“If I had a Biden sign, they absolutely wouldn’t come,” Joseph told me. “I could never do anything in the restaurant but answer people’s questions [about politics]. I know that because the first Biden sign went up, and it is the biggest, silliest topic of conversation in town.”
While people might still be wary of announcing their support for Biden, some are nevertheless beginning to find it easier to describe their dissatisfaction with Trump.
Joseph, 42, doesn’t like the way Trump has emboldened his community to talk divisively about minority groups—especially on Facebook. To him it seems counterintuitive because the town has a tangled but symbiotic relationship with the Rosebud Indian Reservation, roughly 10 miles north of town and just over the South Dakota border.
“There’s been race tension all the time—we know how to deal with it,” Joseph said. “But the way that people are willing to speak out against African Americans is shocking to me, when many of them, maybe, haven’t even met an African American person for a while.”
Joseph, too, is feeling a nudge from his future self; he leans conservative libertarian, he said, but doesn’t want to have to confess to his children, currently 8 and 3, that he voted for Trump in 2020.
“Through the whole Trump presidency, I’ve raised a kid to 8 years old. I’m here to tell you, I just think he’s the sweetest, nicest, most empathetic young man,” he said. “And the problems I have with Trump are exactly in opposition to how I’ve raised him, whether it’s discipline in what you say and what you do or teaching kids to admit when they’re wrong.”
He doesn’t have a problem voting for a Democrat but said he finds it absurd that Democrats, “in an election with these kinds of consequences,” chose Biden. “I don’t think that any weird leftist army is going to turn us into a socialist country. I just think he’s a poor candidate.”
He is personally friendly with members of the congressional delegation, such as Republican Senators Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse, who have stopped into the restaurant over the years. But he’s “appalled by the senators cowing” to Trump’s whims, he said. He hopes that a Biden presidency might persuade some of them to embrace a spirit of bipartisanship, and that in time a conservative party might survive Trump and produce a candidate he’d support.
Even in the most Western part of the state—just across the border from Wyoming—it’s possible to find hints of the same discontent. In Chadron, 27-year-old Jacob Rissler isn’t hearing other Republicans talk about what he sees as clear concerns conservatives should have with Trump. The close-knit community and college town of about 6,000 is largely agricultural—a place where ranching gets you by, but maybe doesn’t get you rich, meaning everyone works hard and makes the most with what they have.
Rissler said he is confused that his friends, family and neighbors aren’t more upset about the tariffs taking a scalpel to their farming livelihoods. Last year, the state’s farm bureau estimated Nebraska would lose about $1 billion from retaliatory tariffs from Trump’s trade wars. That’s not the fiscal responsibility that drew him to the party, he said.
“To me, this is not what traditional conservatism is,” Rissler said.