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A Bernie Sanders supporter who called Tim Kaine “one of the finest people in politics that I’ve ever known” is heading up a political action committee for Democrats backing Donald Trump.
That man, Christian Rickers, has a well-established career in Virginia Democratic politics.
In 2002, he was appointed as a special assistant for policy in the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development by then Gov. Mark Warner – currently a senator from the state and a Hillary Clinton backer.
He was reappointed to the post in 2005 by Kaine, the governor who followed Warner and is also Hillary Clinton’s running mate.
But despite his lengthy history with some of the most prominent Democrats in Clinton’s realm, Rickers said he had “no interest” in supporting the Democratic nominee.
“I’m a lifelong Democrat,” he told Business Insider. “Donald Trump’s message about rebuilding the infrastructure and economy and the country was my number one concern, and it certainly isn’t [Clinton’s].”
Rickers’ PAC, American Uprising, lists $20,000 in donations from its first month, according to an August filing with the Federal Elections Commission, though an American Uprising source said September figures would show at least $100,000 raised for the month.
The Virginia Democrat brands the group “the Trumpocrats.”
“I figure I was going to try to do something to help out,” he said, adding that he wanted to give the pro-Trump Democrats “a place to organize.”
On the group’s website, “Trumpocrats” are described as working-class “teachers, technicians, cops, and coal miners,” who are “disillusioned with the rigged political and economic system.”
Rickers, a Sanders supporter during the primary season, said many of the group’s backers were in the Sanders camp, while others had decided during the primary season that they’d support Trump. Many are from the Rust Belt, which includes the pivotal swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
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Trump’s championing of a fierce anti-trade message along the campaign trail is what appeals most to the Trumpocrats, Rickers said, adding that his inspiration for backing Trump is that his hometown in Virginia once had more than 15 manufacturing facilities. Now, he said, it has just one.
“That is the laser focus of this group is to try and bring jobs back to this country,” he said. “No one more responsible than Bill and Hillary Clinton.”
“We don’t make anything here anymore, and there are people who are on disability, underemployed, unemployed, don’t have the benefits they used to,” he said. “When are people going to stand up in this country to all of this madness that keeps going on and on and on?”
He blamed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was enacted under President Bill Clinton and has been routinely ripped by Trump along the campaign trail, as the reason he thinks the former secretary of state is “not going to do anything to bring jobs back.”
“And the Clintons, they’re slick,” he said. “They say they’re going to do something about it, but who believes that? … I mean, they’re corporatists.”
Although the PAC was only recently founded and has raised modest funds, Trump has taken notice. He gave the organization a glowing shout-out late last month.
“I heard about the Trumpocrats,” Trump said. “I love that. I love those people. … It’s a big deal.”
Polls have shown that only a marginal number of self-identified Democrats are backing the Republican nominee.
In late August, a poll from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling showed that 10% of Democrats were leaning toward Trump while another 6% were undecided. On the flip side, 10% of Republicans were backing Clinton, while 7% were undecided. Trump edged Clinton out among independent voters by a 45% to 41% margin.
Last week, a CNN/ORC poll showed an even more dramatic split, with just 2% of Democrats polled favoring Trump. However, Trump was leading with independents by a 48% to 28% margin.
Among ex-Sanders supporters, a late July Pew poll found that just 8% of consistent Sanders backers and 9% of those who waffled between Clinton and Sanders during the primary season were supporting Trump.
In hopes of growing that percentage, Rickers said Trump has to “win the trust” of “the middle” and stick to his economic message while laying off his more “inflammatory” remarks.
“People are highly pissed off,” he said. “And if he can keep talking about that economic message and giving people hope that are upset, then he will win. Stop saying things that are inflammatory and pound away on the message of bringing jobs back to this country, and I think that does the trick.”
Of the big-name Democrats he’s worked for, Rickers lavished praise on both Warner and Kaine, calling the former “still a friend of mine” and the latter “one of the finest people in politics that I’ve ever known.”
Asked why Kaine’s presence on the Democratic ticket didn’t make a difference in his decision, Rickers’ answer was brief.
“He’s not running for president,” he said. “She is.”