The people I meet while canvassing fall into several camps. Many are happy that a candidate for office stopped by, and we can chat about pretty much anything political. These folks care about the issues I bring up: addressing unaffordable health care in rural Colorado, bringing Colorado up and out of the bottom ten states in funding for education, the importance of protecting our precious public lands and water resources. We talk about how to address the challenges of living and raising a family in Western Colorado, so that we can imagine a bright future here for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.
Sometimes a voter brings up the subject of guns and even though I favor stricter gun control to address an epidemic of gun violence and they are worried about the erosion of gun owners' rights, we talk about even this most divisive of issues amicably. I might not win the vote by the end of that conversation, but we can respect each other.
"I'm a Democrat on every issue but guns," one man told me sorrowfully last week.
"If I'm elected, I hope you will work with me on measures we agree on to make guns less easily available," I said.
That seems possible, because while he told me he likes shooting a semi-automatic military-style AR-15, just for fun, he wasn't entirely opposed to my suggestion of a law that would require such weapons to be stored at a secure, licensed shooting range. Because, when you think about it, where else could such a weapon be used responsibly? He recognized that the "hands off my AR-15" argument, the idea of armed citizens resisting a tyrannical federal government, is a paranoid fantasy, and if things really get that bad, the citizens armed with AR-15s will lose against military tanks and fighter jets.
Yes, you can stumble into a pretty deep rabbit hole when you talk about guns and gun rights, but that's OK. We can still have that conversation.
I am struck that these mostly centrist voters rarely ask my party affiliation because they sincerely believe "it's the person, not the party."
Another camp is full of people who just don't want to be bothered by a stranger at the door. Maybe they are busy and distracted by something else, like a baby to care for or something burning on the stove or they were engrossed in a TV show when I knocked on the door. Some just want "no solicitors," and that includes political candidates. Maybe especially political candidates.
But in the last few days -- and this can't be a coincidence -- three voters have gone on wild rants about "the swamp." Mostly I don't meet strong Trump supporters, because the algorithm that maps which doors I should knock on filters out "strong Republicans" and "strong Democrats," on the theory that I should focus on the swing voters I need to win election.
The algorithm is far from perfect, however, so I do meet people with strong feelings, pro- or anti-Trump. I never bring up Trump, but if the voter I'm talking to does, the direction of our conversation is set. We either agree that we are concerned -- maybe more than just concerned -- about this off-the-rails presidency and what it means for America and our future or ... I hear about the Swamp.
What an amazing place this Swamp is! It is dank and terrifying, infested with liberals and "deep state" bureaucrats. It is a place "the people" just want drained, for God's sake! They sent their hero to Washington to drain it, but now, somehow, he is getting caught in the quicksand. By this they definitely do not mean that the Swamp is corrupting Trump. No, he remains intent on draining it but, the Constitution!!! Yes, somehow the Swamp is swamping the Constitution, too. Which is to say that a corrupt FBI and Justice Department and the media (except for Fox) and a bunch of liberal swamp creatures are out to smear their champion with mud about porn stars and collusion, just to bring him down, for their own dark purposes.
This place is no mere wetlands that the Obama EPA tried to protect by imposing burdensome regulations. It's a rank, malodorous, toxic, disease-ridden place; yet somehow amorphous, indefinable, and hard to locate. The very thought of it fills a Trump supporter with overwhelming, visceral disgust.
I was chatting with one man yesterday and he was on board with the issues I brought up -- affordable health care, better funded schools -- and then somehow he brought up Donald Trump, saying Trump was the first candidate for president he voted for in years, and when I didn't jump on board his eyes narrowed and rage welled up in him and suddenly he was cursing at me: "I hate the fucking mainstream media and all the disgusting, corrupt liberals in the swamp!!!"
He meant it. This was some powerful hate. For real.
"Well," I said. "Thank you for your time."
I extended my hand, he shook it, and as I walked away, I could sense him behind me, blinking in confusion, sputtering, furious about ... something just absolutely awful that I represented to him. The Swamp. It was as if I'd brought it right to his home.
I tell you this story because it is what we are up against in the upcoming midterm elections. The Trump loyalists I am meeting are the tip of the iceberg. I'm thinking about all of the Strong Republicans whose homes I'm not visiting. Even at this late date, with the chaos of the Trump presidency mounting beyond all comprehension by the day, Trump enjoys the support of 85 percent of Republicans.
Wow. Just let that sink in.
But here's the scariest part: the more they sense he is beleaguered, the worse the headlines are for him, and the more enraged and unhinged that Trump himself becomes, the angrier his supporters. This is clearly true of at least some of them, and probably true of most of them. This really is a swamp. How better to describe the quagmire the Trump voter finds himself caught up in? It is sticky and he is covered in mud and it really does smell bad and he is lost and there seems to be no way out. It's a nightmare!
I don't think we can assume that people sickened by Swamp Fever won't turn out to vote in November. Our best hope is that those of us who are not infected are at least equally motivated to vote. And we especially have to hope that those reasonable people in the "middle," who don't like party labels but just want solutions to problems, will vote Democratic this time out. Many of them voted for Trump, but are not afflicted with Swamp Fever.
Fortunately, it appears that Swamp Fever is the opposite of contagious. Those in its grip are full of rage and terror and they want to lash out, like a horror film zombie, at ... someone, anyone, who is not infected.
The rest of us simply have to keep calm and carry on.
Because there is no alternative. No alternative at all.