Berliners for Trump?

Yes, there are Republicans in Berlin. But like many American right-wingers, they’re finding their loyalties tested by the most divisive candidate in US presidential history. Will they choose the “lesser evil”?

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Tom Cox

The US elections are coming up on November 8, and yes, we’ve been keeping tabs (check out our op-eds by Isabel Cole and Dmytri Kleiner if you haven’t already). But what about that rarest of Berlin species – American Republicans? Believe it or not, there are a few of them, and some are even thinking about voting Trump this year… if only because he’s the “lesser evil”.

At first, trying to find an American Berliner who’s willing to admit they’re voting for Donald Trump seems like an exercise in futility. For one, it’s a bit tricky to find any outspoken right-wing expats at all in this liberal city. While the group Democrats Abroad is thriving, there is no active Republican branch in Berlin. Frankfurt-based group Republicans Overseas Germany claim to have 1500–2000 members nationwide, but rare meetings in the capital gather six or seven attendees, at best. 

And even the most outspoken right-wingers are torn on whether to cast their vote for the ex-reality TV host. Mirroring the dilemma experienced by their left-wing, Sanders-supporting counterparts, they’re contemplating whether to choose the “lesser evil”, go for a third party or just refuse to vote altogether. 

One of them is Ned Wiley, who came to Germany to work as a marketing executive and has lived in Prenzlauer Berg for 15 years. A lifelong Republican, he was vice-chair of Republicans Overseas when Trump announced his candidacy, and watched as divisions started to form within the group. “There were three groups,” he says, referring to the Republican Overseas Whatsapp chat he took part in. “The Trumpists, which were very small. On the other side there were the never-Trumpers. And in the middle were the people who evolved over the course: anything-but-Hillary. They gradually came up with a justification for or came to terms with the candidate: ‘So he’s not perfect, but Hillary is the devil incarnate.’ The discussions started to get really personal and vicious.” 

Trump becoming the party’s official presidential candidate on July 19 was too extreme a step for Wiley. “At that point, I said, ‘It’s over, I can’t possibly play any role in this.’ Just taking out my Republicans Overseas card was a real embarrassment. Trump’s like a little kid who started playing a game and then got out of control, and there he is, running around. The wall is nonsense, he’s not gonna do that. Sending away immigrants who were responsible for the revolution in Silicon Valley, like Syrian heads of computer science companies – these guys are not dangerous immigrants! We should be encouraging them to come.” A Romney voter in 2012, Wiley switched to the Libertarians, who hold no seats in the Senate but are the third largest party in America, polling at about 10 percent. “I guess I was a closet libertarian and didn’t know it, so I decided to come out of the closet!” As the chair of new group Libertarians Abroad, he now speaks in favour of candidate Gary Johnson and gives interviews with the local and US press. “Though it’s probably too little, too late,” he admits. 

Chris Roberts, a 27-year-old customer care agent who came to Berlin a year ago with his German wife, initially sympathised with some of Trump’s policies, even though that made him something of a “lone ranger” here. “My American friends think it’s a total outrage,” he admits. His wife still makes him watch Trump skits on American comedy shows. He’s hesitant about making himself publicly known as a right-winger in Berlin, and requested to be called by his middle name for this article. 

Though born in Canada, he moved to San Diego when he was 14 and has American citizenship. He says: “With the Mexico wall… I lived in Texas for a year, so I know of the stories. A lot of Mexicans die on the way. Coyotes [smugglers] lead them through the routes, but a lot of them end up raping them or they die from exhaustion. The amount of them coming in and working can cause a problem – they bring wages down. They’ve also caught Middle Eastern people coming in… if a terrorist wanted to come into the country that way, they could. Trump wants Mexicans to come the right way.” Roberts believes the candidate has been unfairly maligned. “When people hate on Donald Trump, they don’t know what they’re talking about. He’s never said anything that I can think of where it’s hate against a particular race.” He also relates to the Republican candidate’s anti-establishment discourse. “Trump breaks the political norm. People really relate to that. He doesn’t feel he has to be politically correct. People are sick of scripted politics.” 

But Roberts became disillusioned by a series of campaign excesses in July and August, starting with Trump’s criticism of the parents of a dead Muslim-American soldier during the Democratic National Convention. Now, neither option appeals to him. “I don’t like Clinton because I think America has better candidates than the same old families. The email scandal is enough. She’s too much part of the establishment.” He’s still unsure how he’ll cast his vote. 

At least one Berlin-based Republican will stick to his party. Sixty-nine-year-old Hans Theerman (photo) fits into the never-Hillary category. An American citizen born in Germany but raised in Missouri, he travelled to east Berlin in 1993 to open a branch of a Pentecostal institution offering BAs in Bible studies and theology, then called ICI University. In 2011 he retired and spent three summers motorcycling around America; he currently lives a more sedentary life in Zehlendorf. 

Though liberal in his 1960s youth, Theerman has voted Republican since finishing college. He claims the party stands for freedom and individual opportunity – that it was “anti-slavery” while “the Democratic party was the party of the Klu Klux Klan”. Like Roberts, he’s in favour of stricter immigration control. “Every country has a right to say who gets in. When somebody wants to come in to eat your lunch, kill your kids and rape your wife, I’m sorry, but a guy’s gotta do something,” he says in a congenial Missouri twang over a steaming glass of red fruit tea. His discourse – “Muslims are synonymous with terrorism” – clashes rather colourfully with his choice to meet at a Kreuzberg Turkish café. But Theerman sees no contradiction, and he’s eager to stress that he knows many Muslims in Berlin and has no problem socialising with them. 

This year, he plans to vote Republican again, albeit unenthusiastically. “I’m sorry to say I will vote for Trump, if only to vote against Hillary. Clinton says absolutely nothing. She has never accomplished anything successfully. Look at her record, it’s like a failed state. At least Trump is out there defining some policy issues and saying what he would do. He’s a buffoon, and we had 10 other people that would have been better. But he’s what we’ve got right now. He’s the best of a bad couple, the least worst. And he’s open to influence. He will accept a lot of help.” 

He’s virtually the only outspoken Trump voter in Berlin, but Theerman has no qualms about speaking his mind to Germans. He says: “I find among educated Germans a willingness to exercise the give and take of vibrant disputation. Generally speaking, most seem to really want to know a different and foreign viewpoint, and are willing to defer to someone more intimately connected than themselves.” 

Like many, Theerman believes that Trump has successfully brought up issues that nobody else would touch. “He’s saying what a lot of other people weren’t saying. When you’re at rock bottom, almost anything could be up,” continues the Berlin reverend. “I’m not doing this so I can be a purist. I’m doing this so something can be done for the country. Would I vote for Trump in any other situation? I wouldn’t vote for him as a dog catcher!”