh no. It is propaganda. The vast right wing media is trying to make us believe that we should not feel the same way about all Trump supporters as we feel when we see an overhead view of all of those losers at those red hat rallies. It’s bullshit propaganda, folks. Lies!

    **Obvious bigotry from people who are surprisingly ignorant against all odds**

  8. Jean Henry
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Mark– can you please link to that Saturday Six pack interview with the expert on electoral politics? As I recall (as many like to point up here my recollection is not always accurate– unlike theirs) the expert stated that in 2016 Michigan Black voters voted at about the same rate as they had in all previous presidential elections other than Obama’s in 2008 and ’12. They also vote at about the same rate as White Americans. So, while Black voters are reliably Demonstrated, something I don’t think we should ever just count on, they were not any more disaffected from voting in 2016 than as per usual. (Obama not being a usual circumstance.) I had friends of color who worked on GOTV efforts, one in Grand Rapids. While there was a lot of organizational dysfunction, which is also not unusual, not one told me those efforts were selective in their distribution or intentionally neglecting certain areas. At any rate, I think it’s important to recognize that Trump’s slim win in MI in 2016 is attributable to many factors. And many lapses (that’s putting it nicely) by the Clinton campaign. How one chooses to look at that loss reflects one’s political perspective more often than any prevailing truth.

  9. Jean Henry
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    *Democratic not Demonstrated…. ugh.

  10. Jean Henry
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Grand Rapids is 20% Black and 32% POC more broadly. Kent County votes about 47% GOP; 43% Democratic. So I think it’s reasonable to expect that Meet the Press find a more representative sample.

    I talk to Trump supporters all the time. Most are not as ideologically committed as Trump supporters here. They will happily admit he’s suspect and immoral and possibly narcissistic. They may think liberals are stupid but they also think the GOP is fucked and Trump is probably corrupt, but they like a lot of what he is doing. (A few have attributed that work to his team not him; they think he mostly plays golf and tweets which allows others to run the country) Mostly they are weary of politics and the political gamesmanship of which they feel they are the victims. It makes me sad that the conservatives represented here are mostly here to prove liberals wrong. They are so committed to ‘winning’ that they can not concede anything and so the discourse is always factional, insulting and non-productive. They idea of ‘winning’ at discourse is juvenile. That’s not the point of discourse in a pluralistic society.

  11. site admin
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    From someone who lives near Vivant: “This sample group is completely non-representative of the neighborhood they hosted the segment in. A church two blocks away flys a trans pride flag. Talk about bussing people in!”

  12. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Fucking white people

  13. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Does someone who lives near Vivant not understand they are talking to Republicans in Kent County who presumably don’t tend to live in that neighborhood? Do you not think these things through, barky? No you don’t.

  14. iRobert
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    The supposed expert Mark interviewed was full of shit.

  15. Frosted Flakes
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Can Mark give the full video? I would like to hear the part of the video where these scumbags express their feelings about trans flags being flown in front of churches.

    **They look obviously like ignorant bigots, folks…even comically so.**

  16. Jean Henry
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    “The supposed expert Mark interviewed was full of shit.”

    Mark can you please post that link and the CV of the ‘supposed expert?’ iRobert, an anonymous poster on a local blog, would like to contest his legitimacy. iRobert KNOWS things. He knows so much more than other people about the Dem party and politics. He was inside the plot. Just like FF and HW KNOW things about Comey and the FBI and the deep state. And DD KNOWS things about how 9-11 was an inside job. And EOS is practically a scientist– at least they play one on a local blog. Whatever you do, never trust any publicly accountable professional’s position on subjects that fall within their areas of expertise. Lamestream, Man. Don’t be a sheep.

  17. Jean Henry
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    iRobert– care to comment?
    Graph on Black voter turnout since 2000 shown:

  18. iRobert
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    You’re a loser, Jean, and you know nothing about such things. Mark, I would like to show the election data which shows your supposed expert is full of shit.

  19. iRobert
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    The Obama campaign’s voter ID and GOTV operations were phenomenal.

    The Hillary campaign’s voter ID and GOTV operations were a disaster, and it was obvious all along to any experienced person working on it. All alarms were ignored and quieted by Clinton’s top campaign officials.

  20. ElsieGal
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    I read an interesting follow-up set of interviews posted by a local (Kent County) journalist. Note that the site is pretty solidly liberal so for any of you who may cringe at such a site, best skip it. I very much enjoy the deep dives she does into a lot of topics that are of great import today, and the commenters there are equally engaging. Here’s the link:

  21. Posted December 17, 2019 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know that I have the recording, but I thin, you might be referring to the episode of the radio show where I talked with University of Michigan Professor of Political Science Vincent Hutchings, the author of Public Opinion and Democratic Accountability: How Citizens Learn About Politics, Jean.

  22. Posted December 17, 2019 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing that Emptywheel link, ElsieGal. I’d missed that.

  23. Jean Henry
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    “Mark, I would like to show the election data which shows your supposed expert is full of shit.”


  24. Jean Henry
    Posted December 17, 2019 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    The supposed expert’s CV:

  25. iRobert
    Posted December 19, 2019 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Michigan vote totals

    Kerry 2004 = 2,479,183

    Clinton 2016 = 2,279,543

    199,640 fewer votes for Hillary than for Kerry

  26. iRobert
    Posted December 19, 2019 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    The people I’ve talk with who worked on the 2016 campaign in Michigan have said the voter identification activities were all fouled up. They said it was obvious there was something wrong with the lists they were working off of, and from their descriptions it’s pretty obvious the problems were by design.

    GOTV operations I observed on Election Day and the few days leading into it, were clearly gutted and campaigners were working off lists of the wrong people.

    Noon exit polls on Election Day were also manipulated so as not to tip off anyone who might be in a position to organize an emergency GOTV effort.

  27. iRobert
    Posted December 19, 2019 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry. Above, I gave Trump’s total 2016 vote in Michigan, not Clinton’s.

    2016 Hillary = 2,268,839

    That’s 210,344 less than Kerry’s 2004 total.

  28. iRobert
    Posted December 19, 2019 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    Wayne County totals
    2004 Kerry = 600,047
    2016 Clinton = 517,842

    In Wayne County alone, Clinton got 82,205 fewer votes in 2016 than Kerry did in 2004.

  29. iRobert
    Posted December 19, 2019 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    “iRobert– care to comment?
    Graph on Black voter turnout since 2000 shown:”

    My comment is that the link you shared doesn’t address my assertion. Naturally, there has been some decline minority voter turnout since Obama’s first win in 2008. However, Clinton’s numbers were down considerably from Kerry’s numbers 12 years earlier.

  30. Jean Henry
    Posted December 19, 2019 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    Did the polls say Kerry was going to win in a landslide?

  31. iRobert
    Posted December 19, 2019 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    No, but why are you changing the subject?

  32. iRobert
    Posted December 19, 2019 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    JH: “they were not any more disaffected from voting in 2016 than as per usual.“

    Statewide Clinton got 210k fewer votes than Kerry did 12 years earlier.

    In Wayne County Clinton got 82k fewer votes than Kerry did 12 years earlier.

    Once again, you are simply full of shit, Jean.

  33. Jean Henry
    Posted December 19, 2019 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    You do seem to have a point. I would love to see Professor Hutchings respond. Maybe he was speaking nationally. I still don’t understand what benefit could be derived from altered voter roles for GOTV efforts. Why do you believe the Dems would shott themselves in the foot that way? What would their motivation be?

  34. Jean Henry
    Posted December 19, 2019 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    It sure is handy when you provide documentation for your statements instead of just pronouncing people full of shit, iRobert.

  35. Frosted Flakes
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    The moral of the story is that iRobert needs to be more handy.

  36. Jean Henry
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    FF– Not moral. These are standards of effective public discourse, supporting one’s claims, that are broadly understood, so much so that you yourself regularly call for them. They also save everyone a lot of time

  37. Frosted Flakes
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Jean is right. iRobert needs to start demonstrating when someone is full of shit faster.

  38. iRobert
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    I apologize for not providing more info and stating sources. I’ve been posting my comments using an iPhone 5 and had hoped to get some time to get on a PC and post a more complete examination.

  39. Sad
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Luckily most commentators do a good job of proving themselves to be full of shit without needing third party confirmation.

  40. iRobert
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    JH: “Why do you believe the Dems would [shoot] themselves in the foot that way? What would their motivation be?”

    It looks to me like the Clinton campaign chose to hand over their ID/GOTV duties to a firm which double-crossed them. There isn’t much detail reported in the press about it, but I’d bet there are plenty of staffers who could shed much light on what was going on.

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