Derek Mooney: If The MAGA Cap Fits, Maybe It’s Just Raining


Derek Mooney (above) overhears Trump and anti-Trump voices in Washington DC this week (top pic by Derek)

I write this week’s column while sitting in my hotel room, very late on Monday night/Tuesday morning. I am about 800m from the Pentagon, just outside Washington DC.

I am mainly here on business, though I should make it clear that my proximity to the Pentagon is completely unrelated to my work. I am at Pentagon City because hotels here cost a lot less than those downtown.

It is a trip that I usually make around this time of this year, though this time I decided to take a few ‘personal days’ beforehand rather than afterwards.

I only mention this as a way of explaining that this is my first time being in the US for Veterans Day. Veterans’ Day in the U.S. corresponds with WWI Armistice day – the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Though it was officially on Sunday, yesterday (Monday) is the public holiday in lieu.

It is why this hotel, indeed most of the local bars and restaurants, have been thronged for the past few days with military veterans of all ages, along with their families, coming to visit the nearby Arlington military cemetery.

Strolling to a local mall on Sunday, I was struck by the number of times I heard young locals say “thank you for your service” to ex-servicemen and women they passed on the street.

While this is perhaps not so unexpected in an area so filled with people who either work in the Pentagon or are associated somehow with the military, it is still unusual to hear it and – notwithstanding the legitimate concerns about US military actions in various parts of the world – even a bit moving.

If only our government held the service of those currently serving in Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Irish Defence Forces in such a high regard, but that is an article for another day.

Given the number of out of town veterans about, I tried to channel my inner Maeve Binchy and began earwigging conversations in bars and restaurants to hear what, if anything, they were saying about President Trump.

It was mixed result.

It ranged from the 32-year-old barman, in a great neighbourhood bar about an hour’s drive south of Arlington, who talked about how he can only find bar work despite having a degree in economics, to the local baristas who have recently come to live in the US and build their futures here. These were not Trump voters.

I did overhear a few possible Trump voters, some even in the bright red “Make America Great Again” Maga baseball caps, but not that many. My heart started to lift on Sunday morning as I listened eagerly to a married couple, in their 60s, at a neighbouring table at breakfast, speak disapprovingly of Trump’s behaviour in Paris.

While both were genuinely irritated and even embarrassed by Trump’s failure to attend some events due to rain, it was still not a deal breaker to them. “At least he gets things done”, said the wife, as they discussed Trump’s counter balancing merits. Her husband agreed, citing the number of new jobs and record stock market highs since Trump took the White House.

Remember this is a conversation between them. I was just an eavesdropper. That said, I nearly had to be restrained from intervening, shouting: “So what? Mussolini made the trains to run on time… was that worth the brutal fascism?”.

Fortunately, I didn’t. Partially because this old Mussolini trope is false – Fake News so to speak – but mainly because they were just a nice couple having a private chat as they watched the news reports from the Paris Armistice day commemorations.

They were not festooned with Trump hats or National Rifle Association t-shirts. They were a courteous, well-spoken, decent, middle-of-the-road couple in Washington for Veterans’ Day.

They did not match the mental image we have of Trump supporters, but could it possibly be that our mental picture of Trump voters is warped and that they represent most Trump voters?

Yes, they were both white. Yes, they were both in their sixties. But they were also something else – (a) they were not from a big city – from what I could glean in their chat with the waitress, they came from rural Carolina and (b) neither were college-educated – though this is more a hunch than a statement of unimpeachable fact.

What they were was an illustration of the reality that the big political divide in the U.S. today is between those who live in the large urban sprawls and those who live in rural, small town America. It is also between those with a third level education and those without one.

The divide is about a large part of America that feels passed over.

This is the America that has not felt the economic benefits of the success of the tech giants or globalisation. It is also a big chunk of America, especially in the old industrial heartlands of small-town Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Michigan that once solidly voted Democrat.

Like it or not, there is a sizeable section of this non-urban, non-college population who perceive Trump as delivering on the things he promised. It is not a majority view – indeed the results of the midterms point to Trump having a major battle on his hands for re-election in 2020 – but it is still a sizeable and consistent minority.

Back in 2016, Trump won the Presidency with 46% of the national vote. Last week he secured a 45% approval rating. True, it was lower a few months back, but while some supporters may abandon him briefly, he still has a solid wall of support that will not desert just because the “big city” newspapers and national TV pundits don’t like him.

If anything, this “urban” disapproval may be one of his biggest plusses – though the biggest factor in his 2016 win still remains the fact that he was running against the second least liked major-party nominee of all time: Hilary Clinton. By the way, Trump was the first.

Where the Democrats won last week, their margins of victory (in the House of Representatives contests it was about +7%) were roughly in line with Trump’s net margin of disapproval (over approval) which has lately been around -9%. The health warning which accompanies this is, of course, the fact that Hilary Clinton (even with her historically high disapproval rating) won the popular vote in 2016 and got 2.9 million more votes than Trump.

What seems to have changed since 2016 is not that the Democrats have gotten their act together, but rather than the increasing number of self-identifying independent voters, especial ly those in suburban America, are backing Democrats.

The strong showing of Beto O’Rourke in once solidly Republican Texas may be a pointer to where the Democrats need to go. In 2016 Trump beat Clinton by a margin of around 800k votes (4.7million to 3.9 million). Last week O’Rourke slashed it back to just 200k votes.

To be fair, I know I am reading far too much into a few overheard conversations from a three-day stay in an area whose local voters, most of whom are on the Federal Government payroll, overwhelmingly voted Democrat, but hey, if you can’t trust the opinion of the guy serving you a few pints of Yeungling, who the hell can you trust?

Not the President of the USA if it is raining, it seems.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010. His column appears here every Tuesday Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

16 thoughts on “Derek Mooney: If The MAGA Cap Fits, Maybe It’s Just Raining

  1. Tom

    Trump supporters are vile. There’s not much else to study about them.

    And you would really like us to get involved in worshipping the military? Your political views are pretty clear and fascist leaning. H

    1. Ollie Cromwell

      Pretty much sums up why Trump has a very good chance of re-election in 2020.
      All Trump supporters are not vile.
      In the same way that not all Brexit supporters are ignorant,as O’Toole churns out yet again in today’s Irish Times.
      Trump appeals to a broad base and not all of them are gum-chewing,gun-toting good ol’ boys.
      The Democrats real problem is that only two years away from the elections and there’s talk of Hillary Clinton running again.
      Now that would be a catastrophic mistake.

      1. pedeyw

        They’re happy to overlook his constant dog whistles to white supremacists and proto-fascist tendencies even if they are not so inclined themselves which is pretty vile, tbh.
        You are right to say running Hilary would be a terrible mistake, though.

        1. Ollie Cromwell

          Basket of deplorables.
          Remember how that worked for Hillary last time ?
          She is loathed by much of the Democratic party.
          They need to choose a female candidate who is smart,youngish and not a Beltway insider.
          There are plenty out there making great inroads into territory that Clinton ignored/took for granted during the last election.
          And they need to come up with a credible alternative vision to the POTUS that is not just anything/anybody but Trump.
          The Republicans have a very impressive election machine with a good social media operation and plenty of experienced operatives on the ground.
          They also have a booming economy,low unemployment and a foreign policy that is not seeing large numbers of American troops in active combat.
          The Democrats have most of the liberal media – the trouble is Trump is setting their daily agenda with his early morning tweets and it’s driving them demented.
          Of course,all this could change if Robert Mueller finds some dirt.

  2. dav

    Thanks Derek, The most depressing thing for me about Trumps last press conference was his utter happiness at being there and knowing that not one journalist could lay a glove on him. A Number of yanks I know are saying Trump 2020 is a very real possibility of succeeding.

  3. bisted

    …ok Derek…I’ll admit I’m still sore about loosing actual euros on my assessment that the shinners would come second to squee in the presidential election…but…I put my money where my mouth is and my punt was based on a bit more than an opinion gleaned from a barman and two oul ones with one opinion…

  4. Starina

    Derek, there’s plenty of actual statistical data out there on Trump/Republican voters without you writing a 1,000 essay of personal eavesdropping anecdotes. FiveThirtyEight do a great job of this.

    Republican voters are all complicit. every single one. Even my mother’s very nice partner is fupping complicit. it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily evil, it just means they’re more comfortable with racism and creeping fascism than not.

    1. Nigel

      My best friend’s parents voted for him. They’re lovely people. She wasn’t surprised, exactly, but they’ve since admitted that they did it more or less for a laugh and tend to avoid talking about it now.

    2. realPolithicks

      Very well said Starina, this narrative that not everyone who voted for drumfp is a racist is false. drumfp is demonstrably racist and was shown to be before the election so therefore by voting for him you implicitly support his racism.

  5. Nigel

    US reverence for their military will never not be creepy, but it’s crucial to their view of themselves as the good guys out fighting for freedom and democracy. The disconnect between this reverence and the treatment of army veterans, let alone the realities of US military adventurism, is typical, though, and of a piece with the disconnect between their desire for access to affordable health care and voting for people out to destroy that access, and a nation of immigrants going into paroxysms of terror over a caravan of refugees still two months away from their border.

    So their adorable folksiness and sense of being passed over, which is a nice way of saying grievance and resentment, has to be squared with their support of a man whose administration released a doctored video of an incident that happened in full public view to accuse someone of assault. This is grossly unethical behaviour. Now the question is, do they believe such an assault occurred? Do they know no assault occurred but will say it did just to own the libs and the media? Or do they literally not care so long as he’s getting things done, even though ‘getting things done’ is something they have to take on faith as part of the message from a man who released a doctored video of a public event?

    The ultimate conclusion for the Democrats is that no, you probably can’t reach people who have decided to believe in Trump, you have to reach everyone else and then give Trump supporters their healthcare, veteran care and some sort of sane and humane response to immigration, even though they will literally hate you for it and send bombs to you and keep believing every stupid and obvious lie about you.

    The Democrats didn’t win the House by winning over Trump supporters, they won by persuading the disaffected and the disenfranchised that their votes could actually stack up against the supposedly indomitable Trump base, which everyone insists on treating with a weird reverence as if they are the only true and authentic Americans.

    But the biggest risk to them and to Trump in 2020 as a result of the mid-terms isn’t the investigations and hearings and legislation the Democrats will probably launch in January, but the local election procedure reforms to combat voter suppression and gerrymandering.

    1. Starina

      +1 Nigel.

      and the evangelical element who have been brainwashed from birth to believe whatever the person at the top tells them to believe.

  6. Iwerzon

    “ an area whose local voters, most of whom are on the Federal Government payroll, overwhelmingly voted Democrat.”
    Locals in Washington DC can’t vote, they don’t have any representation or governor hence the slogan ‘No Taxation Without Representation’. Maybe, though, you’re restaurant was still in Arlington, Virginia.

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