Ethan: OK, Phil. I have known you since we first worked together to block the Sanford casino right?
Phil: Yup. Almost 20 years later, who would have thought our friendship would still be flourishing? I still remember that time you attempted to convince me Hillary Clinton would make a great president. If that didn’t test our “friends before politics” mantra, to paraphrase your favorite governor, Paul LePage, I can’t imagine what would.
Ethan: Here’s one that might just put us over the edge: Donald Trump! For all the years I have known you, I have always found you to be a reasonable Republican. Sometimes even a “compassionate conservative” as #43 described himself.
Phil: Most Republicans are reasonable, and compassionate, but thank you for the compliment.
Ethan: And yet, despite Trump being anything but reasonable, or even compassionate for that matter, why would someone like you vote for him?
Phil: If the election was a popularity contest on manners, I wouldn’t. I see and agree why many voters don’t like him. He is like a pebble in your shoe.
Ethan: While you are correct that many voters dislike him, only Jimmy Carter had a higher rate of disapproval at this point in his first (and only) term, for some reason 90 percent of Republicans feel Trump is doing a good job. Explain that to me.
Phil: Because Republicans believe that the federal government, indeed most governments, create more obstacles than solutions. It makes all of us feel less free to pursue our inalienable right to happiness. We see convincing proof that government power and spending to solve a problem can become a bureaucracy that holds Americans back instead of allowing them to succeed. The War on Poverty is a case in point. Trump supporters think his promise to shake up a system that has intruded too deeply into our lives is the path to follow.
Ethan: Promises are one thing, but where are the results? Agree or disagree with the policies, President Barack Obama had passed the stimulus, Affordable Care Act, Dodd Frank, and killed Osama bin Laden in his first term. Where are Trump’s accomplishments toward the end Republicans seek?
Phil: He is appointing conservative justices that will hopefully curtail government intrusion. He instituted tax cuts that helped allow the economy to thrive. And he is the first president to take serious action on protecting our borders.
Ethan: I’ll give you the right wing justices. Lord knows your team is winning that battle. But the tax cuts did virtually nothing to stimulate economic growth, our economy is in the toilet, and immigration policy is worse than it has ever been.
Phil: The economy is not in the tank because of Trump. It’s in the tank because of the pandemic and because too many (ahem, Democratic) governors made impractical decisions early in the crisis.
Ethan: And now all the Republican governors are making even worse decisions. Don’t you think a clear response from Trump might have helped make sure all the states were acting responsibly?
Phil: This is part of what you don’t understand about Republicans. We don’t believe the federal government should be interfering with state decisions. And it is part of what we like about Trump. For all his bluster, and lord knows he has a lot of it, he hasn’t “trumped” states rights.
Ethan: But in the case of COVID-19, this laissez faire approach you want is literally causing people to die.
Phil: He stepped in and banned travel from infected countries, he pushed for and signed a $2 trillion stimulus, and he made the CDC available to assist states as much as possible. That is the role Trump needed to play and he did it, I wouldn’t call that laissez faire.
Ethan: I’ll tell you what, those glasses you guys look through are a bit too rosy for my tastes. I think he is in more trouble than you realize in terms of his re-election.
Phil: You didn’t ask me to make a prediction on whether he would win, you asked me why Republicans like him. Predictions will come in the fall, assuming Uncle Joe can remember which office he is running for.
Ethan: Well, while I am not sure the country can survive the Trump era, I do expect our friendship will make it.
Phil: For sure. We will always be able to toast our friendship, via Zoom, from the Socialist country you’ve moved to.
Phil Harriman served as a town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth. Ethan Strimling served as mayor and state senator from Portland.