'It's not over yet, right?' Trump voters back president's refusal to concede

Loyalty from president’s base remains undimmed, amid belief that political establishment is colluding to deny him victory

A postal worker collects mail from a mailbox inside the protest pen, as a handful of supporters of Donald Trump demonstrate outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center this week.
A postal worker collects mail from a mailbox inside the protest pen, as a handful of supporters of Donald Trump demonstrate outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center this week. Photograph: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

The red and blue political bunting and yard signs planted on suburban lawns are mostly gone – and with them the outward signs of America’s fiercely oppositional election. But in other respects, the tensions of the 2020 contest remain as acute as they were on polling day for many Trump supporters.

“Not many care about people as much as Trump,” said tow-truck driver Vinny Nolan as he took a rest at a highway truck stop near Hackensack, New Jersey. “The [Russia] collusion bullshit was a set-up. He gave everyone money while we iron this virus situation, then they announce a vaccine two days after the election. Why didn’t they do that a week ago? He would have won.”

To more than half the country’s voters the election is resolved with Democrat Joe Biden as the winner but to a marginally smaller share of Americans it remains an ongoing contest – no matter all the evidence against that. With Donald Trump as yet unwilling to recognize defeat, and papering swing-states with baseless legal petitions challenging vote counts, many of his supporters still say they remain behind the president.

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A pre-natal office administrator in suburban Rockland county, New York, who preferred to give only her first name – Emily – citing pervasive fears of being shunned for her support, conceded that Trump had failed to adequately address “the George Floyd thing”, as she called the killing of a Black American by a white Minneapolis police officer that triggered a summer of unrest and anti-racism protests.

But Emily reasoned that Trump was not fundamentally a politician, a characteristic that lies at the heart of his enduring popularity for many of the 71 million Americans who voted for him on 3 November. And like many, protesters’ calls to defund the police had worried her. “They talk about the community policing. But what community? No one wants to get involved.”

Ten days after voting closed, Republican voters are at a crossroads over whether to support Trump’s unprecedented challenge to the vote counts or to accept defeat by Biden. Whichever path supporters choose to follow, for many Trump’s popularity is undiminished, perhaps even enhanced, by the manner of his defeat at the hands of what they regard as a political establishment.

Leo Basa, a veteran from Aerial Lake, Pennsylvania, said he didn’t see evidence of a stolen election but politicians “had made a mockery of the system”.

“The tables have turned. It is Republicans’ turn to say, ‘No, you didn’t win’, just like the Democrats did in 2016. It’s really a shame. They’re acting like children with the bickering. The media has a lot to do with it. State the facts and just the facts. I’ll make my own opinions.”

On Wednesday, the widely publicized #StopTheSteal campaign was augmented with #stopthetires2020, a protest by truck drivers billing themselves as a “bonded group of brothers and sisters to show America who runs the country”.

With stoppages on Wednesday and later this month, many showed their support on social media, and called on drivers to interrupt deliveries to coastal Democrat-controlled states from the industrial and food-producing central red states “to keep the movement going”.

But on arterial highways leading into the disputed swing-state of Pennsylvania, many truckers said that they had either not heard of the protest, or had no wish to forfeit their daily haulage fees.

Trump supporters demonstrate in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
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Trump supporters demonstrate in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Photograph: Edward Helmore/The Guardian

“Who’s going to pay me to stop driving? said one driver, Ray, at a truck stop on I-80, which runs from New York through Pennsylvania.

At an election protest rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, soon after the election was called, Trump supporters said they had experienced intimidation. “I am reluctant to post anything on social media,” said IT consultant Elizabeth Clor. Her husband, Greg Clor, added that Trump supporters “are actually afraid they will be attacked. If you say liberal things, that doesn’t happen.”

In a campaign office that remained cluttered with Trump-Pence bunting in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, the Republican election committee chairman for Monroe county, Thomas Whitehead, told the Guardian that the local party was following the president’s line.

“It’s not over yet, right? We’re not conceding. There are lawsuits going on,” he said.

Monroe county went to Democrats by a margin of around 5% this year, an increase of four percentage points over 2016. Still, Whitehead was keen to point out that besides the top of the ticket, the party had had a “good year” in terms of state and national legislative contests.

“Some people don’t understand how we could do so well in other things and not have the top secured,” he said.

In Pennsylvania, Whitehead said Republicans had closed the gap with Democrats in terms of registered voters in the state by as much as 500,000 since Mitt Romney ran in 2012. “Democrats still have a huge advantage but the new registrations are overwhelmingly because of Trump. They never trusted the party before. For a significant proportion Trump is who they look to,” he said.

This weekend, Trump supporters, including members of the far-right Proud Boys group, are planning a march on Washington. For the moment Whitehead does not plan to march in the streets, at least not while the election results await certification and face legal challenges.

“Our side has never been the side that goes out to protest,” Whitehead said. “We might go out and do some rallies but we’re not going to shut down cities and burn things. We think he should exhaust all resources to make sure every legal vote is counted.”