Who Are President Trump's Supporters?
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The Republican Party holding its convention this week is vastly different from the Republican Party that gathered in Cleveland four years ago. This Republican Party is the party of Donald J. Trump, 45th president, a fact few would have predicted four years ago. Conventional wisdom is the president derives most of his support from working-class voters, voters who live far away from and who resent what they see as coastal elites. Well, that may be true, but the focus on those Trump supporters overlooks the president's, yes, elite, wealthy and powerful supporters. This is the base that New Yorker writer Evan Osnos explores in his recent article "How Greenwich Republicans Learned To Love Trump." And Evan Osnos joins us now. Hey there. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
EVAN OSNOS: Thanks for having me.
KELLY: So start with a short description of Greenwich, Conn., what it looks like, what it feels like, why it's an interesting case study for Trump supporters.
OSNOS: Well, Greenwich, Conn., is one of the wealthiest metropolitan areas in America. It's a bedroom community for a lot of executives who work in New York. And traditionally, it's been very much the heartland of what used to be known as Rockefeller Republicans, country club Republicans. I mean, as a practical matter, there are eight country clubs. And when we say country club Republicans, what we mean traditionally were people who were fiscally conservative and socially liberal, so a little bit left to the party on a lot of issues like civil rights and then they would hold the line on fiscal matters. And that was an important piece of the party for a long time. Greenwich was the home of the Bush family, George H.W. Bush, and importantly his father, Prescott Bush, who was a U.S. senator and really was the icon of that moderate Republican tradition.
KELLY: So as you've spent time there, as you interviewed people, what'd they tell you about how they came to support candidate Trump when he was so unthinkable to many traditional Republicans four or five years ago?
OSNOS: Well, I grew up in Greenwich, and it's a place that's always been interesting to me politically. And what you - what I heard from many people was that over the course of a generation, the focus of the Republican Party had narrowed from thinking as much about these social issues, which certainly still matter to big swaths of the Republican Party around the country. And in places like Greenwich, what we might call the executive class of the Republican Party, it had become more and more tightly focused on business regulation and on taxes. And so when Donald Trump said as a candidate I'm going to lower taxes and I'm going to unburden business, as he put it, from these regulations, that resonated with Greenwich. And you heard people say, well, we may not agree with him on everything, but we are going to throw our support to him. And then they stayed with him.
KELLY: You were reporting from a very specific place, from Greenwich, Conn. Do we know how representative that is? Are there comparable communities of wealthy, elite Republicans backing Trump in different corners all over the U.S.?
OSNOS: There are. We know that on the basis partly of what the typical Trump voter looks like on paper, in data. They are wealthier than we sometimes imagine. They are not all in places that we sometimes assume. They are, in fact, on the coasts. They are in wealthy communities in - from Southern California all the way to New England. They have stayed with him and partly because of their perception that his vision of the economy is what they want. That's been the tie that binds them together. And now that the economy is really struggling, it becomes a much harder sale for him.
KELLY: You've mentioned the economy a few times. Is that the single biggest issue that has attracted these voters to Trump and is keeping them on his side?
OSNOS: It's a big issue. I think a more complete answer is there is an element of this that there are people who are very uneasy about racial politics in this country. And it's not something that they like to talk about. But the reality is some of them are uneasy about the idea that this country is becoming more diverse. And they often will answer the question in economic terms. But if you have a longer conversation, you hear them say that they wish that immigrants were assimilating. All of these are often - there are ways that people talk about something in an indirect fashion. You know, Mary Louise, it's kind of a - it's a hard one to talk to people about casually because what you're essentially asking somebody is are you uncomfortable with the country becoming more diverse? And intellectually often people will say, no, of course, I'm not uncomfortable with it. But then when it comes to their voting behavior, we see that there are hesitations, that they are uncomfortable with it. And Donald Trump has figured out how to speak that language. And it has worked for him.
KELLY: Did you meet anybody reporting this story who really surprised you?
OSNOS: Yeah. There was one person in particular who is the head of the Finance Board in Greenwich. And I - he's a Republican who supports Donald Trump. It's a very powerful position. He's the person who decides how money is given out to things like special education in the schools and snow plowing and all the kind of day-to-day services. And I asked him - I said, does it bother you in the end the way he talks about women, the way he talks about immigrants? What he said to me was, look, I care about the 60,000 people who live in my town. That's what I care about. And I said but isn't there a larger responsibility here just as a citizen? And he said, look, I can't worry about the things outside of that. I'm paraphrasing there, but that point was very striking to me because I - my imagination, my - in a sense, my sense of what that Prescott Bush Republican Party once was was, look, we may not agree with Democrats on much, but we fundamentally imagine that our responsibility as people in office and as citizens is to all Americans. And I got the sense that there is a narrower definition that has taken hold for some people of what it means to have a responsibility to others. And that really struck me.
KELLY: Thank you, Evan.
OSNOS: My pleasure. Thanks, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Evan Osnos - he writes for The New Yorker. His newest article is a profile of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.