WILKES-BARRE — After interviewing more than 100 Luzerne County residents who voted for Donald Trump for president, Ben Bradlee Jr. had a lot of fodder for his book — “The Forgotten: How the People of One Pennsylvania County Elected Donald Trump and Changed America.”
Bradlee had to pore over his notes to come up with the best stories to illustrate how this phenomenon happened. That is, how a traditionally Democratic county like Luzerne would turn so significantly in favor of a billionaire who spoke their language and espoused all the beliefs and policies voters believed would, well, “Make America Great Again.”
Bradlee came up with 12 key people to feature in his book, in which he asks: “So who, actually, are the people of Luzerne County who played such a pivotal role in Trump’s winning Pennsylvania and thus the Presidency? There is value in listening to their stories, in considering the ground truths of their daily lives, in understanding what drives them and why they voted the way they did.”
The following is excerpted from Bradlee’s book.
• No surprise here, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, was one of the earliest members of Congress to support Trump’s candidacy. He served as co-chair of Trump’s Pennsylvania campaign — playing a key role in Trump winning the state.
Barletta is running for the U.S. Senate against two-term Democratic incumbent Bob Casey of Scranton. Polls suggest Casey is way ahead, but as Barletta and Trump have often said, the only poll that counts is taken on Election Day.
“Now here was a candidate who was openly talking about the problem (of illegal immigration), and I didn’t remember a president talking that way,” Barletta says in the book. “He was saying what I was thinking, and what others were thinking.”
• Vito DeLuca, 50, a self-described Reagan Democrat.
“Overall, Vito concluded that Trump was perhaps a unique change agent who deserved a chance to be president, despite the fact that Vito disagreed with him on issues like the border wall and the environment, and he didn’t like the divisive, often unpresidential style.”
• Marty Beccone, 53, a registered Independent who owns the 4th Street Pub in West Hazleton.
“People weren’t doing too well in our area under Obama.” On Trump’s use of profanity, his combative style and his habit of insulting his rivals and enemies, Marty thinks this merely reflects today’s society as it is. “Isn’t that what America is now? Everything is crude, lewd, and all on social media, I think people related to that in the campaign. I don’t know anybody that doesn’t curse. Do you?”
• Ed Harry, 72, a former labor organizer and a lifelong Democrat who defied his Clinton-endorsing union leadership by endorsing Trump.
“I’m one of the idiots who came out and supported Trump. At least I can sleep better at night now. And Trump has been trying to change the trade agreements and bring jobs back. I have less respect for both political parties than I did a year ago.”
• Brian Langan, 57, retired Pennsylvania state trooper.
“Trump’s rhetoric was over the top sometimes, it’s true, but that never concerned me at all. I never doubted him. A lot of it was his New York style. I don’t know what happened to the media. They used to report facts; now they have an agenda. I didn’t fall for that.”
• Lynette Villano, 72, a widow and clerk for a wastewater treatment plant.
“Unlike Hillary, Trump didn’t talk down to people, and we liked that. And the Russians didn’t make us vote for him. When people put Trump down all the time, it was hard not to think they were putting you down too. We were constantly being made to feel uneducated if we supported Trump. We felt like elitists were laughing at us. That hurt me.”
• Donna Kowalczyk, 60, owner of a Wilkes-Barre hair salon.
“I used to be the most liberal person you could imagine, fighting for everyone else’s rights, before I moved here. Then you’re exposed to unsavory people, and working your a— off to get by. These people come in from out of town, living off Section 8, and getting all kinds of benefits I never got.”
• Kim Woodrosky, 55, born into a family of Democrats and a successful real estate investor.
“We’ve made a society that’s more than willing to be carried by the government. There’s an entitlement mind-set to the core: have one more kid, get more food stamps and more money toward my rent. It blows my mind. It’s a never-ending cycle. Why wouldn’t there be resentment at that?”
• Tiffany Cloud, 50, a politically active housewife and former advertising executive who is married to an ex-Army Special Operations officer. She also hosts a talk show on WYLN.
“Women who voted for Trump didn’t seem to be longing to return to the days of barefoot in the kitchen. On the contrary, many longed for freedom from big government intrusion and control. Many women voted for Trump because we are sick and tired of being dominated by big government. And plenty of women will likely say Clinton assumed she had our vote merely because we shared a gender.”
• Eric Olson, Tiffany Cloud’s husband, who did two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
“I didn’t feel a connection to Hillary. I didn’t like some of her scandals, if you will. I was blown away by Benghazi, for example. For someone who was going to be commander-in-chief, I felt she abandoned our guys.”
The White Nationalist
• Steve Smith, truck driver from Pittston who heads the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton chapter of Keystone United, a “white rights” group.
“I’m white and I love my nation. But we don’t have borders now, and if you don’t have borders, you don’t have a country. You can’t say you stand up for white rights today, though more are starting to now that Trump is president.”
• Jessica Harker, 60, a registered nurse who works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I couldn’t stand Hillary, and it was in the back of my mind, thinking about who could beat her. I wanted someone fresh and new. I’d had it with conventional politicians up to here. Trump was successful, and he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind and tell people what he thought.”
All of them are white, Bradlee says, as Trump’s voters overwhelmingly were. And they are all older than 45, again as most Trump voters were.
“They had felt forgotten and wanted to be respected,” Bradlee wrote. “Then Trump came along and seemed to recognize and acknowledge them. He made them feel good about themselves, while Hillary made them feel ashamed. So they voted for Trump. It basically all came down to that.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.