For disaffected Republican voters like Dan Medrano of Dallas, Texas, the Swamp Bus on a recent Thursday in Washington D.C. was an eye-opening — if not shameful — experience.
"He's destroying the country," says Medrano, a Vietnam veteran who voted for Donald Trump in the state primary in 2016. "I didn't know he'd be the disaster that he is."
The Swamp Bus is the brainchild of the Progressive Change Institute and Revolving Door Project, and its pitch is simple enough: a two-hour guided bus tour through Washington, DC to see the offices, corridors, and even homes where the town's most blatant violations of corruption are housed. Republican voters who were tapped for this outing were "drawn from activism around the country," PCI co-founder Stephanie Taylor tells Cheddar. "Just meeting folks at the grassroots level with a shared interest in fighting corruption."
Passengers onboard the Swamp Bus tour. / J.D. Durkin
These GOP voters — from places like Illinois, Wisconsin, and Florida — were all too quick to sign up for the first-of-its-kind progressive personalized bus tour.
But it's not just about Donald Trump; in fact, as organizers were quick to point out, there are many more forces at play than the President keeping the Swamp so swampy. Taylor tells Cheddar, "Corruption is systemic and it goes beyond Trump." She adds matter-of-factly, "It's the whole culture he has empowered."
The first ever Swamp Bus was not unlike most other fan bus experiences you might be accustomed to, like for fans of shows such as The Sopranos or Sex In The City. Except on the Swamp Bus, cosmos are swapped for casual tales about profiting off of the presidency.
The tour seemed to have resonated with the flown-in participants, all of whom were eager to see each stop, part of what Taylor calls, "14 major centers of government corruption, all within a few blocks of each other here in Washington."
Texas Republican Dan Medrano reads a Swamp Tour document on EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. / J.D. Durkin
Tom Crofton hails from New Richmond, Wisconsin. He — despite being a Republican — believes there is, "absolutely, a strong argument in favor of impeachment," he tells me. He adds that the Swamp Bus' stop at the Trump International Hotel, where leaders from Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and even T-Mobile have spent money, presumably to earn favor with the Trump White House, was particularly powerful. "The emoluments stuff and the Trump presidency is strong evidence. Just overall corruption."
When Taylor, in her role as event MC, tells the bus, "Foreign leaders and big corporations know they need to stay at the hotel to get what they want," Crofton visibly shakes his head in simultaneous agreement and disgust.
But with the town paralyzed in the grip of an official impeachment inquiry, the Ukraine controversy was just one point out of many. "The rot around DC is more than just Ukraine," Jeff Hauser of the Revolving Door Project, a watchdog for executive branch appointees, tells me. "The point of the event is to dramatize how broadly the corruption of Washington goes beyond just the obvious nature of Trump and his family."
Ultimately, the tour provided fed-up Republican voters the chance to experience and openly share their frustration with the status quo. But to move the needle for 2020, these voters know they're not the ones who need convincing.
"It's his core 30, 35 percent," Medrano tells Cheddar of the President's strong voting base. "You can't talk to them, and I say don't waste your time. But to the other 10, 15 percent, I would say: look at the facts.""
Updated October 17, 2019 to reflect that the Progressive Change Institute was one of the organizations involved. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee was incorrectly identified.