Van Jones revisits three Trump voters as nation grapples with unrest
Posted June 19, 2020 6:01 p.m. EDT
CNN — In the wake of Donald Trump's surprise election win in 2016, CNN's Van Jones went on a journey of discovery across America to understand why voters sent Trump to Washington.
Today, as the country wrestles with the death of George Floyd in police custody, the protest movement that grew from it, and the national conversation about race that is reverberating in every corner of American life, Jones revisited three of those voters who backed Trump in 2016 to see how they are experiencing this moment in history.
Ohio Democrat who backed Trump says clearing White House protesters 'was about the last straw for a lot of folks'
Scott Seitz is a union Democrat in blue-collar Trumbull County, Ohio. Farmland and factories dominate the landscape of this stretch of the industrial heartland, which had voted Democrat for president in every election since 1976. But a number of plant closings and layoffs here, especially during Obama's second term, helped deliver the county to Trump in 2016.
Seitz, who voted for Obama twice, said that Trump's business background and lack of engagement by then Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton lead him to a first -- voting Republican.
"We put Democrats in office and she turned around and forgot completely about us," Seitz told Van Jones back in 2016. "We are what makes this world go 'round. We built the tanks and bombs that won this country's wars and for you to come through here and completely neglect us, we would have rather vote for anybody instead of her."
Today, he's very troubled by Trump's reaction to the protests and walk to St. John's Church.
"I think he handled it like an arrogant businessman that he is, showing lack of compassion for people. What he did out in front of the church and making those folks move and smoke bombs and tear gas or whatever it was. Just so he can get to that vista and have that shot of him holding that Bible up with that prop. ... If he's any form of religious guy like he says, then he wouldn't have done that," said Seitz, adding, "that was about the last straw for a lot of folks."
Still, Seitz says while he has reservations, he plans to vote for Trump.
"I dislike Biden that much and don't feel he's going to lead our country. I only support him about 10%. Trump's only about 25%," he said.
What could sway him between now and November is Biden's vice presidential pick because he's so concern ed about Biden's age, he believes Biden likely wouldn't finish a first term. Seitz mentioned California Sen. Kamala Harris as a potential pick he would be interested it, but former First Lady Michelle Obama tops his VP list, although she seemingly ended any speculation about political aspirations in her 2018 memoir "Becoming" when she wrote, "I'll say it here directly: I have no intention of running for office, ever."
2016 Michigan Trump voter: It's not a systemic issue, 'it's a bad cop issue'
Leslie Curtis is a lifelong Republican who once voted Democrat. Back in 2008, he supported Barack Obama, but as a black man, Curtis says he was disappointed in what he saw as Obama's lack of focus on black issues. He never before or since has crossed party lines.
Today, Curtis defends the way Trump has handled the protest movement and sees value in his photo op at St. John's Church.
"That's a gesture of him saying that, 'we're strong, you know I believe in the Bible, I believe in Christianity and I'm just going stand by it and we're gonna beat this,'" said Curtis, adding, "it was meant to be a symbolic show of strength."
In 2016, while Trump only garnered 6% of the black vote in Michigan, support from voters like Curtis helped Trump win the state by less than 11,000 votes. Curtis has since moved to Arizona, which is expected to be a battleground state in November's election.
While Curtis supports people's right to protest, he does not see Floyd's death as indicative of a wider issue with police and race.
"I've had the opportunity to witness black and white police officers abusing their powers so I don't say that it's ... a systemic issue overall but I think it's a bad cop issue. Of course what happened to George Floyd was a tragedy, it was sad. As a black man, it's hard to watch things like that and not have some type of emotion about it, which leads you to react when you're more emotional than think logically," he said, adding, "When you say it's systemic, it takes the responsibility away from the individual who committed the crime."
West Virginia Trump voter: President's response to protests has been 'proportionate'
Allen Lardieri is a proud veteran and proud coal miner. In 2016, every single county in his state of West Virginia voted for Trump.
Just after Trump's inauguration, Lardieri told Van Jones he hoped the President would not only follow through on his promise to bring coal jobs to his state but that his presidency would be a game changer for every political office.
"My whole reasoning for voting for Trump was not because of policies but the presence of Trump," said Lardieri. "His unconventional nature will cause a political shake-up ... you have these career politicians, the same individuals that's populated Capitol Hill for so long, they're so disconnected from their base. Trump being such an outsider will make people start to think and realize hopefully that, 'Oh, wait, we could possibly lose our jobs if we don't become more representative.'"
Today, Lardieri is satisfied with Trump's record and his reaction to the protest movement.
"I think what he's done has been proportionate," said Lardieri. "He's said that he supports protest. What the President and myself and many others do not support is when somebody hijacks a lawful protest and turns it into some of the things that you've been seeing playing out at night."
As a veteran and an American, however, Lardieri condemns the actions of the officers now charged in Floyd's death.
"I took an oath when I joined the military ... and the oath doesn't leave when you have the uniform on or you have it off. It's still with you for life. Any time somebody that's in a trusted position -- law enforcement, military or otherwise -- steps outside and does something completely outside of their oath, it's insane. And in this case not only is it insane, it's lethal."