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How Midwestern rural voters are processing the Trump verdict ahead of the election


By Mark Yonkman

Mark Yonkman is the founder of the newly created Super PAC Reclaim the Rural Vote and a rural vote messaging expert. Mark’s background straddles not only the rural and urban worlds, but the black/white, gay/straight, and farm/professional worlds as well.

I talked to numerous Republicans around my farm in rural Michigan over the last several days regarding the Trump conviction. All of them I knew to be Republicans, or strongly suspected they were.

The feedback I received surprised me. The vast majority were happy to see him convicted. Some were even thrilled. Yet it didn’t change a single mind. They were still voting for Trump.

What Trump did was wrong, but we already knew that

Everyone already knew about Stormy Daniels and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s efforts to silence her. And yes, those were bad acts that should be punished.

This case was about whether the affair and the cover-up could be a crime under New York law. People mentioned that President Kennedy had numerous affairs and the press helped him cover it up. President Clinton also had an affair and lied about it. It seems like pretty standard behavior for an urban politician.

Yet, I heard over and over that it is good that Trump was held to account in this case because what he did was immoral and unethical. But just as the Kennedy and Clinton affairs and cover-ups did not disqualify them from holding office, it similarly shouldn’t in Trump’s case.

Felonies don’t have the meaning they used to

Voters are very aware that the U.S. has turned into felonies a lot of ordinary human behavior. One person pointed out that urinating in public can be a felony. Another noted that while in Michigan it is a felony to shoot a dog — in South Dakota not only is it legal, but the Governor thinks you should get a gold star for doing so.

And in New York, everything is a crime. Marine veteran Penny is being charged for trying to protect subway riders from an erratic and threatening mentally ill person. And one person pointed out that a wood-burning pizza oven is illegal in New York. (This isn’t accurate, but it is true that the cost of compliance is more than our entire township fire department budget).

The only thing we learned from the trial is that in New York an affair and a cover-up also can be a crime. It would not be a crime in the other 49 states. Only two people complained that the process itself wasn’t fair to Trump. Yet they did agree to the underlying facts.

The demographic slice where I live

My sample size was a very diverse group: along with relatives and retirees, there were 2 physicians, a lawyer, a firefighter, a bar owner, a waitress, a mechanic, a meat cutter, an import-export entrepreneur, a sexton, and several farmers.

This was also in the Upper Midwest, where the swing states are, and not the rural South. Where I live is also what I would call “rural rural” — meaning not ex-urban rural.

What is important is that these swing state voters can vote either way. At their core they are more independent and candidate driven, and not as much party driven.

One person who was happy to see this kind of behavior punished also said he liked the Biden of 2020. He just thought the President wouldn’t make it through 4 ½ more years, that he had been co-opted by the woke segment of the party, and that the Vice President hadn’t done anything to indicate that she could be Commander-in-Chief. (Note that all three of these are fixable.) So he is staying with Trump.

But, if any of the other cases resulted in a conviction, that would absolutely make a difference to him. That summed up what I heard over the past few days. This case was simply a speeding ticket. Appropriate, but not enough to disqualify a candidate.

How Trump makes this a race issue 

Black men have been on the wrong end of the criminal justice system for years. Many have complained for years that the system is rigged against them. And indeed our criminal justice system is stacked in favor of the prosecution. Trump just joined their ranks. For some, it gives Trump street cred. Trump’s genius is that he will figure out how to leverage this conviction by positioning himself as the same kind of victim that black men have been for years. This is an example of a narrative that polling will never uncover.

What to do

What I heard over the past few days were initial reactions to the news. As the spin machines get into high gear, positions may change. It will be interesting to see how people feel by the time sentencing comes around. This election remains the Biden team’s to lose.

On the national level, the Democratic National Committee and its surrogates should focus on repeating how fair the trial was, how unbiased the jury was, and how Trump had unlimited legal resources (unlike the typical black defendant).

The DNC should also focus on the fact that we don’t so much have a partisan divide as we have a news source divide. As President Obama pointed out, the news sources for rural America are Fox, Newsmax, News Nation, Scripps, the three networks and social media.

I don’t know of a single person in the countryside where I live who today gets CNN or MSNBC – the paywall is simply too high. And at lunch last week with the chairpersons of the Democratic and Republican county parties they both laughed when I told them I read The New York Times and The Washington Post. Both were confident that I was the sole person in our county who had those two subscriptions.

On the local level, don’t focus on the felony conviction. Few care. And there are certainly enough people making that point. Focus on the facts. Regardless of whether he should have been prosecuted at all, we certainly do know the facts. And is that the type of person we want as president? That is up to the voters.

Author of “Reclaim the Rural Vote and Win in 2024,” Mark W. Yonkman is a rare bridge between rural and urban America. Yonkman grew up on a legacy family farm in Michigan before attending college and becoming a corporate lawyer. He has since returned to the family farm where he lives with one of his two daughters.They are returning the farm to organic and no-till, no-kill farming.

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