Can Trump Win the Horse-and-Buggy Set?

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Citizens In Five States Vote In Primary Elections
Strange to say, a PAC has been formed to get the humble, peaceable Amish to violate their principles by voting — for Donald Trump. Photo: Mark Wilson/2016 Getty Images

Political junkies love to obsess about battleground states in close presidential elections, and there’s no scenario whereby Donald Trump becomes POTUS without carrying two Rust Belt states won twice by Barack Obama: Ohio and Pennsylvania. 

So perhaps it was inevitable that Trump allies are already focusing on one tiny but photogenic group with significant populations in those two states: the Amish. Here’s the scoop from MSNBC:

Trump supporters with ties to Dr. Ben Carson and Newt Gingrich have founded Amish PAC, which aims to launch the most ambitious get-out-the-vote efforts among the devout religious sect to date. They will almost certainly face an uphill battle, since the Amish don’t watch television or read social media, which could be a net positive or negative for Trump, depending on your point of view. And while voting is not necessarily prohibited by their strict religious beliefs, it’s not exactly encouraged either.

The article makes it sound like non-voting among the Amish is an atavistic habit or a corollary of their cultural separation from modern society. It actually goes quite a bit deeper than that: The Amish are descendants of German and Swiss Anabaptists who opposed on theological grounds any active cooperation with a civil society regarded as inherently wicked (they were savagely persecuted by Protestant and Catholic governments alike). Traditionally, most Anabaptists have opposed serving in public office or in the military and the taking of oaths on religious grounds. Voting (not really an option when Anabaptist beliefs were being formed) is most definitely frowned upon as a sort of collaboration with the enemy. And so voting rates among the Amish (and their cousins, the less culturally primitive Mennonites) are very low.

As part of its general strategy of mobilizing conservative Christians, George W. Bush’s reelection campaign in 2004 had a visible initiative to get the Amish to vote, with slender results. Donald Trump is, to put it mildly, an unlikely vehicle for any large change in Amish voting — or non-voting — traditions.

George W. Bush is not Donald Trump,” Donald Kraybill, an expert on the Amish people at Elizabethtown College told Politico. “There’s a lot of aspects about Trump that are antithetical to Amish values and Amish beliefs. This is a very different situation now than it was in 2004.”

If you had to choose two adjectives to describe the cardinal virtues valued by the Amish, they would probably be humble and peaceable. Neither would come to mind when thinking about Donald Trump, that immensely immodest self-promoter and champion of waterboarding and the slaughter of women and children related to terrorists.

But a vote’s a vote, and if a few thousand Amish (out of a total population of about 130,000 in these two states) can be convinced to vote for the GOP this November, and Ohio or Pennsylvania become like Florida in 2000, the founders of Amish PAC will be jumping up and down demanding credit and spoils — to the shame of most members of their target audience.

Can Trump Win the Horse-and-Buggy Set?