SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Nancy Strole never imagined she would be volunteering for a Democratic congressional candidate and rooting for a blue wave in a midterm election.
Like many in her suburban Detroit hamlet, carved out of the Michigan countryside on the north end of Oakland County, Strole is a lifelong Republican. She voted GOP for president, without exception, beginning with the vote she cast for conservative icon Barry Goldwater for president in 1964.
This fall, two years after Strole rejected President Trump and reluctantly supported Democrat Hillary Clinton, her disgust with the commander in chief has made her an activist. The 76-year-old grandmother is knocking on doors for Elissa Slotkin, the Democrat challenging Republican Rep. Mike Bishop in the 8th District.
“I’m what you would call … an old-time, old-fashioned Republican,” Strole said Wednesday, in an interview at her home, situated on 10 acres of forest and rolling hills. “I could not vote for Trump.”
Strole’s resistance to Trump, and a Republican Party she believes has been refashioned in his provocative image, is a reassessment of party affiliation playing out in dozens of suburban strongholds across America. Led by college-educated women, the phenomenon is loosening the Republicans’ grip on traditionally conservative seats that were gerrymandered to keep them in office, putting their 23-seat majority in mortal danger of falling to the Democrats.
Michigan’s 8th District, stretching from Detroit’s northern suburbs west to Lansing, the state capital, is one of those seats. Usually an afterthought for Republicans, the district is now up for grabs, although Bishop, 51, may have a slight edge over Slotkin, 42, in the home stretch. Bishop led Slotkin by 3 percentage points, 47 percent to 44 percent, in recent New York Times/Siena College poll.
Strole spent 20 years working in local government, some of that time in an elected office. She was proud to identify as a Republican, she said, feeling the party was the right place for someone like her: fiscally conservative, socially libertarian, and favoring a strong, internationalist foreign policy.
Similar to other Republican women at a political crossroads in the Trump era, Strole said that she hasn’t changed — not enough to warrant voting for Clinton in 2016 and supporting a Democrat for Congress in 2018. And although she isn’t exactly a fan of Trump’s agenda, it’s not the $1.3 trillion tax overhaul, trade policy, or his support for repealing Obamacare that is motivating her activism.
“His prime motivation and interest was, and continues to be, himself — a narcissist on steroids. I was deeply troubled and appalled by everything I read about his previous behavior toward women; he’s a misogynist,” Strole said. “How he treated in his business the subcontractors, some of whom, probably many of whom are small business people. And he reportedly stiffed them. What does that say about an individual?”
The words Strole kept returning to during the half-hour conversation were “appalled” and “character.” From the beginning of Trump’s campaign, she said, through his first nearly two years in office, she has been appalled by his personal behavior, his, in her view, lack of character, and embarrassed by it.
“I had hoped when he won, that, well, he’s going to become more presidential. Once you get into that office, you rise to the level that’s expected of you. You become something better,” she said. “That has not happened. It’s been just the opposite.”
Strole concedes that Trump is a factor in her flirtation with the Democratic Party. But she describes her decision to vote for Slotkin on Nov. 6, and to help turn out the vote for her, as primarily about the kind of Democrat she is — and isn’t. That makes this a cautionary, albeit hopeful, tale for the Democrats.
Slotkin is a veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense, where she worked under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. She is vowing to oppose House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for speaker if Democrats win the House. Although left-wing on healthcare, she is running as a pragmatic problem-solver who will compromise with the Republicans.
All of that was very important to the longtime Republican Strole as she considered how she was going to vote in this election.
“To me, she is, I would call, a centrist,” Strole said. “If she was anywhere near Bernie Sanders, I’d be running in the other direction. She’s not. Capital letters.”