Republican Elites Seem Proud to Say They Don’t Know Any Trump Voters

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GOP Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Campaigns In Cedar Falls, Iowa
Republican elites don't much run into these people socially. Photo: Joe Raedle/2016 Getty Images

If you’ve read conservatives writing about politics for a while, you’ve probably at some point run across a mangled pseudo-quote from the legendary film critic Pauline Kael to the effect that she didn’t understand how Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern in 1972 because nobody she knew voted for Tricky Dick. While the “quote” has been debunked on occasion (e.g., by James Wolcott at Vanity Fair), it lives on as a symbol of bicoastal-liberal-elite cultural and political insularity. But it ought to be permanently retired this year in favor of the many verifiable statements of befuddlement by Republican poo-bahs who claim nobody they know is supporting Donald J. Trump for president. 

There’s a rich harvest of such quotes in a dispatch from New Hampshire by veteran conservative reporter Byron York, based on his experience at a big multi-candidate (but not you-know-who!) state party event at the Nashua Radisson over the weekend:

In one of my first conversations at the Radisson, with two Republican activists, I asked a simple what’s-up question about Trump. Both immediately responded in exactly the same way: “I don’t know anybody who supports him.” They’re politically active and aware, but they said they have no contact in their daily lives with even a single person who supports their party’s front-runner.

After that conversation, I began to ask everyone I met: Do you know anyone who supports Donald Trump? In more cases than not — actually, in nearly all the cases — the answer was no. I asked one woman Friday night, and she said she hadn’t thought about it. I ran into her the next morning at breakfast, and she said, “That was a good question you asked me last night, and I’ve given it some thought.” And no, she didn’t know any Trump supporters.

York even posed the Question to former governor John Sununu and his wife:

When we talked about the presidential race — a race in a state whose ground-level politics Sununu knows better than almost anyone — Sununu must have said some version of “I don’t know what is going on” about a dozen times….

I asked Mr. and Mrs. Sununu whether they knew anyone who supports Trump. They looked at each other for a minute, thinking, and finally said yes, there’s a guy down the street from them who does.

York is not the only reporter encountering this peculiar phenomenon. In a piece on Friday that was mostly a reminder that a majority of New Hampshire Republicans don’t support Trump, the New York Times’ Michael Barbaro and Ashley Parker produced this illustrative quote:

So deep is the dislike for him in some quarters that people like Mrs. Cleveland’s husband, Doug, question the accuracy of polls that so consistently identify Mr. Trump as leading the field with around 32 percent. “I’ve never met a single one of them,” Mr. Cleveland said about those said to be backing Mr. Trump. “Where are all these Trump supporters? Everyone we know is supporting somebody else.”

Reading such accounts, you can sometimes discern genuine puzzlement, sometimes the suspicion that interlopers (e.g., independents, who in New Hampshire can vote in either party’s primary) are participating in unusual numbers, and sometimes just plain social snobbery. The disproportionate percentage of Trump supporters who do not have a college education must be a tad alarming to the country club/managerial set, who are fine with securing the votes of white working-class folk so long as they go along with GOP orthodoxy on economic issues. 

In any event, unless something changes very significantly between now and February 9, Republicans who would like to acquaint themselves with Trump supporters should just get to know their neighbors in the voting lines, since roughly a third of them (according to the RealClearPolitics polling averages) are likely to vote for the wiggy dude. And since Trump has led every single public poll of the GOP field taken in the Granite State since last June, the odds of an upset in favor of anyone else remain low.