WIN or LOSE— I learned from the RVAT (Republican Voters Against Trump) that a few Republicans share my values…
Where I grew up in the South, I’d be known as a “yellow dog Democrat”. That means if a yellow dog ran on the Democratic ticket, I’d vote for it. Such party allegiance isn’t always something to brag about. But this year, the difference between the two parties has been so huge, you could have put both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in the intervening gulf.
As writer, I seek to understand motivation. But though I’ve strived time and again to understand Trump’s appeal, I don’t entirely get it. There’s racism, yes. And the anti-gun-control fanatics. There are the wealthy who financially benefit from his anti-tax policies. And, the ordinary Americans who, I believe, are attracted to his bravura — he’s like a bigger-than-life action hero who promises he can save the day. And for many people,— bewildered and disoriented by today’s national and global complexities— that has huge appeal.
Now, however, it should be clear that Trump is not saving the day — he’s making it worse hour by hour, tweet by tweet. Yet as the recent election reveals, his popularity remains strong. Especially among Republicans. Very few have pulled away from the fold. Those who do, show great courage. One of the key anti-Trump Republicans, from the very outset, is Sarah Longwell of Republican Voters Against Trump (RVAT).
Longwell, I’m guessing, is as stalwart a Republican as I am a Democrat. Under ordinary times, we’d have little common ground. But four years ago, she became Never Trumper — one of a rare breed that saw Trump’s flaws and swore they’d never aprrove of him. That didn’t last for long. His actions like cutting taxes, appointing anti-abortion judges and moving the US Embassy to Jerusaleum (without a shred of Palestinian buy-in), pleased many. Not Sarah. She worked hard during the impeachment hearings to have him removed from office and, as the head of RVAT, she’s worked even harder to have him voted out of office.
Somehow I got on the RVAT mailing list. I also managed to make it to a number of pro-Trump mailing lists with names like “Pants on Fire” and “Leap Frog America” that offered advice about weight loss while warning folks that the Democrats were stealing the White House. These emails would be quickly deleted.
But I always opened the Republican Voters Against Trump emails. In fact, I’ve donated to RVAT nearly as much as to the wide variety of Democratic causes that have sprung up during past months like mushrooms after a downpour.
Aside from the fact that we share the same goal, I’ve been incredibly impressed by RVAT’s political campaign. From the outset, RVAT solicited comments from a wide variety of disenchanted Republicans. From Texas good-ole-boys to pious evangelicals, we could hear why these life-long Republicans no longer trust Trump. And each one stated how this year they had decided to vote for Biden. RVAT deployed these cameos in video broadcasts, social media and on billboards.
The billboards, I thought, were particularly ingenious because some people might drive past day after day after day — and the message is hard to miss. Their purpose was to give former Trump voters and any Republicans the “permission” to not vote for Trump in this election and to consider voting for Biden.
More recently, RVAT has ratcheted up the power of their videos. They featured individuals who’d worked in various high-ranking jobs in the Trump White House. But had grown increasingly disenchanted, shocked and appalled by the president’s behavior and policies. One young man who worked for FEMA said, at one meeting, that Trump had dismissed the claims of Californians whose homes had burned down — “they didn’t vote for me, so who cares about them.” A young woman, working on COVID 19 policy, spoke of how Trump despises the people who support him. “I’m glad I don’t have to touch their hands any more.”
These advertisements were so damn effective — they revealed Trump to be such an offensive person on every level — I can hardly believe anyone seeing them could maintain a shred of support for Trump. Yet, as the election has just shown, millions do. A friend of mine explains, “They drank the Kool-Aid.” referring to the Jim Jones cult followers who believed in his message so devoutly they drank cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. In other words, there’s no rational, sane message that could reach these folks.
And yet RVAT ads (showing real people talking) were very meaningful to me. They revealed that there are Republicans — perhaps even a fair number — who either didn’t drink the Kool-Aid or who took a swallow and spit right it out. They reveal Republicans with backbone and ethics who who are aware of how terrible Trump has been — for our democracy, in his abysmal response to COVID-19, in regard to our role in world leadership, the environment and for the civil and human rights of all Americans.
Seeing them makes me feel more sane. It clues me in to the fact that there are people out there with whom I may superficially have little in common — but who share my primary values.
I’m sure RVAT had an impact on the election — just not as big an impact as one would expect or hope for. I would have been happy with a huge Biden landslide. And so, I believe, would Sarah Longwell. But driving past those billboards did convince some folks, I’m certain of it. ##