Photograph by Thomas K. Arnold
Clinton’s hypocrisy, Kevin Koch says, “is what flipped me. I wasn’t pro-Trump when [the campaign] started, but as time went on everything became clear.”
Trump is a racist, his critics charge. He’s a clown. He’s a narcissist, a blowhard, an asshole. He’s despicable, deplorable, and so (as Hillary Clinton said four years ago) are his supporters. “I’d rather vote for my dog’s asshole than Donald Trump,” one friend of mine said in a Facebook post.
The media has written extensively about the Lincoln Project, a political action committee formed in late 2019 by current and former Republicans. Their goal is to prevent his re-election and oust his supporters in Congress. Much less has been written about the #WalkAway movement of disenchanted Democrats who are throwing their support behind Donald Trump.
“I feel most people like me are just afraid to come out,” says Marilou Dela Rosa. “In 2016, I voted for Trump and my husband voted for Hillary [Clinton], and I didn’t tell him that I voted for Trump. We don’t want to say anything or wear a shirt or hat, because people will criticize us.”
Photograph by Thomas K. Arnold
It began just ahead of the 2018 midterms with a viral video featuring a gay hairdresser from New York named Brandon Straka, and his repudiation of liberalism — and the Democratic Party. Two years later, the #WalkAway campaign has become a national social media movement that, according to its website, “encourages and supports those on the Left to walk away from the divisive tenets endorsed and mandated by the Democratic Party of today. We are walking away from the lies, the false narratives, the fake news, the race-baiting, the victim narrative, the violence, the vandalism, the vitriol. We are walking away from a party driven by hate. We are walking toward patriotism and a new, unified America! We are the future of this great nation!”
The so-called mainstream media has questioned the #WalkAway campaign’s impact as well as its motives. Shortly after its launch, Abby Ohlheiser in the Washington Post wrote that “there’s little actual evidence to suggest that #WalkAway represents a mass conversion of millions — or even thousands — of Democrats.” CNN’s David Love blasted the campaign as “pure propaganda, a psychological operation” connected to “Kremlin-linked Russian bots.”
Today, the #WalkAway campaign has 90,000 followers on Twitter, compared to 2.2 million for the Lincoln Project, and 16,000 followers on Instagram to the Lincoln Project’s 440,000.
WalkAway fares a little better on Facebook and YouTube, with 455,000 followers and 209,000 subscribers, respectively, compared to 775,000 Facebook followers and 582,000 YouTube subscribers for the Lincoln Project.
Looking for #WalkAway members from San Diego, or at least former Democrats who now support Donald Trump, I put up posts on the #WalkAway Facebook and Twitter pages and contacted some of my GOP friends. I turned to my own Facebook page and put out a call. I received comments from both my liberal and conservative friends. “You can find them at the Loch Ness Monster Cafe, just around the corner from the unicorn breeding facility,” wrote one of the former. “People that stupid probably can’t read,” wrote another. “Do they even exist?” wrote a third. From the right, one friend wrote, “They work, make money, pay taxes, contribute to society.” Another wrote, “Silent. They won’t come forward for fear of being ostracized.” A third sent me a link to a recent KUSI interview with prominent black civil rights attorney Leo Terrell, a longtime liberal who recently announced he will be voting for Trump. It will be the first time he has ever voted for a Republican president. Terrell told KUSI that today’s Democratic party “has been hijacked by Antifa and Black Lives Matter…. I will not be part of that. A civil rights attorney believes in equality and fairness, and that’s what I’m proud of. And… the only party that offers that is the Republicans, and Donald J. Trump.”
Rich Rocha walked away from the Democratic party more than two decades ago, as an enlisted man in the Navy. “It’s kind of the standard story,” he says. “Like Churchill said, ‘If you are not a liberal when you are young, you have no heart, and if you are not a conservative when old, you have no brain.’ When I was young I believed everything.”
Ultimately, I found plenty of people who had walked away from the Democrats. Some were not willing to be interviewed, fearing backlash on social media, in their workplaces, or from their family and friends. One elected official told me about a good friend “who is a Democrat and once was a Hillary supporter, who has decided to vote Republican only from this point forward.” I asked her to set up an interview, but a day later the official texted me back: “Sadly, she is too scared to speak.... She was heavily criticized during the [Black Lives Matter] protests by friends, which has left her scared to speak.”
Others were quite willing to share their walkaway moments.
Don’t lock me down
It’s only been five months since Sunshine Makarow walked away from the Democratic Party whose candidates she supported at the ballot box her entire life. “I always voted Democrat, straight party line,” she said. “I never voted for a Republican for any office.”
But this year she will vote for Donald Trump.
“I grew up in California and went to state schools, and it was just the culture,” said Makarow, 42, a Carlsbad local who works in marketing at a biotech firm. “I had professors who said Reaganomics doesn’t work, we need government spending to get that money out. I went to college in San Luis Obispo, and they said, ‘Hey, look around, Cal Fire, the men’s colony, these are all government-funded.’ And it just got drilled into my head that the Democrats are really the ones who are working to protect the environment and open space, which have always been really big concerns of mine.”
She pauses. “To be honest, I wasn’t a super big Hillary fan, but she was a Democrat and especially Trump, with all that talk about him being so sexist and the comment where he said grab them by the you-know-what…. I said, ‘That’s not who we want to be our president.’ Hillary struck me as being brash and out of touch, but not so offensive, like Trump.”
The catalyst behind Makarow’s decision to walk away from the Democratic party and support Trump’s re-election came last April, shortly after the covid-19 lockdowns began. “On a very local level, I was looking at who was voting to keep us locked down with no articulate reasoning behind it, versus who was really pushing for the re-opening of businesses and schools, and it was the Democrats keeping us locked down,” Makarow says. “Obviously there’s a very serious disease out there, but everyone’s life doesn’t need to stop. Even things like being able to go to the beach or on a hike — they were voting to keep us locked down, not even allowed to get fresh air. It made zero sense. I can see rules about not being able to congregate on the beach, don’t have picnics, but if you’re actively running, walking, or surfing? It was just nonsensical.”
She began talking to some of her friends who were Republicans and found they shared her feelings regarding lockdowns and business closures. “I started hearing their opinions and then started looking statewide and nationwide. The more I looked, the more I found that it was the Republicans who were in favor of personal choice and freedom and limiting that government overreach. Government shouldn’t be acting like a babysitter and you’re a six-year-old child.”
It wasn’t just covid-19, Makarow says. She began reading articles and studying issues and after a while came to a realization that her perception of the GOP had been all wrong. “I really started to see that much of what gets put out there is just PR and spin,” she says. “There really is a lot more to the story than what’s presented on the five o’clock news and cable news channels. I read more about free speech and how a lot of things are censored for different reasons, and it struck me as wrong. There may be unpopular opinions, but they shouldn’t be censored or regulated. It was just a very eye-opening experience, and I began to rethink my long-held belief that the Republicans are basically just trying to make the rich richer. There’s so much more to the story.”
There’s no doubt in Makarow’s mind that come November 3, she will vote for Donald Trump, “because I think he fights hardest for keeping government limited and giving citizens more choice. You can make your own educated choices and make decisions that are in the best interests of you and your family. He’s going to be working hard to keep the American economy strong instead of making decisions behind closed doors that we all have to abide by without having much, if any, say in. I really feel he will be fighting for the freedoms guaranteed to us in the Constitution.”
What about claims that Trump is a racist? A misogynist? An asshole? “I think a lot of politicians are not necessarily of the best character, so I don’t think it’s that unusual,” she says. As for Trump’s alleged disdain for immigrants, best exemplified by travel bans and his insistence on building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, Makarow says, “That’s an interesting point. I thought it was terrible, at first — you know, why are we putting so much effort and expense to keep people out? And then one of my Republican friends explained that a lot of it has to do with sex trafficking, and that’s why they separate ‘families’ at the border, to make sure it really is their child, and it made a lot of sense.”
Makarow has similar thoughts about the wave of protests and riots that have swept the nation since the killing of George Floyd. She was horrified at Floyd’s murder and felt the protests were justified. “But there’s a difference between peaceful protests and some of the other events that are happening.”
Makarow takes issue with efforts to de-fund the police. “I’m a big fan of law enforcement,” she says, “and think they deserve all the support they can get to do their jobs property. Are there things that go wrong? Absolutely. But the question is, what is the best way to address that, and get things in a better place?”
God. Family. Country.
Rich Rocha is a 49-year-old contractor who lives in Carlsbad. Divorced, he has two teenage kids. I found him on Twitter. His profile picture shows him shirtless, on a boat with a Trump flag. His tag reads “Retired Navy pilot. God, Family! Country!”
Rocha walked away from the Democratic party more than two decades ago, as an enlisted man in the Navy. “It’s kind of the standard story,” he says. “Like Churchill said, ‘If you are not a liberal when you are young, you have no heart, and if you are not a conservative when old, you have no brain.’ When I was young I believed everything. My parents weren’t rich, and I believed the Democrats were the party of the working people. The first time I actually voted was for Bill Clinton in 1992.”
Four years later, Rocha recalls, he was having second thoughts. “I realized I wasn’t looking at the same military,” he says. “Budgets were cut, bases were closed, and as an air crewman, I couldn’t get a new flight suit, even though mine was falling apart. When I saw how Bill Clinton decimated the military, that was my walkaway moment. It scared me, and I started listening to the other side.”
At this point Rocha interjects, “It might be noteworthy to say that I am Hispanic. My parents came up here legally with green cards, became citizens, and instilled in me a strict work ethic. They left Mexico because Mexico was crooked; they would have stayed poor. They came here because they thought there was opportunity, and they did everything right.”
The first time Rocha voted for a Republican presidential candidate was in 2000, for George W. Bush. “I just saw that hatred for the military and remember being in San Diego, down at the docks, and getting paint thrown at us by Greenpeace. At one point, I was walking through the mall, in full uniform, as a second-class petty officer, and someone yelled ‘Baby killer’ at me. I thought it was ridiculous. The Left has no love for the military, first responders, or law enforcement. They don’t.”
Rocha voted for Bush again in 2004 and John McCain in 2008. “When Obama came into office, I was a military officer and couldn’t say a lot. But I did criticize his policies and everything I said, anything that was contrary to the Democratic stance, I was called racist. There was hypocrisy in every issue from the Left. That’s the way they are, when they don’t get their way. When Obama was in office, you couldn’t criticize anything he did. There were stickers that read, ‘Peace,’ ‘Tolerance,’ ‘Coexist.’ When Trump took office, those stickers disappeared. Everything was ‘Fuck Trump.’ A rapper even put out a ‘Fuck Trump’ song. They are not tolerant, they are not loving, they are not peaceful. When [Brett] Kavanaugh came out [as a Supreme Court nominee in 2018], here was a Boy Scout and they called him a racist. They threw all those things at him: ‘You have to believe the survivors, the women.’ And now Biden is out there and it’s all disappeared. They’re screaming, whiny children, trying to get their way.”
Rocha voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and will do so again on November 3. He participates in Trump boat rallies and car rallies and has worked on fundraisers for Melanie Burkholder, the Republican running against Democratic incumbent Tasha Boerner Horvath in the 76th Assembly district race.
“When everyone is spoon-fed, you start to believe the lies,” he says. “But what’s happening with Portland and Seattle, the riots and the violence…. Social media is circumventing CNN and MSNBC. People are beating people up just for being white. Rioters are burning cities down. And you want to defund the police?”
As goes California
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Alex Galicia says, he was “a hardcore NeverTrumper.” As a Latino, the 52-year-old who lives in Chula Vista, a plumbing contractor by trade, couldn’t stomach what he perceived as the “anti-immigrant rhetoric. It was his words. I was offended by his comments. ‘Rapists and murderers?’ I didn’t like that at all. I kept thinking of my parents, my grandparents….”
Four years later, Galicia says, he is a “reluctant Trump supporter, and I say ‘reluctant’ only because I think the alternative is much worse.”
Galicia’s disdain for Donald Trump goes back decades: “I didn’t like him when he wrote the book The Art of the Deal, and I didn’t like him on The Apprentice. The British version had Richard Branson, who I admire. We had Trump, a cocky dude who was famous for his bankruptcies.”
The last time Galicia voted for a Democrat was in 2008, when he cast his ballot for Barack Obama. In 2012, he voted for Mitt Romney, the GOP nominee, and in 2016, he voted for former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate. “I’m really a Libertarian, and I thought he could win. I really thought he had a chance,” Galicia says. “I took a hard anti-Trump stance, because I just didn’t like his ways, even at the beginning of his term. I remember thinking, ‘Why is he appointing his son-in-law and daughter?’ It reminded me of a banana republic, where you appoint your whole family to run the country. I focused on his personality, which even now I don’t like, and I didn’t like his rhetoric — the whole immigrant thing — and I thought his rallies were over the top. It reminded me of watching some socialist personality cult in Eastern Europe, with all these people cheering him on, half of whom truly didn’t even know what he was all about.”
But then, just like that, Trump “started to hit certain key points,” Galicia says. “I’m a veteran who served in the Army, in Iraq, and I’ve always believed our position overseas should be to project strength. Obama didn’t do a very good job with Iraq, and Benghazi really pissed me off. So I told myself, ‘Ok, he is cocky, but we’re probably going to be a little stronger overseas. And then his economic policies were a real alternative to California. If you look at San Diego, I’m a contractor, a disabled vet, and I have all these certifications, but I can’t do any public works for any city south of the 8 because they all have Project Labor Agreements (which prohibit giving contracts to non-unionized businesses). So I’ve been locked out of that.”
California, firmly in the hands of Democratic politicians who now command a “super majority” in the legislature, really ticks Galicia off. “They keep passing one regulation after another, including AB5,” the state law that requires companies that hire independent contractors to re-classify them as employees, with a few exceptions.
“California’s always been kind of special,” Galicia says. “But it’s just gotten worse and worse. I was involved in one of those groups that helps veterans start businesses, and I focus on those who want to go into the trades. It was great when I started in 2006, but now if you make one little mistake you have these fines that can add up and ruin you. I don’t think our state government is necessarily trying to target small business. They’re fighting big business, trying to unionize them, and we’re caught in the middle and getting crushed.”
The direction in which California is heading, Galicia says, was what finally flipped him and is getting him to vote for Donald Trump on November 3. “California has always been a trend-setter, and I don’t want to see what’s happened here happen nationally,” he says. “I think Trump is less harmful and more pro-small business than our state government. I have friends who say, ‘Why don’t you just oppose state government?’ But my wife and I had a long talk and we’re like, ‘Yeah, we gotta vote for Trump, because we don’t want this California mess going national.’ And we’re kind of representative of many others.”
He continues: “I see myself, if I attach a label to myself, as a veteran, not as a Latino. I care about these guys coming out of the military. They want to start a new life, and it’s harder and harder. The goal posts keep changing, all the rules and regulations — how do you answer that to those guys? A lot of them are not even trying anymore, they’re becoming employees. It’s just too hard and too risky here in California, and this is an artificial risk created by government. I see Trump as an alternative to that.” Biden-Harris, he fears, “would just make things worse.”
Galicia is not actively campaigning for Donald Trump, but has given the campaign a little money “every so often: $50 here, there.”
How do his friends react? “Their stance is kind of predictable,” Galicia says. “I have some friends who are further right wing, and of course they’re happy that I stopped criticizing Trump — I used to be notorious for that — and am now supporting him. But a lot of my family are teachers in the LA area. They hate [Secretary of Education] Betsy DeVos, and they don’t think much of Trump. And they’re like, ‘Oh my God, you’re too smart to be supporting him,’ while others say, ‘You’re a Latino Trump supporter? You’re such a sellout.’ I say, ‘Oh my God — just because I’m Latino, I can’t analyze candidates? I have to vote for the approved candidate? Who approved them — La Raza? The Latin Chamber of Commerce?’”
Kevin Koch, 49, lives in San Marcos with his girlfriend of nine years and two stepchildren. He owns a tool and die shop and, true to his working-class roots, has been a solid Democrat his entire life. He’s always voted for the Democratic presidential candidate and was planning on voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016, as well.
But then came a series of scandals that rocked the Clinton camp over the summer of 2016: missing emails related to the September 2012 killing of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya during a terrorist attack on a diplomatic compound, which happened under Clinton’s watch as Secretary of State. Charges that Clinton exchanged classified information over a private server susceptible to hacking by foreign agents. And the discovery that the charitable foundation Clinton ran with her husband had accepted huge donations from foreign interests, particularly in the Middle East.
“My original intent was to vote for her, until she took money from the Middle East, especially from a country where women can’t vote or drive,” Koch says. Clinton’s hypocrisy, he says, “is what flipped me. I wasn’t pro-Trump when [the campaign] started, but as time went on, everything became clear.”
Koch had already become somewhat disenchanted with the Democratic Party, he said, even though he voted for Obama in 2008 and again in 2012. “He didn’t do anything he said he was going to do,” Koch says, “and he was getting us into this globalization, which me being in manufacturing doesn’t agree with. And then the Left started with this anti-police sentiment, and I didn’t like that, either.”
Still, he supported Hillary Clinton, until the scandals hit. When Election Day rolled around, Koch cast his ballot for Donald Trump. He will do so again on November 3. “The reason I like him, and the Democrats don’t, is he has basically done everything he ran on, and it’s driving them nuts,” he says.
Koch says he has no love for Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee. “He says he wants to get tough on China. Well, that’s not how he operated under the Obama administration. They proudly professed their belief in globalization as a rising tide that raises all boats. Well, it sinks America, is what it does. I’m in manufacturing, and under the Obama administration, I almost lost my business. We struggled a lot with globalization.”
More recently, he says, “I’ve seen the effect the whole anti-police sentiment is having on my sister and brother-in-law, who are both Chicago PD. She sent me pictures of this ‘peaceful protest’ and her arm was completely bruised. The way they are billing it, and what’s really happening — the liberals have completely lost me. They won’t even call the protests what they are. They’re not peaceful. They’re violent, with rioting and looting, and they won’t even take a stand against that. And calls to de-fund the police are just asinine. I can’t believe I’m hearing that from a major political party. Now that there’s a backlash they’re saying that’s not what they meant, but ‘de-fund the police’ is pretty clear in the English language. You can’t backtrack it because you suddenly realize it’s not popular.”
Koch is distraught over how polarized the country has been, although, unlike many, he doesn’t point the finger at Trump. “The Democratic party… I don’t know if it’s just their disdain for Trump or that they lost control and they’re so power hungry they’re doing everything they can to get it back.
“I was in the service, and I will never vote for anyone who stands up for socialism or communism, even if they call it democratic socialism. Whatever they call it, I’m not going to stand for it.”
Out of the closet
A few years ago, at a family reunion, two of Marilou Dela Rosa’s aunts got into a squabble over politics. It seems the younger sister let it slip that she had voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. The older sister slapped her in the face.
And that is just one of the reasons why Dela Rosa, a 63- year-old Filipina who lives in Oceanside and runs a home healthcare agency, became a “closet Trump supporter,” until just recently.
“I feel most people like me are just afraid to come out,” she says. “In 2016, I voted for Trump and my husband voted for Hillary [Clinton], and I didn’t tell him that I voted for Trump. We don’t want to say anything or wear a shirt or hat, because people will criticize us. I even have one girlfriend who warned me, ‘Marilou, don’t say anything. You’re going to get hurt. Someone’s going to attack you.’ I thought to myself, ‘How bad is that? It’s not safe if you wear a Trump label.’ We’re not bad people. Whatever happened to letting people have their own opinions?”
Dela Rosa finally “came out” after the wave of publicity surrounding Trump boat parades in Oceanside and San Diego over the summer. Trump supporters, she says, “are finally coming out and becoming more outspoken. They’re posting on Facebook, even.”
Dela Rosa posted her support for Trump on Facebook, too, only to have “a friend, a good friend, for many years, unfriend me. Where is this coming from?”
Dela Rosa voted for Obama in 2008, but says she “opted out” in 2012 because she felt racial tensions in this country were getting worse, not better, under a black President. Four years later, she voted, for the first time, for the Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, believing that Hillary Clinton would take the country in a dangerous direction toward “socialism, handouts, and taxes, and I just wasn’t comfortable with that.”
Trump, Dela Rosa says, has been out in public for years, and while he may be an “unpresidential” President, “You know how to deal with him. He speaks his mind.” Plus, she says, “he likes to help people. He makes things work, he loves his country, and he likes to make sure people actually work and earn their money. He brings new jobs to this country instead of relying on other countries. As consumers, we rely on China so much, but we have no control over the workforce, the loss of jobs. So when Trump came in, he brought jobs back to this country, and he’s a businessperson. He’s patriotic, he supports the military, the police, and all the people we rely on for our safety.”