Purely based on voting behavior, it appears many white men love President Donald Trump.
In fact, love might be an understatement given that white men without college degrees voted for Trump at a rate higher than for any other candidate in the last 36 years. In 2016, when I reported from one of his rallies in Marshalltown, Iowa, men told me they would vote for him even if he shot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue. Today, they’re risking their own lives on his behalf, braving potentially super-spreader events to line up for the chance to see him.
Maybe that’s why, at his first rally since he tested positive for the coronavirus, the president offered to show his male fans affection first. “I feel so powerful,” the president shouted. “I’ll kiss everyone in that audience. I’ll kiss the guys … and the beautiful women.” I guess “big fat kisses” from a potentially contagious president work in the reverse order of lifeboats — it’s the men who go first.
But with the election around the corner, some white men are starting to feel a little less loyal to the man who has promised them the moon and the stars. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed that Trump’s lead among white male voters without college degrees has dropped from an enormous 35 points to a significant but narrowing 19 points. Every election cycle, we hear that white men can’t be swayed, but what about the ones who can no longer justify staying in Trump’s Republican Party?
Every election cycle, we hear that white men can’t be swayed, but what about the ones who can no longer justify staying in Trump’s Republican Party?
“Unfortunately, I’m voting for Joe Biden,” Nick Stevens, 30, a Texas small-business owner, told me resolutely after he responded to a call-out I made on social media looking for conservative men having second thoughts about Trump. When we talked on the phone, Stevens said he wasn’t leaving the party because he’s particularly energized by Biden, but rather because he just can’t bring himself to support a man like Trump. Stevens, who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, said Trump’s performance of manhood has pushed him away from the GOP. “He feeds off a particular view of masculinity that bullies people,” Stevens said.
Other men described being embarrassed by Trump’s interpretation of strength. “He’s made this party untenable,” Nick Jesteadt, 30, a former conservative evangelist, told me over the phone. “There is just no compassion. And these softer skills and personality traits that shouldn’t be gender-based” are now once again being tied to gender. Jesteadt described Trump’s brash style of leadership, his repeated verbal abuse and his inability to listen as “old classic masculinity” and “stuff you see from ’60s dad sitcoms.”
Patrick Carr, who introduced himself as a “recovering Republican,” voiced a similar sentiment. “Trump’s version of masculinity would have everyone believe that his opinion is the only one that matters because he is president,” he said. As it did for most of the men I spoke to, the president’s treatment of women specifically touched a nerve. “He openly lusted after his daughter and throws women away when they no longer please him,” Carr said. While he’s always voted Republican, this year he’s voting for Biden and Kamala Harris.
A secondary theme also emerged in many of these conversations. While the men often described themselves as recovering Republicans, many spoke like recovering toxic masculinity addicts. What they despised about Trump was a machismo they once emulated. John Chapman, 36, a former Republican who interned for the Republican National Committee and spent a summer working for the Bush administration, told me Trump felt like a “symptom of the toxic masculinity we all grew up idolizing.” He also said this model of masculinity has long been central to the Republican Party, dating to the days of Ronald Reagan.
“I was drinking the Kool-Aid so much that I named my dog Reagan,” Chapman told me. But now that he has seen this model fail for him personally, he sees through it politically. “My reaction to Trump’s version of masculinity is just realizing how fragile he must be,” he said. Stevens agrees. Trump’s “handling of Covid right now, to a T, describes me two years ago,” he said. “I had an issue for six years that I refused to go the doctor for, and it was almost fatal, because ‘I was too tough for that.'”
And there’s another element at play here: the men who identify with being bullied like Biden. Witnessing Biden be mocked as “weak” and humiliated for having a speech disability is just one more reason not to vote for Trump, Stevens said. Meanwhile, Biden’s own expression of masculinity — he’s not afraid to wear a mask or to campaign alongside an equally smart and successful wife — represents a more evolved gender identity that Stevens admires.
At this point, I know what you’re probably thinking: Another piece trying to get inside the heads of white men? But while it’s true that white men are still the most privileged class in our society, their progress has been relatively stagnant compared to that of other groups. Black women’s incomes have more than doubled (as they should and must continue to do!), while the salaries of your average white men haven’t. But this stagnation is a relevant point when it comes to their mindsets and, notably, voting patterns. In 2016, white men responded overwhelmingly to Trump’s populist message. He said he would take care of them. He said he would make them feel like the providers and breadwinners society tells them to be.
But while Trump said he would take care of all white men, he has taken care of only some white men: the ultra-rich ones. As many have lost jobs and housing, Jeff Bezos has more than doubled his wealth since the beginning of the pandemic — a jump helped along by Trump’s tax cuts. Your average white male voter isn’t struggling because a woman or a person of color took his job; he is struggling because a select group of white men are hogging resources and paying taxes at a lower rate than the vast majority of Americans. Blaming immigrants for the stagnation many white men feel is a convenient distraction from the fact that it has been enabled by people like Trump himself.
Maybe that’s why the president is so committed to the “Macho Man” bit.
Maybe that’s why the president is so committed to the “Macho Man” bit, consistently playing the song at his rallies even as thousands of people continue to die. The president, who claims to be the ultimate man’s man, has abysmally failed to both provide for and protect the American public. He’s probably never going to stop playing the role of the male champion on TV. But at least some men are starting to see through the lie.