Bonnie Greer looks at Sam Elliott’s adverts for Joe Biden, which aim to sway Donald Trump voters away from the president.
In the United States, the various voting demographics are labelled in terms that most British citizens, and just about anyone else, might find offensive. So, there are ‘white suburban women with college degrees’, and their opposite number: ‘white suburban women without college degrees’.
These two categories deserted the Republican Party in droves during the mid-term elections of 2018 and gave the House of Representatives to the Democrats in the biggest Republican rout since Watergate. The polls suggest they are going to stick with the Dems next week and could put Joe Biden in the White House.
Back in 2016, those voters had taken a bet with the GOP – probably because they couldn’t contemplate four years of Hillary Clinton. They decided to take a chance on ‘the Donald’, the bombastic, iconoclastic and kinda funny guy they had seen on telly and in the news for three decades. After all, as Trump often said to them: what did they have to lose?
By 2018, this demographic knew the answer to that question. And, tired of seeing immigrant kids crying for their mothers, worried about turning on the television in front of their own children because the president might be on and who knew what would come out of his mouth, and just plain exhausted by the chaos of the Trump Administration, they voted for the Dems.
After all, by then the conservatives among them had gotten the judiciary that they wanted: Trump farmed that out to the Federalist Society, which had spent the better part of 50 years compiling a wish-list of judicial right-wingers and helped vet the president’s court nominees. These candidates will serve decades on the bench, changing US jurisprudence and turning it decisively rightward.
Plus, in this election, Kamala Harris seems to go down well for those demographics, because she kind of looks like an upmarket suburban mom. Those voters can see her make the school run, then head for her late morning pilates class. And she was the attorney general of California – and therefore what the progressives derisively call a ‘cop’, because it was her job to get people sentenced to the industrial complex-gulag that is the American federal penal system.
Right now, it seems, those groups – white suburban women, with and without college degrees – are no longer MAGA people, at least not in the numbers they once were. Rural women, on the other hand – and they are mostly white – have tended to remain Trump supporters.
And then there is another demographic: white men without a college degree. This group saw Trump as their Messiah, the guy who said what they always wanted to say but didn’t have enough cash to do so.
He was the guy who got all of the beautiful girls; who descended a golden escalator in his own New York skyscraper to announce that he was going to run for president and make America great again.
It was Donald John Trump, son of a real estate mogul, brought up in the biggest house on his street in Queens, in whom they had found a voice. This may sound weird to class-bound Britain, but the things is Trump had grievances. Trump had a chip on his shoulder from enduring all of those snooty Manhattanites who wiped Queens off the bottom of their shoe. So Trump knew those white men without a college degree and they believed in him.
In the Rust Belt of the Upper Midwest – Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania – where Hillary Clinton messed up by insinuating that she would take away coal and steel – these people’s livelihoods – they voted for Trump in 2016. They showed up for him.
And when the angel of death caught the wind and flew high above the land, earlier this year, those voters did not ‘mask up’, because Trump had suggested that to do so was somehow unmanly. The WMWCD stayed MAGA. But something has gone badly wrong. The pandemic has caused many in this group to lose their jobs, sometimes lose family members and friends.
Now, in this election cycle, another voice has found a connection with them – the deep, sonorous voice of the actor Sam Elliott, who has made two powerful campaign adverts in support of Joe Biden. His movies are not ones I tend to go see. They are movies for men – lost men, men seeking redemption, doomed men, funny men, wise men. Guys. American guys.
I give him full marks for marrying Katharine Ross, the actor who was an icon of my generation – the woman who hung out with Butch Cassidy And the Sundance Kid, who was a Stepford Wife and who ran away with Dustin Hoffman at the end of The Graduate.
Elliot’s voice, his Western, golden tones, are pure American. So who better to help Biden to appeal to WMWCD? The actor provided the voice-over for an official advert for the Democrat candidate, entitled Go From There, which aired during the baseball World Series game one match-up between the LA Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Over a pared-down piano rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner, Elliott implores WMWCD to just start off assuming that everyone loves America. And then “go from there”. He appeals for decency, a “fresh start”, “dignity”.
His second ad, for the Lincoln Project – a group of anti-Trump Republicans – makes an even more direct appeal to WMWCD. Entitled, simply, Men, the commercial tells them they must own up to their mistake of electing Trump in 2016 and that they should correct it, like their fathers would have done, by supporting his opponent this time around.
“We may have thought we were doing the right thing in 2016,” Elliott says. “But it’s clear this isn’t the America we voted for. We made a mistake.”
And in that “we”, he gathers together all of the guys willing to listen and willing to acknowledge that the times have changed. That even their wives and kids had changed. That they had elected a black man with a strange name to be president of the United States – twice – and that there was a possibility that a black woman with a strange name might be vice president this time around.
Sam Elliott told them that it was time to understand the times. Be in them, because the times needed them, needed what they knew and could contribute. Only time will tell if WMWCD listened. Or if it is too late.