Inside the Minds of Four Grass-roots Conservative Voters

astead herndon

Hi. It’s Astead Herndon from The New York Times. I’ll try to call you back later.

belinda schoendorf

Hey. Hey. You there?

astead herndon

Oh, hey. I thought it was the voicemail.

belinda schoendorf

Sorry. Hey.

astead herndon

Are you there?

belinda schoendorf

It was. I was outside, OK?

astead herndon

Hey. Is this Belinda? How are you?

belinda schoendorf

Yes. I’m good. I’m good, thank you.

astead herndon

I want to thank you for picking up again, even though it was a surprise. Do you mind if we record this for our show?

belinda schoendorf

And tell me — and what’s your first name? Is it Stephan, you said?

astead herndon

No, no. It’s Astead, A-S-T-E-A-D. So yeah, it’s the we talked over the summer.

belinda schoendorf

A-S-T-E-A-D. Right.

astead herndon

And after you took that Times polling.

belinda schoendorf

Right. OK.

astead herndon

And we’re going back to talk to some of the voters and —

belinda schoendorf

Did you have all — did you get a response from conservatives and liberals and everybody?

astead herndon

Yeah. I mean, we tried to talk to everybody. We tried to talk to everybody. Anybody who’ll talk to me, I’ll talk back.

belinda schoendorf

OK. All right. OK. Let’s go.

astead herndon

[LAUGHS]: I appreciate it. I mean, we’re kind of asking similar types of questions as we did last time, but one of the things I remember from our previous call was that this time, you were pretty skeptical of participating or talking to media. I’m curious. I want to start there. How do you consume your politics news?

belinda schoendorf

You mean, where do I get the information?

astead herndon

Yeah. Where do you get your news from? Who do you trust?

belinda schoendorf

No one.

astead herndon

Was it always like this or has that changed?

belinda schoendorf

Oh, no. We got married 40 years ago, I watched the NBC News Today Show every morning with Tom Brokaw and the cute little blonde. I can’t think of her name. Every morning, that’s who I watched. They were not so liberal or maybe I was not so conservative. I think both. I think we’ve both changed. I think they’ve both totally gone to the left, and now I’ve gone to the right.

astead herndon

Is it just media where you have that skepticism or has that skepticism grown in a lot of areas?

belinda schoendorf

No. It’s in the whole country. I find, I think, the behavior of most of — (VOICE FADES)

astead herndon

How would you how would you describe yourself, just generally, to someone who’s never met you?

belinda schoendorf

Very conservative, very Catholic. Let’s see. How else would —

motherhood was my greatest joy in life. Let’s see, a wife, a daughter, a sister, very family-oriented. So I guess I’m going to be your typical old-fashioned lady. I don’t know. I’ve only had one marriage, been married for 43 years. I mean, I believe in and family values. I believe in what comes from the gospel, so I try to live a straightforward and a Christian life.

astead herndon

Mm-hmm. What would you say are the things that matter most to you?

belinda schoendorf

When I pray my rosary — and I don’t know if you’re familiar. There are five decades to the rosary. Do you know what I pray for the first decade? My country. That’s how worried — the second decade is for my family — but this country, the way that the country is changing is really, really scary.

astead herndon

Have you always been a conservative?

belinda schoendorf

No. I was raised a Democrat.

astead herndon

When did that change?

belinda schoendorf

So let’s see. I probably changed in my 20s, which would have been in the maybe in the ‘80s, I guess, by the time Ronald Reagan was there. And he would say things that really, really, really made sense. He said, I used to be a Democrat, but the Democrat party left me. And I thought, well, I wonder what he meant by that. And then I started paying attention. And then what really, really got me was when Obama was in the White House and the whole health care thing. So that made me start — we started going to meetings.

astead herndon

But I thought you were interested in Republicans around the Reagan era, but then you mentioned Obama. Where you voting for Republicans all through that time or were you still voting for Democrats?

belinda schoendorf

Yes, pretty much. And I never voted for party. I even voted for Clinton the first time because I wasn’t paying attention to — I was just really ignorant. I was not tuned in.

astead herndon

Is that the last Democrat you voted for president?

belinda schoendorf

Oh, it’s got to be, yeah, yeah. And that was just one time, yes.

astead herndon

But that skepticism built more when Obama was in office?

belinda schoendorf

You’re calling it skepticism. It’s not skepticism. I’m always looking for the truth. I search for somebody who’s going to tell me the truth. There’s a deep, deep, deep unrest in this country. And at least, in my state, in my area people are very, very suspicious of what the government’s going to do. The things that the government is doing, what the Justice Department — it’s just making no sense. So please, it’s too light to call it skepticism. Please don’t do that.

astead herndon

OK. I guess I understand that. I’m asking, really where did — and I don’t want to say “skepticism,” whatever the stronger word you want to say there is — where did that begin?

belinda schoendorf

Being so suspicious?

astead herndon

Yes.

belinda schoendorf

So I mean, I guess slowly in different areas, I began to distrust at least 30 years ago.

astead herndon

Mm-hmm. But it started to culminate in your vote in politics when?

belinda schoendorf

I can say for sure under Obama.

astead herndon

OK.

belinda schoendorf

I can say for sure.

astead herndon

Mm-hmm. My father’s actually a Christian pastor. I’ve done a lot of gospel reading myself.

belinda schoendorf

OK, well, didn’t it move you to see how things could be?

astead herndon

Mm-hmm.

belinda schoendorf

[LAUGHS]: You don’t sound convinced.

astead herndon

No, it’s interesting because I do think about how religion shapes people’s political views. I mean, I’m thinking about how it’s informed your conservative viewpoint. I grew up in churches, Black churches —

belinda schoendorf

Right.

astead herndon

— that would also be praying for the country. And yeah, and so I can see I understand how religion affects faith and the way people view politics. I guess I’m asking you for you, is there a specific time when you felt like your religion compelled you to act politically? Or even in this moment, how is your religion shaping how you view the midterms?

belinda schoendorf

Well, let me just ask you one thing. When you brought up the Black thing, do I come across as racist?

astead herndon

Oh, I don’t I wouldn’t say that, but I’m curious do you think you come off as racist?

belinda schoendorf

I hope I don’t. You talk about Black churches. Some of our best friends have been Black around here. And they don’t understand, they don’t understand — and I’m in the deep, deep South — they don’t understand why the rest of the country is acting like race is a big problem because they don’t think here that they have an issue.

astead herndon

Do you think race is a big problem in the country?

belinda schoendorf

Oh, yes. Oh, now I do, absolutely. Oh, sure, sure. But it’s been manufactured. So how does religion affect me? I guess abortion is the main thing that’s coming from my religion like that, but then again, it’s the truth issue.

Jesus, he was always searching for the truth. And I know prayer works. I know that it helps, and that helps me to feel like I’m doing something for this country when I can pray for our country. And when we go — there’s certain of us that go — I mean, many people in my church go to daily mass. I just try to go to one a week.

Let me tell you, we voice our intentions. And when they literally say what’s on their mind, it’s for honesty is what they’re asking for. It’s for people to actually — for the Democrat or the left side or whoever, whatever you want to call it — the left side just say, I want them to actually experience an abortion. I want them to be there and watch it on the screen and see what happens to that child, especially when it’s a late-term abortion. That’s what I would like to see. I would like for them to see.

And then they probably wouldn’t give me an honest answer, like it didn’t matter to them or something like that, and that’s fine, but just on their conscience, I would like for them to think about it and see what they think.

astead herndon

Can you tell me a little more about your midterms vote in November, though? Is there any candidate you’re deeply hoping pulls it out?

belinda schoendorf

No. No. There’s nobody, no.

astead herndon

How do you square what you just told me about abortion with your enthusiasm for Herschel Walker?

belinda schoendorf

Now, you see, you picked that one instance, right? You see that’s —

astead herndon

I’m just curious because I’ve just been reading a lot of stories about he’s allegedly done.

belinda schoendorf

That’s why I usually don’t talk to people on the left because that is —

astead herndon

Oh, no, no, no, no, no. I’m just asking you a further — yeah.

belinda schoendorf

I’m going to tell you. You have picked that one thing, and I don’t know how much of that is true. I like what he says when he talks about being a patriot. I like what he says when he talks about what he wants to do for the country. I like that he is plainspoken, that he doesn’t do a lot of fancy talking. I just like the way — I believe his heart, let me say that. I believe it’s heart.

And I think that’s what the left gets wrong about the right. Those people who go out and protest at abortion — which I’ve never done — at clinics, but I pray. I do pray that they close. I do because I do think abortions are wrong, but that doesn’t mean that I think everybody who’s had an abortion is wrong. People can make mistakes. My gosh, I’ve made many, many mistakes in my life, but I can ask for forgiveness.

So please don’t put me — why don’t I hate Herschel Walker because of this stuff that’s coming out for him? I think right now — and obviously, out of the two, who would I vote for? Come on. That’s all you vote for is the best person, right?

astead herndon

I guess as my last question, I actually wasn’t even — I mean, that’s one piece of it, but I’m also thinking about how much you talked about truth. And at minimum, Walker is a candidate that has not been honest about all sort of events from his life. And I’m wondering how you square that view about the need for politicians and truth with the reality of a candidate that has not provided it.

belinda schoendorf

So what are the options? Don’t vote? What are the options? Vote for Warnock?

astead herndon

The options — I have talked to people who are thinking about voting for Warnock and Kemp. Those voters are true in Georgia. There’s people who sit out the race entirely.

belinda schoendorf

That’s great.

astead herndon

And vote by sitting out. I guess I was asking you about all of those options. I mean, you’re saying you would still make that affirmative choice for Walker.

belinda schoendorf

Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes. Yes, absolutely. He talks like Trump in that he talks about his love of the country. I don’t know if the left understands that about us. That’s what we love about Trump and let’s see — who else talks like that? Oh, Jim Jordan, the representative. They truly — I feel like they truly, truly love this country.

John McCain, his big thing was — and I reluctantly voted for him — his big thing was, I know how to work across the aisle. I don’t want you to work across the aisle if it’s not right. I don’t want you to compromise if it’s not the right thing to do. So I don’t know what else to say. [LAUGHS]

astead herndon

Hello. My name is Astead Herndon. I’m a reporter with “The New York Times.” I was looking for Michael Sprague.

michael sprang

Speaking.

astead herndon

Thank you so much for picking up. I write about politics, and I host our politics podcast here at The Times called The Run-Up. We are calling some Americans who participated in Times political polling in the hopes that they have five, 10 minutes to talk with us about how they’re viewing politics right now. Do you have that time? Do you think we could chat?

michael sprang

Yes. Let me move from where I’m at. But sure. Go ahead.

astead herndon

Yeah. I really appreciate that. I just want to start kind of easy, learning more about you. What do you do for a living? And tell me just about yourself and what drives your interest in politics, if you have them.

michael sprang

Yeah. So I’m a senior engineering technician. I am a Navy veteran, a father of four, just your typical, average guy, I guess. And I live in Jackson, Michigan.

astead herndon

Do you typically have a party that you have associated yourself with or typically voted for?

michael sprang

No. I voted for Barack Obama, and I also voted for Donald Trump. So I tend to go after or go for who I feel can do the job best.

astead herndon

And is that Trump in 2016 or do you mind if I ask about 2020? How did you vote in that?

michael sprang

I voted for Trump both times. I’m not a Trump fan, per se. I think he’s a narcissist, but as compared to the disaster we find ourselves with now, I am definitely not a Biden fan. I wasn’t when he was vice president, and I’m sure as heck not enjoying what he’s been doing since he’s been a president.

astead herndon

In political journalism, you represent a type of voter that we know is super important, someone who voted for Barack Obama, but then went it over to Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020, particularly in states like Michigan. I’m curious, before I ask about now, what led you to make that transition from Obama to Trump?

michael sprang

I really liked Obama. I really liked some of his policies and some of the things — I mean, even the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act was, OK, we’re going to give you some time here. We’ll see if things work out, and maybe it’ll lead to a path to citizenship rather than just saying, oh well, hey just everybody come on in and do whatever you want.

I was a little bit more —

his handling of some of the racial issues, I think he missed the prime opportunity to try to help bring more togetherness between the races. I mean, he’s half white. His mother was white. And I think if he had stressed that more and tried to bring the sides together more rather than saying things like, that guy could have been my son. And it’s like, well, that drives a little bit of a wedge. I really think that was a missed opportunity there. And I wish he had filled that gap a little more.

astead herndon

Were those moments of racial division during the Obama era — you’re saying those are some of the reasons why you think some divisions spread through the country? I’m trying to make sure I understand what you’re saying about him.

michael sprang

I think, yes. I think that was the beginning a little bit of — and of course, it got worse under Trump. And then now with Biden basically saying, you know anybody who doesn’t agree with me is — I can’t remember how he put — it a threat to democracy, I think is what he said. It’s just if you take the Obama years, that was, I think, the beginning of the breakdown to where the divisions started getting really deep, not only along racial lines, but also along political lines.

And then the beginning of the Trump presidency, when all of a sudden you had half the Democratic caucus saying, oh, well, not my president and they started these endless ridiculous impeachment proceedings, and I think it’s just gotten worse.

astead herndon

Mm-hmm. One of the big discussions for this midterms has been how Republicans have nominated candidates who, like Donald Trump, have denied the results of the last election. What have you thought about that?

michael sprang

I really want to believe that the election was not stolen. I don’t think that the fraud could have been widespread enough to overturn it.

astead herndon

Mm-hmm.

michael sprang

That having been said, I am a firm believer that we do need to secure our elections because whether or not there was enough fraud to overturn the election, any fraud is unacceptable.

astead herndon

Mm-hmm. So the Republicans who have been nominated, some in Michigan, who have denied the results of the last election or even defended the actions of January 6, what have you thought about those statements?

michael sprang

So the election denial part, it has no impact to me. I mean, they’re allowed their opinion. I don’t give that much weight. Tudor Dixon has said at times that she didn’t think it was a free and fair election, which I can agree with that statement. I don’t think it was a free and fair election. I just don’t think there was enough interference or enough fraud to overturn it.

astead herndon

I get what you’re saying. You’re making a distinction between what we have heard from some Republicans about there being enough fraud for the election to be stolen. You’re not sure about that. You kind of seem to say that that’s probably not true but —

michael sprang

Right.

astead herndon

— because you think that there has been fraud or you want the elections to be, quote, unquote, “secure,” them saying those statements doesn’t turn you away from voting for them.

michael sprang

No because regardless of why they want to do it, if they secure the elections, I’m fine with that. Regardless of their motivation, I’m fine with their goal. I guess I should put it that way.

astead herndon

What about the January 6 part?

michael sprang

I think it’s largely overblown. I mean, yes, it was a terrible thing that happened, but when you weigh it against the riots of the summer and all of the violence and stuff there, I don’t think it was any serious attempt to overturn the government or they didn’t go capture any Congressman or anything like that. I mean yeah, it was a riot that got out of hand. Do I think it was treason? No, not really.

astead herndon

Mm-hmm. Just thinking about Republicans, I’m just curious of how you — I mean, you describe Trump as a narcissist, but Donald Trump is also very much the leader of the Republican Party. I’m curious as to you, who believes both those things, how you wrestle with that.

michael sprang

I have this dream. And my dream is that Trump is playing the Democrats and that at the last minute, he’s going to say, oh, no. I’m not actually running. I’m just going to throw my weight behind this guy, which would just be awesome because like I said, I am not a Trump fan.

I think there are other people — I do like DeSantis. I do like some of the things DeSantis is doing. Governor Abbott is another one. He’s heading in the right direction. Really, I would just like to see Trump back off. I mean, like I said, I do not like the guy. And the only way I would vote for him in ‘24 is if it’s him and Biden.

astead herndon

If it’s him and Biden again, you will vote for him again?

michael sprang

I have no choice. I think Biden is completely running the country in the wrong direction. And if they ran somebody like Manchin, I really liked Manchin. He stuck to his guns. He kind of waffled a little bit there at the end, but that’s the kind of politician I’m looking for, someone who is willing to go against their party if they believe that it’s not serving the interests of the public.

astead herndon

Mm-hmm. Mean, I guess another question I have then is it seems like you have some anxiety about the direction of the country.

michael sprang

Yes.

astead herndon

Who do you track that anxiety back to? Whose fault is that? And then in that same way, what do you expect going forward? What’s your look ahead?

michael sprang

Well, I think there’s plenty of blame to go around. I don’t think either side is blameless, but if I had to put the weight more solidly on one over the other, I would probably weigh it against the Democrats.

astead herndon

Why?

michael sprang

Well, because they seem to think that money grows on trees. I mean, we can’t keep spending a trillion dollars here, and a trillion dollars there and send $2 trillion to Ukraine or invest in gender studies and all that. I mean, we need to get our house in order.

astead herndon

But Donald Trump raised the deficit. Is it cultural? How do you balance those economic concerns with some of those cultural concerns?

michael sprang

I think — oh god. How to put it? I think the cultural concerns are largely overblown. I’m not saying that racism and sexism and homophobia and stuff like that don’t exist, but I don’t think it’s as bad as people are trying to make. It we have made — just in my lifetime, we have made massive strides in cultural equity, acceptance for the LGBTQY+, I. Think I can’t keep up. The acceptance there is a lot better now. And so I think we’ve made massive strides, but like I said, if we don’t get our financial house in order first, everyone’s going to suffer.

astead herndon

Mm-hmm. I’m going to ask my last couple of questions about Michigan. In that race between Dixon and Whitmer, have you decided?

michael sprang

Yes. I don’t like Whitmer at all, and I think she’s been an ineffective in the state, but really, what was my — and this is so silly — but what was my deciding factor is she is running some of the most dishonest political ads that I’ve ever seen.

astead herndon

What do you mean?

michael sprang

So she has one ad where she talks about, oh I got Michigan’s kids back to school. Technically true, but she’s the one who took them out of school in the first place. And that was absolute disaster for my kids.

astead herndon

Michigan also has an important abortion referendum on the ballot this year, right? I’m curious of how you thought about the Supreme Court’s decision. And then separately, do you have a plan on how you’re going to vote in that referendum?

michael sprang

So the Supreme Court, I think what they did was absolutely correct. It was a ruling based on law, and it didn’t really change anything. People say, oh, that took away women’s right. No, it didn’t. All it did was it put the discussion back in the states, where it should have been in the first place. It puts the power back in our hands.

I am pro-life, but I’m not militant about it. I might have considered voting for Proposition 3, but there are a lot of things — I think it goes way too far.

It could be construed as to allow abortion all the way up to birth and things like that. I’m like, it needs to be better defined.

I think the bill is too broad in its reach. And I will probably vote against it, but if they were to clean it up and put forward a better bill — I understand abortion sometimes is necessary, I mean, in cases of where the mother’s life is at threat and things like that, but I just think proposition 3 goes too far.

astead herndon

Mm-hmm.

So to clarify, it seems like you’re voting for Dickson and against Proposition 3. Is that right?

michael sprang

Yeah. I think that’ll probably be the way I come down. I wish we had better candidates. [CHUCKLES]

astead herndon

I’m talking about William Robertson, right?

william robertson

Correct.

astead herndon

Awesome. So the first thing I would ask is just where do you live and what do you do for a living?

william robertson

I live in Georgia, Acworth, Georgia.

astead herndon

You live in Acworth, Georgia?

william robertson

Uh-huh.

astead herndon

How many political ads are pummeling your television as we speak?

william robertson

Oh, man.

astead herndon

[LAUGHS]:

william robertson

I’m sick of them. No matter which channel you’re on, I mean, it’s insane.

astead herndon

Are you someone who considers himself a Democrat or a Republican? What’s your relationship to politics?

william robertson

Republican. Proud, proud, Black Republican.

astead herndon

A proud Black Republican? For how long.

william robertson

[LAUGHS]: Since the Reagan years.

astead herndon

Oh wow, so you’re OG.

william robertson

[LAUGHS]:

astead herndon

I’m curious as to how your relationship to politics has changed, if any, over the last couple of years. How would you describe the difference in politics from that Reagan era to now?

william robertson

To now? Oh my god. Now, the political landscape itself has changed. There was a time that — I don’t know — in my mind, I guess, it was kind of like there was the people and then there was the government. And now it’s like, it’s just the government. The people don’t matter anymore. And it’s just over the top, it really is. It’s over the top.

astead herndon

How would you describe — when? I mean, do you trace that back to any point? When did the people, in your words, lose that voice?

william robertson

I think that the people lost their voice in the Obama terms, yes.

astead herndon

What do you mean? Why would you say that?

william robertson

It was, this is how we’re going to do it. We’re the government. Just shut up, and do what we say. And that’s it. I mean, it’s just like, that’s it. I mean, I remember all of the discussions that I would have with friends doing Obamacare. And I would just simply make one statement, and people would go ballistic. And I would just simply go, who pays for it?

I don’t know if y’all don’t realize it or not, but the government is not a moneymaking machine. They make money one way, and that’s from taxes. So who pays for it? And at that point, I think a lot — quite a few of my friends thought that I had — I had a few that would say, well, it’s obvious you’ve forgotten where you come from because of the fact that I just didn’t go along with it.

And then I used to — sometimes I would ask them, OK, so give me this then. Where is it written, where is the law that says if I’m Black I have to vote Democrat? Because apparently, I missed that law.

And now, I feel that a lot of the — especially the Black candidates that run on the Democratic side, they feel like it’s an automatic, that if I’m Black, and I’m a Democrat, then the Blacks are going to vote for me. And that’s not the case at all. And it’s just like — I was talking with someone the other day about Stacey Abrams. I was just like, it’s not an issue of her being Black or woman. I just don’t like her message.

astead herndon

Why not?

william robertson

Bottom line? Huh? It’s because —

astead herndon

I’m just saying, what specifically about her message rubs you the wrong way?

william robertson

What specifically about her message that rubs me the wrong way, it’s like the message from all the other Democratic candidates is that this is our plan, this is what we want to do, and that’s that. And then I’ll always go back to, who pays for it? I mean, who pays for it? We do. We’re the ones that pay for it.

So I’m a former truck driver. So as a truck driver, it’s plain and simple. If I used to drive a truck and I was paying $2 a gallon for fuel, and now I got to pay $6 a gallon for fuel, I can’t make any money. I’m not out here driving just so that I have something to do to wear out my jeans. Actually, I’m driving to provide for my family. I got to make money.

And so what happens if the cost to move the goods go up, who pays for that? The shipper, the guy that I’m going to go pick up your commodity from, I’m going to charge him more. So he’s going to charge the receiver more. And who’s the receiver going to charge? The consumer. It’s plain and simple. Everything comes by truck. So how do you bring the trucking costs down? You bring the trucking costs down by bringing down the cost of fuel.

So let’s look at what was going on. Biden takes office. He goes into office. Putin has got troops sitting on the border. Biden cuts the pipeline, says is going to kill fossil fuels.

So where do we buy our oil from now? Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Russia. Got you over the barrel, dude. I can make my move. I can do whatever I want to, and there’s nothing you can do about it because y’all going to pay. If we are buying Russian fuel, Russian oil, then that means we’re fueling, we’re actually paying for Putin’s war —

astead herndon

I get that point.

william robertson

— while trying to supplement Ukraine. It don’t work. [LAUGHS]

astead herndon

No, no, no, no. I get your point about fuel. I get your point about the economy, specifically, when it relates to trucking. Is that your top issue for you? Have your political decisions been economy-driven?

william robertson

Hey, I’m feeling it, bud. I’m feeling it. I mean, everything costs more now, everything. I mean —

astead herndon

How do you balance that reality of the economic choices you’ve been forced to make with other issues, with cultural issues, with democracy and the January 6 stuff we see? How do you balance the priorities that you have to weigh in order to make a voting decision?

william robertson

Well, when I look at Trump, from day one, it was their goal to do everything they could to hinder Trump. Look at what could have been accomplished if both parties would have actually worked with him versus working against him because I’ll be honest with you. There were quite few Republicans that were in Washington at the same time that was doing everything they could to battle Trump as well.

And sometimes I feel that the big message that they’re trying to get across to the American people that no one is talking about is, if you’re an ordinary Joe, if you’re not a part of the political circle in Washington, don’t you come up here because this is what we’ll do to you. We’ll destroy you, but yet, I’ll ask my Black friends that are diehard Democrats,

I go back to the old Reagan question. So are you better off today than what you were two years ago? And they go, no. And I go, well guess what? They go, what? You voted for this, so be quiet. Be quiet.

astead herndon

Yeah. Yeah, the Reagan question, again, though, was — if I remember it correctly — was specific to the economic point, right?

william robertson

Right. Mm-hmm.

astead herndon

And I get that, but people could be worse off in terms of the political environment around them. I want to ask a reductive question.

william robertson

OK.

astead herndon

At the basic level, a lot of people violently stormed the Capitol, some of which had Confederate flags, had nooses at the Capitol, and made it their explicit intention to block the transfer of power in the United States.

william robertson

Some people are crazy. Some people crazy.

astead herndon

How do you look at that, particularly as a Black man in Georgia? And it seems like you’re saying, that still doesn’t rise to the top of your voting priorities.

william robertson

No, it doesn’t because I think there are more important issues that’s affecting people’s lives day-to-day.

astead herndon

As a Black Republican, why do you think 85 percent of Black people vote for Democrats?

william robertson

I wish I knew the answer to that, man, because then I could figure out how to change their minds. I really do. I don’t get it, man. I don’t get it because I mean, I feel like sometimes, the Democratic Party is the most oppressive party that there is. I mean, and now it’s to the point — but here’s the thing that scares the Democratic Party now.

This is what scares them, is the fact that a lot of the Black vote is moving away from the Democratic Party. So now they’re getting nervous because let’s face it, I mean, they’ve made a lot, a lot of empty promises to the Black community.

astead herndon

Now, that part’s undeniable.

william robertson

They really have.

astead herndon

That part’s undeniable.

william robertson

They’ve made a lot of empty promises to the Black community. So eventually, you get to the point that there are Black people who just simply ask themselves, OK. Well, you know what? I can keep giving them my vote and expecting a different result or, you know what? I can try the other party and see what happens.

astead herndon

You’re in Georgia, a state that has a lot of critical races in this year’s midterms. You mentioned how you feel about Stacey Abrams. How do you feel about Herschel Walker?

william robertson

Well, you know what? Herschel ain’t my first choice, he really wasn’t. I mean Calvin King was my man, but that dog didn’t hunt, but that’s OK. So now I’ve got to get behind Herschel because Warnock? Naw. Naw, mm-mmm. Warnock, he says — I mean, here’s a man that claims to be a pastor, but yet, you’re a man of god, and you said that God’s OK with abortion, but you know what, Warnock? I’m a Southern Baptist, born and raised, cornbread-fed brother. Where do you find that in The Bible because ain’t found it yet, you know?

astead herndon

And usually, I can see how you can make that argument. With a typical Republican on the other side, I could see how you would vote for that Republican, but in this race, we have evidence that Walker has helped pay for an abortion. How do you wrestle with those facts, as someone of faith, who seems to be voting for a candidate who has shown a hypocritical stance on that issue?

william robertson

Well, but you see, it’s kind of like I believe in redemption. If at that point in your life, at that stage in your life, that was a decision that you made. And now you realize that if I had to make that decision again today, it would be different, I can give you that. I can give you that.

And if you’re OK with the high gas prices, if you’re OK with the high crime rates, and if you’re OK that right now, the Democrat party thinks that it’s more important for us to try to indoctrinate your child at three years old, I mean, in kindergarten or third grade, that they can decide whether or not they can be a boy or a girl, if you’re OK with all of that, then you vote for Warnock.

If you’re not OK with that, then you’re going to have to vote for Walker because the only way that Washington is going to understand is that the people in power have to be taken out of power. That’s the only thing that wakes them up. Anything other than that, then it’s like a referendum to them. They just say, the people are OK with this. And now we’re just going to push the envelope even farther.

If the Democrats win, I don’t see the Democrats pulling back. I don’t. They’ve gone too far, too far.

And this is the thing, and this is how I look at it. Here’s a basic question for you. How do you change the course of the nation?

astead herndon

You tell me. [LAUGHS]

william robertson

I mean, how do you change the course of the nation? Because you got to remember that when you’re trying to change a nation, that’s a long man’s game. That’s a long man’s game. It ain’t going to happen overnight. Old dogs like us know the old saying, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. So how do you change the course of a nation? You influence the mind of a child. That’s how you change the course of the nation.

astead herndon

I think you’re implying something here that I would rather just — if that’s what you’re saying, then I want to know what you’re saying. Are you saying Democrats are changing the country through children?

william robertson

That’s correct. So yeah, so we got to change. I mean, I’m hoping for a change. I’m hoping, even if the — and this is the part that, like I said, it scares me the most that even if the Democrats were to remain in power — and if they do, it’s just going to be by a razor-thin edge — I don’t think they’re going to change course.

I think their take at is, see? They are behind us. And they’re just going to keep pushing further down the road. And I’m afraid that the way that they’re pushing the division with race and the LBG, they’re just looking to drive us further and further apart. And the people then, they get more and more frustrated with each other because they feel like there is no answer. It’s like, we’re so far apart, as far apart as night and day is. And that ain’t America.

astead herndon

Well, thank you, William. I appreciate your time, even —

william robertson

Thank you.

astead herndon

— an honest, searing critique can be illuminating. And I appreciate that.

william robertson

[LAUGHS]: I still like you. I still like you. Feel free to call me anytime.

astead herndon

Oh, great, great, great. Good to hear. Thank you so much.

alan

Hello?

astead herndon

Hi. My name is Astead Herndon. I’m a reporter for The New York Times I was looking for Alan.

alan

This is Alan.

astead herndon

I host our politics podcast here at The Times, and I have been calling people who participated in Times polling to see if they had five, 10 minutes to talk about why they answered the way they did and hopefully record it for our political podcast. Can we talk right now?

alan

Sure. Why not?

astead herndon

Thank you. I appreciate it. Well, I first would love to start with just some basic information about just where you live and what you do for a living.

alan

I’m in Phoenix, Arizona, and I’m a computer systems engineer.

astead herndon

Awesome. You all have a lot of deeply important races out in Arizona that I’ll get to in the second, but just before that, I’m curious as to just how do you view politics right now? And what your sense is of the mood when you think about the political landscape?

alan

Well, it’s hostile. It is a battle between two completely different ideologies. I’m conservative, so you know where that puts me. There appears to be attacks on all fronts, but for the most part, the economy has really been, you might say, destroyed by the policies, by the administration. So it’s really put us behind the eight ball, and that’s just the beginning. That is the biggest problem as far as recession goes and the economy goes.

astead herndon

Mm-hmm. How do you balance your economic concerns with more cultural concerns? Are they equally important? Is one more important than the other?

alan

Well, I don’t know if we can exist without either in a balance. If we destroy our economy, everything else is going to fall eventually as well. We have to be strong. We have to have our priorities in order. And in some ways, we definitely need to get back to letting parents raise their children, not pretending like the schoolteachers can be the parents too and make decisions for them. That’s really gotten out of control.

The fact that sexuality is hyper focus now and why we need to be so concerned about people in their deviations is just silly. Why do we need to teach a five-year-old about homosexuality? Why do we need to ask them if they feel like a boy or a girl and then give them an option to change what they feel like as opposed to letting them be who they are until they become an adult and then they can make decisions on their own? So everything is just going down a path, in my mind, that is wrong.

astead herndon

I’m curious about Arizona, specifically. We’ve seen big senate and governor races now in Arizona. And we actually did an episode about the Arizona Republicans who have won over the last year, many of whom have taken up Donald Trump’s grievances about the last election and the validity of last election. I’m curious how you thought about both that last election and about the slate of Republicans — Kari Lake, Blake Masters — who are on the ticket now?

alan

Yeah, I have to say that they at least have the right ideas as far as what we need to do to clean things up and get things moving forward again.

astead herndon

Do you think the 2020 election was fair?

alan

No, I don’t. And the fact that Biden got more votes than Obama. Biden, he had no popularity. There was no excitement about him. It just makes absolutely no sense. Trump won a key state that would normally guarantee a win. This is the first time that I believe you could win the states he won and lose.

astead herndon

Mm-hmm. One of the things we reported on about Arizona was that candidates like Lake and some of the down-ballot candidates were explicitly taking aim at the concept of democracy, saying that that wasn’t important for the vision of America, that we’re a Republic, and not a democracy and so that word shouldn’t be in the lexicon. What do you think about that?

alan

Well, of course, we’re a Republic. You can’t just go mob rules, right?

astead herndon

Is that how you view that concept of 50 plus 1 democracy?

alan

Well, yeah. You just can’t say — that would just be like you have 51 people that believe one way and 50 that don’t, and the 51 win every time.

And when you get large populations in cities, which are basically Democrat, they’re going to win. They’re the numbers. It’s just the way it is. That’s why they’ve opened the borders to the south because they’ve done this in California.

California used to be a red state. Now it’s blue. Hispanics have become the larger population, and that’s what they’re trying to do with the rest of the country. The have-nots are going to be the majority.

astead herndon

When you hear, as Democrats and a lot of media say right now, that democracy is on the ballot, what’s your reaction?

alan

Nonsense. If they think that voting for them is going to save our democracy, from what, is what I want to know. Republicans aren’t a threat to democracy, no way, shape, or form. They are, if anything.

astead herndon

I mean, I think Democrats would use stuff like the sixth — I mean, media in general. I mean, the sixth was a big action that struck at the transfer of power at the seat of government.

alan

Not really.

It wasn’t an insurrection. There was not an attempt to take over the government. That’s just as silly as it gets. And there’s just more and more evidence, if people are paying attention, to what’s going on, that there was absolutely nothing behind that. If we can take back power, then it’s going to lead back to prosperity.

And we can stop a lot of what’s going on with Biden’s executive orders. We can investigate a lot of the stuff that’s been going on with the FBI and the prosecution of parents who are trying to stop CRT and all the other things that are going on in schools.

astead herndon

It sounds like you’re saying the midterms are your first step of really striking back, if we think of 2020 as a loss of Republican power.

alan

Yeah. And from there, we just have to focus on the presidency. And if these elections aren’t fair, if there’s some way that they are, again, compromised, then we really have a problem because then you don’t have a free country anymore.

What I hear from Alan and other grassroots conservatives is a clear articulation of grievances that began long before Donald Trump entered American politics. They talk about defending the country from a threat that goes far beyond economic concerns, that traces back decades and especially to the Obama years.

This came up over and over in our conversations, sometimes in language we won’t repeat, but the deeply held nature of these grievances only makes them more politically important. They shape this year’s Republican candidates and will power its incoming class, and they add up to a belief, that voters themselves articulate, that defending the country is the highest priority, even if democracy itself stands in the way.

Next week, we hear from voters on the other side.

“The Run-Up” is reported by me, Astead Herndon and produced by Elyssa Gutierrez and Caitlin O’Keefe.

It’s edited by Frannie Carr Toth, Larissa Anderson and Lisa Tobin, with original music by Dan Powell, Marion Lozano and Elisheba Ittoop. It was mixed by Corey Schreppel and fact-checked by Caitlin Love.

Special thanks to Paula Szuchman, Sam Dolnick, David Halfinger, Julia Simon, Mahima Chablani, Shannon Busta, Nell Gallogly, Jeffrey Miranda and Maddy Masiello. Catch you next week.

#Minds #Grassroots #Conservative #Voters

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