CHEVY CHASE, Maryland – This quiet suburb on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., is one of tree-lined streets, well-manicured lawns — and Hillary Clinton yard signs.
It’s also the town that Molly Morris, who plans to vote for Donald J. Trump next week, calls home.
Trump supporters are a rare breed in Maryland, especially in Democratic strongholds like Chevy Chase, but they do exist. Most would prefer that their neighbors not know which candidate they back. And, they say, for good reason.
“I respect other people’s political views,” Morris said, “but the kindest reaction I get to my own is, ‘I know you’re a Republican and you’re voting for Trump, but I still like you.’”
In the affluent suburbs of Washington where Democrats dominate — 98 percent of presidential campaign donations in Chevy Chase have gone to Clinton, a CNS analysis found — Trump supporters like Morris say they feel isolated and even persecuted.
“I could never put a Trump sign in my yard because I fear the hostility that Hillary supporters have for him,” Morris explained. “It’s raw. I thought about it, but we are on a major road and I thought somebody might do something to our house. I didn’t want to risk it. I would, if I felt safe.”
Capital News Service reached out to three dozen people who, like Morris, live in liberal enclaves and donated money to Trump’s campaign.
Morris was one of the few who felt comfortable talking about her support for Trump publicly. Only a handful agreed to talk on the record about their backing of one of two historically unpopular candidates.
A Potomac man — who donated to Trump’s campaign and asked not to be named — said he wouldn’t even let his friends know who he’s voting for.
Potomac mirrors Chevy Chase in both its wealth and reputation as home for the D.C. elite, and Clinton raked in 96 percent of political donations there.
“Would I put up a yard sign?” the man asked. “Absolutely not!”
Even though most individual contributions to political campaigns become public record, Capital News Service agreed to let some Trump contributors speak without attribution so they could freely discuss what it’s like to live in a liberal enclave and support the controversial Republican. They cited a variety of reasons for not wanting to go public.
Some feared social ostracization, while others said they were concerned that their support would affect their business or the employment opportunities of their children.
Others said they didn’t want to lose membership in neighborhood social clubs where political discussion was common and Clinton was the preferred candidate. Still others said they were concerned about houses being egged and cars getting keyed.
Maryland has been reliably blue in recent elections, swinging Republican in a presidential race only three times in the past half-century (Richard Nixon in 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1984, and George H.W. Bush in 1988). In the last election, President Barack Obama easily beat Mitt Romney by a margin of 26 percentage points in the state.
While Maryland does have pockets of Republican voters, notably in the rural, mountainous panhandle and Eastern Shore counties like Worcester, Caroline, and Cecil, the areas around D.C. are largely Democratic country.
“Mr. Trump is running against the political establishment – the very livelihood of the people who live in Bethesda and Chevy Chase and Potomac,” said Victor Williams, one of two Trump contributors contacted by Capital News Service who agreed to discuss his support on the record.
Williams lives in Bethesda, where 97.4 percent of donations went to Hillary Clinton. He doesn’t care who knows he donated to Trump.
“There are places in my life where I keep my politics in my pocket,” explained Williams, an attorney and professor who graduated from Harvard and Columbia. But, he said, his yard isn’t one of them.
He said he had two Trump signs proudly on display, but they both “disappeared on Halloween night.”
“This is the time of the year when you’re out in the front yard mulching, and they no longer acknowledge you as they walk their dog by,” Williams said, describing his neighbors’ reactions to his support for Trump.
Williams supported Obama, as well, but this year he’s voting Republican.
And in an election as divisive as this, Williams sympathizes with his Republican neighbors who haven’t “come out.”
“I can sure understand anyone not being open with their support of Trump,” Williams said, “just because Clinton has done such an effective job of characterizing his supporters as deplorable bigots and racists or dead-enders. I believe Trump supporters are patriotic Americans who want fundamental political reform. It was that same desire in 2008 that elected President Barack Obama.”
Living amongst the well-heeled suburbanites of Washington, Williams’ yard signs are an anomaly. Only 2.6 percent of donations in Bethesda went to Trump’s campaign. (Capital News Service calculated the figure by summing all donations to Trump and Clinton in both the general election and the primaries, then determining the percentage that went to each candidate).
With the start of early voting in Maryland last week, Trump supporters in the Washington suburbs began heading to the polls to cast their votes for the candidate that Williams’ says will challenge the livelihoods of the neighbors that snub them.
“Trump’s ‘America First’ policy would go so far as to prioritize American interests over the career interests of the political establishment in the beltway,” Williams explained. “When things are good, the beltway does good.”
He laughed, and added, “When things are bad, the beltway does even better.”