Last month, Marco Gutierrez, leader of Latinos for Trump, contacted me about joining a focus group on CNN’s new morning show “New Day” with Alisyn Camerota. I survived the late-night pseudo-comedian Jimmy Kimmel earlier this year. Why not take on CNN next? I had always wanted to visit New York City and the network paid for all expenses. On August 5th, I flew in for a one-night visit to the Big Apple and stayed right across the street from the Time Warner building.
Monday morning, I entered the headquarters of the Fake News Media. An intern introduced me to the five other Trump voters on the panel: Damani Felder of Dallas, Texas; Bianca Gracia of Houston, Texas; Christopher Gagin of Belmont County, Ohio; Jeremy Montanez of Fontana, California; and Maryse Selit of New York City. We engaged in some small talk, as we were strictly instructed not to talk politics, but to save the discussion for the panel discussion. Gracia recognized me, since she’s a friend of Marco Gutierrez. Thirty minutes later, the camera crew brought us to the Green Room, the same set where CNN anchors comment (or carp) on Trump. I was excited about making the case for the president on his most adversarial network.
Camerota first asked us who still supported the president. I gladly raised my hand, along with Damani and Bianca. When she asked who regretted their vote, only Jeremy resolutely raised his hand. Chris raised his hand tentatively. Maryse turned out to be the most vocal critic of the president. The discussion began, then it rather exploded. The sharpest exchanges within the panel followed from Maryse’s comment that “idiots” voted for Trump. Jeremy’s apology for supporting the president sparked a defense from Damani, too. Those parts of the panel highlighted the source of the political rancor in the country. Discussion has all but disappeared because disagreements have become so personal. For some, to dislike Trump means to dislike his supporters.
Here’s what didn’t make the final CNN cut.
I called out Camerota for her insistence on focusing on Russia and brought out a number of times that Trump has taken a tough stance on Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, including his recent material support for the Ukrainian resistance and his recent sanctions against Russia.
Gagin suggested that President Trump is creating much of the division in the country. I laid the blame on Barack Obama, who had fostered much of the festering discontent in the country. I got some push-back from Jeremy, Maryse, and Chris for bringing up Obama. “We are here today, and this is what we have to deal with,” Chris chided me. I responded that it’s not fair to blame Trump for enforcing laws which Obama had ignored, or to blame Trump for fixing problems which Obama had created.
Bianca Gracia, who heads the Republican outreach program to Hispanic evangelicals in Texas, not only talked about the faith community, but also small business owners. She mentioned how she is working today, and many small businesses are thriving now, because of President Trump’s regulatory rollback and tax reform legislation. It’s really sad that her and Damani’s comments about Trump’s economic successes for black and Hispanic Americans didn’t make it into the final cut.
In spite of my disagreements, I shook hands with Jeremy three times, and he patted me on the back. I even apologized briefly when I cut him off. I made it very clear to Montanez that I was invested in hearing other points of view, even if I couldn’t change minds.
After the taping, we posed for pictures together. We laughed a little because of how sharp our exchanges had become. We left the building as a group, too, making jokes. We talked amongst ourselves for a few minutes in the hotel lobby. Surprisingly, I was the only “life-long” Republican. Gagin had served as a Democratic Congressman’s district director and staff attorney, but switched parties because the Democratic Party had moved too far to the left! Gagin complimented me, even if he didn’t support President Trump on certain issues: “You articulated your views very well.”
Damani and Bianca have remained Trump supporters because of his economic policies. As Vice-President of Latinos for Trump, Gracia leads Republican outreach efforts to Hispanic communities. Damani and his brother host a YouTube Channel called “The Right Brothers”, where they call out the Democratic Party’s modern-day Democratic plantation. Check our brief get-together at the Hudson Hotel here.
Despite his strong views against Trump during the panel, Jeremey Montanez and I became friends. He shared why he had voted for Trump. He does hold conservative views. Like many Americans, he is outraged about illegal immigration. A proud American, he is pro-life and believes in welfare-to-work programs. What soured him about Trump? One of his best friends had shamed and slammed Jeremy for his recent criticism of the president. It was a personal matter that bled into the political arena. Montanez acknowledged that much of his anger toward the president now came from his broken friendship.
After talking for a few more hours, Jeremy resumed his support for the president all over again! We even visited Trump Tower together. Fortunately for us, we ran into Bianca and Damani at the Trump Tower restaurant on the ground floor! We had so much to celebrate together, and we welcomed Jeremy at our table. Then another fortuitous moment followed: Eric Trump was also dining at the restaurant, and all of us got a selfie with him!
Despite the liberal media’s ongoing attempts to foster conflict among Americans, especially among former and current Trump supporters, the president and his supporters have continued to encourage dialogue, ongoing discussions which can bring Americans together. As Jeremy shared in our meeting after the panel: “I will admit that he [President Trump] has brought me together with these people, and I went on CNN because of him, so thank you, Mr. President.”