Politics & Policy

Will The Donald Win the Sooner State by a Landslide?

Trump works the crowd in Aiken, S.C., in December. (Sean Rayford/Getty)
Disgust with the GOP ‘establishment’ is driving Oklahomans to Trump.

I had already seen my first Trump Hat™ within 20 minutes of landing in Tulsa, Okla., my hometown, on Christmas Eve. The trip from New York had only taken six hours, but stepping up to the baggage-claim carousel, it was pretty easy to see I was back home: cowboy hats, cowboy boots, Oklahoma Sooners red, and that doughy eastern Oklahoman accent — not quite fully Southern; not quite fully Midwestern — peppered with “ya’ll” and the long vowels common south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

After hugging my girlfriend, there to pick me up, and collecting my duffle bag, I saw it: Make America Great Again, in bright red and perched atop the balding head of an older gentleman at the airport, presumably also there to pick up family.

This was something new to me under the sun: a Trump Hat worn un-ironically; worn not by some self-assured hipster from Brooklyn, but by a kindly looking man who may have actually worked a day in his life outside the artisanal-chocolate or ramen-burger industries endemic to Williamsburg or Bushwick.

I arrived in New York in May of 2015 to work for National Review — just before the Trumpnado began blowing through the normal patterns of American politics — and hadn’t been home since. While Trump’s not exactly my cup o’ tea politically — his embrace of the Supreme Court’s abhorrent Kelo eminent-domain decision, his on-again-off-again quasi-embrace of single-payer healthcare, his previous financial support for the worst of the Democratic party’s hackery (Schumer, Weiner, Clinton, et al.), and his petty un-presidential schoolyard taunts had all put me off — I thought I could see why many Americans, especially in the heartland, gravitated to his refreshingly blunt, politically incorrect style.

But I had no idea to what extent Trump had made his mark.

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“Whenever someone asks a quarterback in the NFL a serious question that he wants answered, they never answer the question, they always dodge it. And I hate it,” one Okie told me. “I just want that when someone asks a question about someone for them to be able to say: ‘Well, I think that guy is an idiot.’”

“I’m sick of all this politically correct B.S. where you can’t say anything ever or people freak out. And Trump . . . Trump says what he thinks. And I like that because I think I’m going to get an honest answer,” he continued.

Oklahoma is the home of former senator Tom Coburn — a conservative titan, affectionately known as “Dr. No” by his Senate colleagues for holding up countless spending bills and other boondoggles (he’s my all-time favorite American politician) — and is the only state to give the GOP nominee a sweep of all of its 77 counties in three straight presidential elections. Oklahoma hasn’t voted for the Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Republicans control every state-wide elective office and hold large majorities in both houses of the state legislature. The Sooner State is built on oil and gas, on ranching, and on Oklahoma football; it’s the Buckle of the Bible Belt, God’s Country, and the type of place, in the immortal words of WWII Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, “with a rifle behind every blade of grass.”

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So why was Oklahoma seemingly enraptured by a twice-divorced, moderately religious at best, loudmouth Manhattanite Yankee billionaire?

“I like Ben Carson and I like Ted Cruz. But I like Trump the most,” my uncle Duane told me. “I like the way he thinks: like a businessman, like an entrepreneur.”

#share#But is there evidence that Trump is running away with the state in the polls? There haven’t been too many conducted in Oklahoma; RealClearPolitics lists only two, one showing Ben Carson on top during his mid-October surge, the more recent poll showing Trump 9 points ahead of him.

I’m no pollster, and my “data” is admittedly as anecdotal as it gets. Still, I think Trump’s support in my home state laps every other candidate. Over ten days, from Christmas Eve through January 3, if politics came up, Trump was inevitably discussed.

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“The absolute basis of why Oklahomans like Trump is why Americans like Trump. He’s strong-willed, he’s direct, and he’s entirely anti-PC,” my friend Chase Beasley, a politically plugged-in young professional in Tulsa, told me. “We have very strong constitutional feelings and the way this administration has taken this country the last seven years, they’ve been building.”

One family member who works at the gun desk of a local sporting-goods store told me, “I agree with a lot of Trump’s positions, but I really don’t want to vote for him.”

That said, “There was a kid who came in, probably 19, who wore a shirt that said ‘Trump 2016: There Will Be Hell Toupée,’” playing on The Donald’s famously ambiguous hairdo.

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Asked whether he thought the shirt was pro- or anti–The Donald, he responded, “Oh, pro-Trump. Definitely pro-Trump.”

So is Trump’s support in Oklahoma the function of citizens’ outright revulsion at our current president and his policies? Perhaps in part, but the more likely cause is distrust of the Republican “establishment.”

“The Republican party is broken and dysfunctional. George Will says if Donald Trump is elected it will be devastating to the Republican party,” my uncle explained. “Well, my comment to George Will is: ‘Good.’ The Republican establishment is dysfunctional. And it is time to do away with it.”

Let it be known: The outright rejection of the GOP as an institution by voters is palpable in this reddest of red states.

Let it be known: The outright rejection of the GOP as an institution by voters is palpable in this reddest of red states.

“Trump has credibility, whereas these [establishment] Republicans do not. He might not align with all or even most of traditional conservative values as far as small government, but he’s touching on areas that are important to a lot of conservatives,” Beasley maintained. “And the things that he’s hitting on — people believe him, they believe that he’s actually going to do a lot of the things that he’s said he’s going to do.”

Are there any other presidential candidates who could take it to the party establishment and win the votes of these disaffected Oklahoma Republicans?

“Would the people who voted for Mitt Romney or John McCain, who now support Trump, would those people vote for a Cruz or a Marco Rubio? I think absolutely,” Beasley answered. “But what I think Trump is doing in Oklahoma and across the country is expanding the electorate, [appealing to] the kind of people who wouldn’t normally get excited about a political candidate.”

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Could these new voters end up supporting someone other than Trump? “I think that’s a lot less likely,” Beasley mused. “It’s credibility. Traditional Republicans don’t have the credibility, they don’t have the trust.”

#related#The Iowa caucuses are three weeks away — Ted Cruz has a big lead as of today — and a lot can happen before Oklahoma goes to the polls on March 1, Super Tuesday. Cruz could win Oklahoma in a sweep of the so-called SEC primary of Southern states. Rubio could execute his plan by showing strength in New Hampshire and parlaying that into growing success in the following states. Chris Christie could use his retail political skills to catch fire, win New Hampshire, and knock out his opponents on the moderate wing of the party.

Or Trump could win, capture the nomination, and change the Republican party forever.

So, I asked my friend, would Donald Trump win the GOP presidential primary if it were held today?

“In Oklahoma? Yeah, I think he would.”

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