For Tod Steward, the Trump era is coming to an end — no matter what happens on Election Day.
Steward, 56, had one of the diciest gigs in all of Trump World. He was Seattle’s Only Trump Voter™.
“It was exhausting,” he says. “So many people who you respect and love just think you’re a nut case.”
Seattle’s Only Trump Voter™ is of course not a real trademarked phrase, nor is it numerically true. In reality more than 32,000 Seattleites also cast votes for Donald Trump back at the start of it all, in 2016.
But they were so dwarfed by the 92% of city voters who didn’t, and Steward was so open and gregarious about his ardor for Trump, that by default he became a sort of spokesperson for the hidden Trumpies among us. A peculiarity, as if he were on display down at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop.
“I knew if I spoke out for Trump from within Seattle, I would have the spotlight on me,” Steward told me this past week. “And I sure did.”
Steward, who lives on First Hill, was profiled in this newspaper and on local TV, always with an “isn’t this strange” sensibility (much as I am doing in this column). Canada’s media especially lasered in on Steward. He was featured on CBC News Network (basically Canada’s CNN), on Canada’s version of NPR, and as a recurring segment on a regional show out of Vancouver, which looked at the Trump phenomenon raging across the border with a morbid fascination.
“Honestly I think they go to me because they can’t find anyone else on the West Coast who will publicly admit they backed Trump,” Steward told me in 2017.
Steward was also a member of the most sought-after and studied group in American politics: the elusive Obama-Trump voter. An estimated 7 million voters who backed Obama in 2008 and 2012 surprisingly crossed over to Trump, tilting the 2016 election. It’s only 5% of the electorate, tiny really, so national news organizations spent months trolling through diners in the Rust Belt to try to learn how these voters’ fluid views had gone undetected by the polls.
Steward can tell you. It was simply that Trump had an air of independence. Back then, Trump wasn’t really Republican or Democrat, but was seen, by some anyway, as outside politics altogether.
“That’s why I voted for him, because I thought he would rule in the middle,” Steward says. “He’s a builder, so I thought he’d borrow from both sides and play one against the other and really do some national projects, like rebuilding the infrastructure.
“From the beginning though he just went hard with the right wing, and he has stuck with that.”
This may be a crucial point in the upcoming election. One of the larger analyses of Obama-Trump voters, by the Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group, found last year that “no other voting group has shifted away from the president more in the last two years.” Their approval of Trump, which was sky-high at the beginning, had dropped by 19 percentage points — and that was before the pandemic.
“There was this view in 2016 that Trump was actually the more moderate candidate, relative to Hillary Clinton,” the Voter Study Group’s Rob Griffin said this past week on the Electionomics podcast, on Yahoo News. “But people no longer see him as a moderate figure in American politics.”
Steward is one of those Trump voters who isn’t that put off by Trump’s behavior, which he feels is mostly shtick. But the way Trump tried first thing to cut 20 million people off health insurance, how he “surrounded himself with criminals,” and how he’s been in total denial about the coronavirus, it was all too much.
“I just remember thinking at one point that I can’t defend this anymore,” Steward says.
He suspects Trump will get even fewer votes inside Seattle this time, maybe as low as 5%. Some time ago Steward stopped talking and posting about politics, as even the grocery checkers at his neighborhood store weren’t as friendly to him anymore.
“It became really hard and not worth it,” he says. “Seattle was as pissed off as I’ve seen it when Trump got elected, and take it from me, it has stayed pissed off for all four years.”
Still he learned enough about MAGA world in his time as Seattle’s Only Trump Voter™ to sense this election may be far from over.
“They are super-passionate about Trump, way more passionate than the Democrats are for [Joe] Biden,” he says.
It’s the story of our tribalized times, with Trump as chief tribalizer. It will be interesting to see what the least tribalized among us, the Obama-Trump voters, do this time.
Last week when one of them sent in his ballot — quietly this time, without posing for any news photos — he crossed tribes again. It wasn’t that the Democrats earned his vote, so much as Trump lost it.
“I thought to myself ‘it’s OK, it didn’t work out as you expected,’ ” Steward says. “Time to move on.”
Words for a weary nation? We’ll see. With that, though, the curious and often lonely tale of Seattle’s Only Trump Voter™ came to an end.