Trump’s Strange Appeal to Cultural Conservatives

If the town of Pound, Virginia, is famous for anything, it’s their ordinance against dancing that was overturned by a federal District Court judge in 1999. The judge found that you couldn’t even put on The Nutcracker in Pound without applying for a waiver exempting you from the local ban. The locals said that dancing and alcohol were too volatile a mix to tolerate, which put a damper on the good times at the local honky tonk at the edge of town.

There isn’t much to do in this hamlet tucked into the farthest reaches of the Cumberland Mountains, 425 miles from Washington. A new four-lane highway bypassed the town a few years ago, and the nearest fast-food restaurant is 12 miles away.

But a federal judge is helping to liven up the place. His ruling has many residents here kicking up their heels. Literally. They’re dancing–and for the first time in 18 years, it’s legal.

Pound is in the news again today because the Associated Press profiled it as part of their look at the upcoming gubernatorial race in Virginia. The town went overwhelmingly for Trump, but it’s decidedly less enthusiastic about the Republican candidate for governor, Ed Gillespie. By now, you should be familiar with this story.

The town of Pound, nestled near the Kentucky line, was once a booming coal center where the main drag got so busy with shoppers that people couldn’t find a parking spot. Now, many shops are boarded up with dusty “For Sale” signs. Some buildings are collapsing, overgrown with weeds. Jobs are scarce. Prescription pain pills are a major problem. The high school closed in 2011.

Eight out of 10 voters in Pound backed Trump, and some of the town’s remaining business owners and patrons say their faith has already been rewarded.

“I’ve seen more coal trucks in the last six months than I have in the past eight years,” said David Williams, who owns a TV repair and fishing gear store.

It’s one of the mysteries of our age—the same folks who would ban dancing have no real problem warming up to a person like Donald Trump.

Hair salon owner Kim Mcfall said what little she knows of Gillespie hasn’t impressed her — he’s not enough like Trump, and too much like a typical politician.

“He’s wishy washy,” she said, adding that she’ll probably vote for Gillespie — if she has the time on Election Day…

…To win over Trump voters without directly embracing the president, Gillespie has tried to run on Trump-like issues such as cracking down on unlawful immigrants who commit crimes and preserving Virginia’s Confederate statues. He also campaigned recently in Abingdon, one of southwest Virginia’s biggest towns, with Vice President Mike Pence…

…Cliff Cauthorne, a Pound council member and chaplain at a nearby state prison, said Gillespie has only one good option for motivating his town’s voters: a Trump rally, “or two.”

“Him coming here with a coal miner’s hat on, it would just fire people up. It would fire people up,” Cauthorne said.

Obama lost Wise County, Virginia, 35 percent-63 percent in 2008 and 25 percent-75 percent in 2012. Clinton lost it 18 percent-80 percent in 2016. Maybe the demise of the coal industry explains most of this. I don’t know. It’s obviously a very culturally conservative area that will always favor the Republicans, but it does matter if you’re getting more than one in three of their votes rather than less than one in five of them. The difference between those two outcomes, when magnified across numerous counties in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, explains why Trump is the president.

I can understand why the people of Pound are looking for something different from both political parties, but I still have trouble understanding why they don’t see Trump as a morally compromised person who is unworthy of holding the highest office in the land.

But if they’re not too interested in Ed Gillespie, then at least we share one thing in common.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.