It won’t be the same Thanksgiving this year.
No roasted chicken and dressing, no cranberry sauce, no pecan pie, no chance to watch the college football game with extended kin.
She usually brings the baked ham. Her mom, who hosts the holiday gatherings, typically fusses in the kitchen and roots for the Auburn University Tigers. Her dad likes to pour the wine.
But there won’t be any invite for J.B., a 49-year-old conservative now shunned by her parents. Not as long as she continues to reject Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
‘It’s just that they can’t understand why I’m not voting for Trump.’ – J.B.
“I’m always open to healing,” said J.B., who did not want her full name published because her anti-Trump musings have spawned online threats. “It’s just that they can’t understand why I’m not voting for Trump. He’s disgusting. It’s his sexism, it’s his misogyny, his racism. The GOP leadership don’t have the spines to stand up for what’s right.”
Her mother hasn’t spoken with her since February. Her husband was “disinvited” from Thanksgiving, as well. Only their 13-year-old daughter may still have a place at her grandparents’ table.
“It is that ugly,” the one-time Republican lamented.
It wasn’t so long ago that the stay-at-home mom supported party nominees: John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. She abandoned the ticket this year, dubbing herself a “conservatarian” of the “Never Trump” persuasion. Next Tuesday, she’ll cast a ballot for either Libertarian Gary Johnson or independent candidate Evan McMullin, a decision her conservative relatives in this red state — the most Trump-friendly of them all — can’t swallow.
“There’s no way I could vote for Trump. He’s not even a Republican,” she said.
The family feud can be traced to cracks in the Republican Party that deepened last month in the aftermath of Trump’s lewd Access Hollywood revelation. What followed was a cascade of accusations by women alleging the candidate is a sexual predator, and more fallout from party brass who declared they were taking principled stands against Trump.
Some officials later offered qualified re-endorsements, like Alabama congressman Bradley Byrne. The governor, Robert Bentley, recently embroiled in a sex scandal of his own, released a statement vowing not to vote for Trump. And Martha Roby, the Republican congresswoman for Alabama’s 2nd congressional district, also withdrew her support for Trump and maintained that position.
Now, what some pro-Trump wags have called the “civil war” within the party is also playing out in conservative households and social circles.
“It’s definitely a civil war,” Mickey Sheffield said outside a rally for the Republican ticket in Mobile. “Now, the establishment, you see them on public TV, they’re not voting Trump so … what? Hillary Clinton? And they call themselves conservative?”
A short drive south, at the Big Time Diner, where patrons drank cold glasses of high-octane sweet tea, James Herring looked to his wife across the booth.
“We’re split. I’m for Trump and she’s for Mrs. Hillary,” he said. “Because she’s a woman.”
The 79-year-old retired pharmacist’s wife scoffed and shook her head.
Herring said he’s confident the New York real estate magnate would help restore America’s military might. When he began talking about social security — “Mr. Trump would handle it better than Mrs. Hillary” — his wife snorted again.
This time, Herring rolled his eyes.
“See, she’s really a Democrat, though,” he said.
“No,” she protested, saying she is conservative. “I vote for the person, not the party.”
At the nearby campus of the University of South Alabama, 18-year-old freshman Emily Washington said she’s already lost one friendship over a political dispute.
“We don’t talk anymore — because of his radical ideas,” she said in the dining hall. “I’m voting for Hillary because here’s the thing: I’m not voting for a racist.”
Her dining companions eyed each other. Michelle Hobbes is leaning toward a third party; Amanda Green initially said she was decided, but backpedaled.
“Some things I like about Hillary, some things I like about Trump,” Green said. She spoke carefully, though the subtext was clear.
“I mean, I’m a Republican…”
They’re the kinds of awkward conversations that might happen in any election cycle, but usually they take place between supporters of opposing parties. In this case, in this solidly conservative state, it’s supporters of the same party divided over their own candidate.
“Never seen anything like it,” said University of Alabama political scientist William Stewart. “Around town, many men and women — conservatives — are unenthusiastic about the top of the Republican ticket.”
Before he shifted from the “Never Trump” camp to “Maybe Trump” this week, Mobile resident Stephen Simpson said some of his casual relationships have become fraught over his reluctance to “jump on board with Trump.”
“I’ve had people that I wouldn’t call close pretty much … tell me off and have nothing to do with me,” the 53-year-old Evangelical Christian said.
He slices the Republican party into three factions: an “establishment” base of old-guard politicians; a wing made up of constitutional purists; and what Simpson calls the party of “the Trumpublicans.”
“I don’t even know what they are. They’re populists, nationalists,” Simpson said.
Retired computer programmer Larry Taylor, an independent voter in Birmingham, was the first private Alabamian to donate to Trump’s campaign. The middle-class grandfather, who volunteers as a church bus driver and a carpentry mentor, wrote a $ 500 cheque for Trump last July.
‘A divided household’
“This is a divided household,” Taylor said. “But it’s OK. We don’t have any problem with that.”
The 70-year-old’s wife will vote for Clinton, and he doesn’t mind one bit. They can even watch the nightly news together.
“Martha and I will sit down and listen, have ourselves an evening snack,” he said. It’s fine so long as they don’t wade too deeply into politics.
While J.B. may not partake in Thanksgiving in Birmingham this year, she thinks about mending relationships. Her folks are getting into their later years. She worries.
“What we need is reconciliation and restoration,” she said. “That’s what the next president needs to do. If we have that, we can heal.”
Hopefully, she added, in time for Christmas.
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