He’s ‘One of Us’: The Undying Bond Between the Bible Belt and Trump

From The New York Times:  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/14/us/politics/trump-southern-voters-campaign-rallies.html

By Maggie Haberman
Oct. 14, 2018

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Sharon Hurd didn’t know that President Trump had used the phrase “dumb Southerner” to describe his attorney general, but hearing it didn’t bother her.

“We’re ready for somebody to be that outspoken, because he seems to be getting the job done,” said Ms. Hurd, 73, a retiree who once owned a restaurant and a gift shop, standing on a street corner about an hour after Mr. Trump’s rally ended here this month. “He doesn’t try to take his words and make them please everybody, and I think that Southern people are noticing that.”

Few things have appeared to test the bond between Mr. Trump and the South, a political coupling of a thrice-married New Yorker and voters in the Bible Belt that seemed unlikely from the start. The president’s swing this month through deep-red Tennessee and Mississippi, where he basked in the warmth of supporters at political rallies, confirmed that despite the scandals and chaos that have churned out of the White House, their relationship endures.

“It is ironic that the warrior that they have found is a billionaire from New York, but he really speaks their language fluidly,” said Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committee member and party strategist based in Mississippi.

“I don’t think it’s about any specific set of policy positions, but it’s about somebody being a warrior for folks,” he said.

The relationship offers Mr. Trump benefits as well. In Johnson City, Tenn., and in Southaven, Miss., this month, Mr. Trump was far removed from bruising headlines about the special counsel investigation into possible campaign collusion with Russia, his personal finances or allegations of affairs.

And although Mr. Trump often paints a rosy, and sometimes distorted, picture of his support, his descriptions of mutual love with his voters match reality in parts of the South — particularly outside cities and suburbs. In his 2016 victory, he won every Southern state but Virginia. In Tennessee, public polling shows his approval rating is close to 60 percent, far greater than his national average.

After decades of rejecting Northern candidates who were softer on issues they cared about, Southern Republicans have forged a deep, personal connection to the man they saw on television for years. Mr. Trump does the four things those voters love, rally attendees said: He wins, regardless of how fungible the definition of winning may be. He takes the fight directly to Democrats, unlike previous Republican presidential candidates who preferred comity over controversy. He does not bow to politically correct culture. And he does not condescend to them.

After spending 2016 trying to prove his bona fides to voters who found his fame to be aspirational but who remained suspicious of his previous positions on core social issues, Mr. Trump has authenticated a relationship with his supporters, some of whom had previously needed proxies such as Vice President Mike Pence to feel comfortable. At a rally in the spring, Mr. Trump called Tennessee the “home of hardworking American patriots,” an assertion met with cheers.

Continue reading at:  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/14/us/politics/trump-southern-voters-campaign-rallies.html

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