Donald Trump supporters
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

I was prepared to be receptive to John Daniel Davidson’s column in The Federalist. The premise seemed promising. He’s been traveling across the country to cover the Democratic primaries. In doing so, he’s made a habit of talking to Democratic voters to see what’s on their mind and how they feel about the various candidates. He doesn’t adopt a confrontational tone but instead hides his own political beliefs in order to get a more candid response from the people he interviews. By contrast, he feels that most reporters are not making the same good faith effort to understand Trump voters because the mainstream press loathes Trump and has nothing but contempt for his followers.

I was hoping he might offer me one of two things, if not both. First, I thought he’d tell me what he’s learned about the Democratic voters and what it might mean for the upcoming primaries and the general election. Perhaps he’d also find time to give an example or two in which he’s learned something or modified his view on some subject. After all, it would be a bit strange not to find any merit in anything he hears people say about politics or not to discover any new angles on policy after listening to people discuss their struggles and challenges.

Second, I thought he’d tell us some of what the mainstream reporters would likely discover if they were to adopt his respectful approach to listening to people he disagrees with. If there’s a story out there that helps explain Trump’s appeal that isn’t getting reported for lack of listening, then couldn’t Davidson give us at least a preview on that?

Unfortunately, Davidson did none of these things in his column. He provided no opinion on how Democrats are leaning in the primaries or whether or not one candidate or another is in a good position because they’re in tune with the voters. He didn’t say that he had modified a single opinion of his own through his interactions with Democrats or discovered some way that a Republican could attract a few of them. He said nothing about what really drives Trump voters to Trump.

His column was built entirely around documenting examples of mainstream journalists and television personalities showing condescension toward anyone who puts their trust in Trump.

As we move further into the 2020 cycle, you’re going to see a lot more of this sneering contempt for Trump voters from the media, especially for voters in rural and exurban areas. When you do, know that of all the reporters and pundits traveling the country to cover the election, very few are doing the relatively easy work of trying to understand and empathize with the people they’re writing about.

The media wasn’t interested in why so many people were drawn to Trump four years ago, and despite all that’s happened since then, they still aren’t interested. That’s why so much of the political reporting you’ll see this year will be flat and colorless, lacking any real insight or nuance, and dripping with a condescension bordering on hatred.

There’s a kind of circular reasoning that emerges from this, even though it isn’t openly expressed in the piece. Basically, Davidson is saying that Trump voters hate the media because the media hate them. What people like about Trump is that he has the same relationship with the elitist press that they do. It’s as if the mainstream press could make Trump less appealing by being more respectful to his supporters. Except that wasn’t supposed to the point of the piece.

Most Democrats I encounter feel like there has been a lot of articles published about how Trump voters feel and comparatively few articles about what Clinton voters felt. Even after the election, this trend continued. As a major resistance rose up and got organized to fight President Trump, these organizers were profiled now and then, but not with the same frequency as the mainstream press filled their articles with quotes from Trump voters.

But even if we accept Davidson’s premise that reporters don’t actually talk to or listen to Trump voters, it’s clear that the entire point of his piece is to ramp up a feeling of grievance. Davidson wants to highlight examples of people in the press showing disrespect to Trump’s supporters so that they won’t give any credence to negative stories about Trump. He wants to feed their sense of victimhood so that they behave like a threatened tribe.

It’s too bad that Davidson has no higher ambitions than this. If he’s to be believed, he’s talked to enough voters to have plenty of interesting material. But he provides nothing interesting at all.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at