We frequently talk about how intolerant rhetoric can cost the Republicans support among the targets of their contempt. They’re going to lose support among young women, we say, and gays and lesbians, and Latinos and Asians and blacks and…
That’s all true, but this is a general phenomenon that actually goes on in an atomized and individualized way– one voter at a time.
Here’s one of those voters:
At midday on the eve of the [Iowa] caucuses, into the Hockenberry house walked two men who had driven to Dubuque from Milwaukee in a white Mercedes SUV. One of them was Ismail Fersat, who was from Turkey, and Muslim, and a successful entrepreneur who ran his own granite-countertop business. Once, back in Turkey, he was the national boxing champ. He came to America from Istanbul 16 years ago in hopes of becoming a professional boxer.
What did America mean to him? “For me, the key is democracy,” said Fersat, still two years away from citizenship. “I feel that if the people can tell honestly and confidently what they think without any fear, no matter what religion they belong to, what culture they belong to — that, to me, is democracy.” He had more than anything admired this about America — until he started to worry about it during this campaign.
For years in Wisconsin, he had thought that he should support the Republicans, because they would be best for business. Then along came Trump. “When Trump came out, I felt offended by the comment he made. The Muslim is blah, blah. That hurt me in a big way. I see democracy as something else. When Trump came out, boom, no more. I’m done with the Republicans. I said, ‘I’m on the wrong side!'”
Here’s an entrepreneurial immigrant, a job creator and small businessman. The chances are pretty good that he has some traditional ideas about gender roles and family and human sexuality. He was a Republican, he says, because he believed they would be better for his business. That stands to reason since their economic rhetoric is aimed like a laser at people like him. How many times did Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan talk about small business owners and entrepreneurship? It was like a mantra, or Chinese water torture, or an annoying involuntary tic.
Yet, once Donald Trump came out and said that “Islam hates us” and Muslims shouldn’t be allowed into the country and they should be forced to register with the government and that he might shut down mosques because virtually 100% of them are anti-American?
Once Donald Trump said all that, Ismail Fersat got the hint and said, “I’m on the wrong side!!”
And Ismail Fersat didn’t become some anti-American saboteur or terrorist. He and his buddy jumped in their white Mercedes SUV and drove down to Iowa to campaign for Hillary Clinton. They decided to knock doors for her campaign because they believe in democracy and they believe in the right to say (and be) what you want without fear.
Everyone has their own story, but there are millions of people in this country who are making, or have already made, or will soon be making the same voyage as Mr. Fersat and his friend.
That’s how a once great party rips itself apart– one voter at a time.