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After a tumultuous 2017, the New Year is shaping up to be an eventful and momentous year for Freight Transportation. These are a few of the trends to watch in 2018.

Trump Year 2 - the Sophomore Jinx and Crisis Management

America and the world have lived through year one of an American rookie politician and president. It was painful and disruptive with few solid accomplishments to point to. There is little consensus on the financial impact of the Tax Reform bill that was passed, Trump’s one big legislative achievement.

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Donald Trump created high expectations as he became president in January 2017. These expectations were fueled by his extensive list of campaign promises (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/01/22/here-are-76-of-donald-trumps-many-campaign-promises/?utm_term=.bb0ed2101fa1 ).

While Trump made much of his “Make America Great Again” slogan, one can only look back on the past year as a major failure. While a high quality conservative judge was appointed to the Supreme Court and some executive orders were signed, there are few other successes to point to. Despite having control of all three branches, the Republicans could not pass any major legislation during the past 10 months of 2017. America withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, a major 12 country trade pact and the Paris Climate Change accord, that has been signed off by every other country other than the United States. While these actions may appeal to the Trump base, they are not creating jobs in America.

Four emerging developments threaten to stifle the Trump presidency. They are the passage of a Tax Reform bill, the Muller investigation into Russia meddling into the U.S. election, America’s threat to pull out of NAFTA. and the sexual harassment scandals that are emerging in the political, entertainment and media sectors.

The Tax Reform Bill

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Here is my annual report on the top stories in surface transportation in the United States and Canada over the past year. These stories are not listed in order of importance.

Economic Stability, Political Chaos, and Tightening Freight Capacity

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Periodically, business conditions change. These changes can have positive or negative effects on certain sectors of the freight transportation industry.

Intermodal transportation uses at least two modes of transportation (i.e. road, rail) to move freight. The intermodal option works best when the rail service provider has terminals within a fifty-mile radius of the origin and destination points and on major long haul (i.e. over 1000 mile) lanes. While intermodal volumes have grown over the past couple of decades, this business remains a niche market. The typical road/rail combo service is usually a few days longer than over the road transportation, but it is normally priced a few percentage points below truck service. This may be a pivot point for intermodal. Here’s why.

The US and Canadian Domestic Intermodal Freight Markets

Two hurricanes in the southern US and solid economic conditions in Canada and United States have been driving a tightening of trucking capacity. As it tightens, intermodal service can be an option on some freight shipping corridors. Shippers often look to intermodal service for lower freight costs. As truck capacity shrinks and spot market rates rise, this may create an impetus for shippers to migrate some traffic from road to rail.

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Investopedia defines Blockchain as a distributed database that holds records of digital data or events in a way that makes them tamper-resistant. While many users may access, inspect, or add to the data, they can’t change or delete them. With Blockchain, transactions agreed by consensus are added to a block, a unique cryptographic code is calculated of the block, and that code is added to the following block creating a unique chain of blocks containing all the transactions.

The so-called distributed ledger is a technological system that is an asset database that can be shared across a network on multiple sites, geographies, or institutions. The original information stays put, leaving a permanent and public information trail, or chain, of transactions. The decentralized and distributed digital ledger contains transactions across many computers so that the record cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks and the collusion of the network. In short, Blockchain is a record-keeping mechanism that makes it easier and safer for businesses to work together over the internet.

The most popular application of Blockchain technology is Bitcoin, the currency system. The good news is that the Blockchain protocol can be used for non-currency purposes as well.

Though it was initially intended for financial transactions, businesses of all kinds are getting creative with the so-called Blockchain ledger, as it can be used to record, track, and verify trades of virtually anything that holds value. From ride-sharing to cloud storage to voting, companies in all industries are beginning to see blockchain’s potential. Earlier this year, consulting firm Deloitte predicted that by 2025, 10% of global GDP (approximately $12 trillion) would be built on top of Blockchain applications.

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On October 11, my company co-hosted the 2017 Surface Transportation Summit with my partners at Newcom Business Media. I am very pleased to report that we had another packed house for what has become the premier educational and networking event in Freight Transportation in Canada.

The day was again kicked off by one of Canada’s leading economists, Carlos Gomes of Scotiabank and by two investment analysts, Walter Spracklin, CFA, Equity Research Analyst - Transportation Sector, RBC Capital Markets and John Larkin, CFA, Managing Director and Head, Transportation Capital Markets Research, Stifel Financial Corp., who provided an American perspective. These gentlemen highlighted that 2018 will be a year of economic growth. This economic growth, coupled with the ELD mandate and the limited supply of quality drivers in the United States, will translate into tight capacity and higher freight rates.

One of the slides that caught my eye was the one inserted above from the John Larkin presentation. John’s views are consistent with what one of the largest US trucking operators, J.B. Hunt Transport Services, is telling its shipper customers. They are advising them to budget for transportation cost increases as high as “10 percent or more” as the peak fall distribution season and electronic logging mandate intensify a driver shortage. “This is one of the highest periods of turbulence and volatility in supply we have ever experienced, and we don’t think it will abate any time soon,” John Roberts, president and CEO, and Shelley Simpson, chief commercial officer, said in a letter to J.B. Hunt customers.

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We have been hearing about the possibility of a trucking capacity shortage for several years. While there have been sporadic shortages in specific geographic areas, for particular modes, the predicted massive shortage never materialized. This year may be different.

Two major hurricanes caused major damage to homes and infrastructure in Texas, Florida and adjoining areas. Drivers and trucks are required in these areas to transport building materials, appliances, electric grids, and other needed supplies. Some drivers will likely take construction jobs to aid with the rebuilding effort and increase their earnings.

The economies of Canada and the United States are in good shape with historically low unemployment and solid GDP growth. Then there is the Electronic Logging (ELD) Device mandate that will restrict the utilization of some trucks and push some drivers out of the industry. This unique confluence of variables is likely to make an already tight capacity situation even tighter.

What can shippers do to secure the capacity they need to keep their supply chains flowing and serve their customers? Here are two suggestions.

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Economic conditions are solid as we approach the first quarter of 2018. Unemployment is low and companies are hiring. Demand for freight transportation services should be strong during the first half of the New Year.  Shippers need to contend with a range of variables that are shaping the supply and demand for freight transportation services.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

Two natural disasters have had a dramatic effect on Texas, Florida, and the surrounding states. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, two of the most powerful hurricanes in years, have created significant destruction to power grids, infrastructure, homes, and their contents. Repairing, replacing, and rebuilding will consume significant transportation resources, lumber, roofing materials, electrical equipment, appliances, paint, and other materials. These activities will continue during 2018.

The ELD mandate

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This has been a challenging month. Hurricane Harvey caused huge damage in southeast Texas and Hurricane Irma is expected to cause major damage to Florida and the east coast of the United States (as it did to several islands in the Caribbean). We should not forget the recent forest fires in British Columbia and California. Tornadoes, earthquakes, and ice storms seem to be occurring with much greater regularity and ferocity. These natural disasters have been very disruptive to the smooth flow of people, goods and services for many companies. They have also made life difficult for supply chain professionals.

Of course, disruptions to supply chains can come from factors other than weather or natural disasters. Quality control problems, piracy, export restrictions, and computer system hacking are just some of the factors that can come into play. To make matters worse, most of these disruptions are unpredictable in timing and scope. Each shipper has to make an assessment of the potential risks to their supply chains and make recovery plans.

According to Patthira Siriwan, senior project manager for supply chain development in North America for Damco, the combined logistics brand for A.P. Moller-Maersk, supply chain risks can be categorized into five groups: operational, social, natural, economy and political/legal. Damco defines supply chain risk management as “attempts to identify risks and quantify their commercial financial exposures as well as mitigate potential disruptions at each node and lane in the supply chain.” Supply chain risk models can vary from the rudimentary to the sophisticated. In the case of the latter, complex “what if” analyses can be performed. This allows the shipper and/or receiver to identify potential trouble spots and map out alternative supply chain strategies.

In an article in the Journal of Commerce, Siriwan indicated that shippers tend to focus on “factors with the biggest impact on their supply chain, such as on-time performance, supplier lead time variability and carriers by origin or trade lane.” Shippers need to perform some sort of probability analysis on the impacts of each potential disruption, with a particular focus on alternative vendors, carriers, origin points and ports and destination ports. Looking ahead to the balance of 2017, there are some major predictable (tropical storm Jose) and unpredictable risks that could drive up supply chain and transportation costs. The latter could include the impact on fuel costs as a result of unrest in Venezuela or war in the Middle East or war with North Korea.

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As the long, slow recovery from the Great Recession continues, shippers and carriers have become used to modest economic growth. Demand for freight services has been steady but not robust. The muted demand for freight services has not put undo pressure on truck capacity; rate increases have been limited in recent years. This may be about to change.

Regulations have placed constraints on the management of trucking companies, particularly full load carriers. The Hours of Service regulations coupled with the ELD (electronic logging device) mandate are placing limits on the number of hours that a driver can legally operate a truck. These directives limit truck capacity. The difficulties in finding quality drivers and the high turnover ratio among current drivers provides additional challenges for many truck fleets. To address the potential erosion in capacity, truckers are applying a variety of technologies.

Good quality transportation management systems are allowing truckers to better manage their routes and balance their lanes. Dimensional scanners are helping LTL carriers manage the space available on their trailers by matching freight rates to cube utilization. ELD technology provides carriers with information on how long their drivers and equipment are held up at customers’ facilities. The net result of all this is that small parcel, LTL and truckload carriers can be much more accurate in tailoring their freight rates to the “carrier friendliness” of their clients.

How can shippers become more "carrier friendly”?  Here are a few items to consider.

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We live in a remarkable era. When people look back at this era 15 or 20 years from now, many will say that this was a golden era for jobs. Most people interested in working have jobs. Employment in Canada and the United States is at almost record levels. Looking ahead to the future, this could change dramatically. If you examine many of the core sectors and jobs in our economy, they are being transformed by technology.

Many manufacturing jobs are being replaced by robots, automation and off-shoring to counties with a lower cost structure. Low-skilled, repetitive factory jobs can now be performed by machines. Similarly, as products are being manufactured, robots allow companies to pack more products into their warehouses, and to speed up picking, so that they can put more products into rapid fulfillment. As an example, Amazon expects to hire another 100,000 workers in the next eighteen months, many of them in their fulfillment centers.

Autonomous and semi-autonomous trucks may soon be able to take most of these goods to their destinations. Many of the almost 4 million truck driving jobs in our economy, specifically the long-haul trucking jobs, could become obsolete.

Ecommerce is having a profound impact on both wholesale and retail jobs. Consumers can now place an order online and have the products delivered directly from the manufacturer to their homes, by-passing a warehouse and/or retail store. In a recent blog (http://www.dantranscon.com/index.php/blog?view=entry&id=290 ), I highlighted the number of malls and stores being closed throughout North America. While some retail jobs may be replaced by warehousing positions, many will be lost.

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Driving a transport truck is one of the most prevalent jobs in North America and throughout the world. There are about 3.5 million truck drivers in the United States; the comparable number for Canada would be in the range of 350,000 people. Truck drivers are mostly men who like a life on the open road, crisscrossing the freeways and city streets of America. These are folks who are away from home for long stretches of time, as they go from state to state, province to province, sleeping in cheap motels or in their sleeper cabs, eating unhealthy meals in Truck Stops and spending long, lonely hours driving their rigs.

Young people seeking to enter the profession need to take a set of courses so they learn safe driving techniques and how to manage their rigs. For those individuals who wish to run their own businesses, they can become owner-operators. They can work for themselves or for one of the thousands of trucking companies throughout North America. This can include working for a for-hire fleet or for the private fleet of a manufacturer or retailer.

Despite the relative ease of entry into the profession, there is a shortage of truck drivers in North America. Driving a truck is a tough job. Bad weather, traffic, and road conditions create difficulties on a daily basis. A lack of investment in infrastructure throughout North America creates congestion and impedes productivity. Driving a tractor-trailer unit with a 45,000-pound payload requires full concentration throughout the period they are on the road.

For many people, being away from home for blocks of time is not glamorous or fun. For someone with a young family, missing family occasions and their kids’ baseball or soccer games does not help maintain positive personal relationships.  While much has been done to raise the quality of the profession, truck driving does not command the respect it deserves; it remains a relatively poorly paid job.

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This is the decade of the “effect.” As  an example, we keep hearing about the “Trump Effect.” While not much of his legislative agenda has been approved to date, president Trump still has almost three and half years remaining on his first term in office. It will be interesting to see how much of his “conservative” agenda is implemented and the impact that it will have. Of particular interest will be the NAFTA negotiations that begin on August 16. Similarly, Climate Change is having profound effects in various parts of the world, whether it is from flooding, forest fires, drought, severe storms, or floating ice bergs.

We are also going through an era of major transformations in energy production/consumption and technology. The new Tesla car that was introduced to great reviews this week may be the catalyst to a shift away from gasoline-powered cars to electric vehicles. The fact that this beautifully designed car, introduced at a market friendly price, can get almost 500 miles on a charge, could be a turning point in the evolution of electric vehicles. India has recently made a major commitment to electric vehicles.  This coupled with driverless or at least semi-autonomous cars and trucks, that are a few years away, could have profound effects on energy consumption and transportation.

Smartphones, tablets, ecommerce, apps and Uber threaten to have an equally dramatic impact in many areas of business. One company that is very well positioned to capitalize on the Technology Effect is Amazon. Here are a few statistics to consider.

While total retail sales in the United States grew by 3.8 percent in 2016, ecommerce sales grew by 15.1 percent during the same period. Most of that growth is being driven by one company. According to Slice Intelligence, Amazon accounted for 53% of all ecommerce growth in 2016. During 2016, Amazon had almost 37% market share in ecommerce sales; Wal-Mart had a 2.6 percent market share and Target had a 2.7 percent share. Keep in mind, these statistics don’t reflect the potential impact of the Whole Foods acquisition.

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This week marks the six-month anniversary of the Donald Trump presidency. Four months ago, I posted a blog (http://www.dantranscon.com/index.php/blog/entry/will-donald-trump-be-a-successful-president ) that looked at the president’s strengths and weaknesses. I thought, at the time, that this might help provide some insights into his potential for success or failure in the job. These are my thoughts at this milestone.

Clearly president Trump has made several key decisions during this period. He terminated America’s interest in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), took America out of the Paris Climate Accord, overturned president Obama’s decision to not permit the Keystone XL pipeline into America, changed the balance of America’s alliances in the Middle East, pushed hard for the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, initiated a review of America’s participation in NAFTA, instituted a ban on citizens from six primarily Muslim countries and oversaw the appointment of a new Supreme Court Judge, justice Neil Gorsuch.

While he has talked a lot about infrastructure spending, reducing taxes, building a wall between Mexico and the United States and tax reform, there have been few legislative achievements. Other than some positive stock market and employment numbers, most Americans are not seeing many tangible results from this president. Donald Trump’s overall approval rating stands at 39 percent, a historical low for a president in office for six months. On the bright side, his approval rating among Republicans stands at 85 percent. Looking back at my March blog, I now realize that my assessment of Donald Trump was largely correct. However, I now see some character traits more clearly and these traits are very problematic for him.

President Trump did have and still does have a vision of America. He frequently talks about “Make America Great Again” and about restoring lost manufacturing jobs to the United States. One of his biggest problems is that he lacks a coherent plan to make his vision a reality. Withdrawing from the Paris accord will not bring back lost coal mining jobs. Job growth in the energy sector will come from investing in the new sources that are growing rapidly. Withdrawing from TPP will hurt America’s trading relationships with countries in the Asia- Pacific region. His Make America a Loner Strategy is hurting the country’s relationships with many of its allies.

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A few years ago, I wrote a blog about some of the major changes that were and still are shaping the world of Sales (http://www.dantranscon.com/index.php/blog/entry/does-your-trucking-company-still-need-an-outside-sales-force ). In that blog, I suggested that economics, technology, and customer requirements were raising questions about the value proposition of an in-house sales team in the freight transportation industry.

A few days ago, I read an article posted by the Business Guru Club (https://businessguruclub.info/outsourced-sales-management-how-does-it-work/ ) that made the argument that Sales is a functional area like Accounting. Companies can benefit by outsourcing their Sales operation as they do their Accounting activities to a for-hire third party.

“For small businesses trying to launch their own sales department can be very difficult, time consuming and above all – risky. If sales don’t start to come in and you have to dismiss staff a lot of time and money has been wasted and this could break the business.”

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Freight matching services or “freight exchanges” have become one of the hottest topics in Freight Transportation over the past few years. Venture capital funds, private investors and others have poured at least $200 million — and potentially substantially more — into dozens of on-demand freight start-ups, including Flexport, Transfix, Loadsmart, Convoy, Doft, Cargo Chief, TugForce, HaulHound, Parade, Ship Lync, Load Surfer, FreightCenter, Freight Finder, Freightera, Freightcom, Pickmyload and others. There are new companies entering this space on a nearly daily basis.

Uber, the controversial but successful online taxi app, has recently announced that it is entering the freight matching arena. What is the attraction?

A brief history of freight matching services

DAT (which is an abbreviation for Dial-A-Truck) was the original load board in North America that was created in 1978. TruckersEdge was founded after DAT and was acquired by TransCore in 1992, another internet pioneer in load board services. Truckstop.com and Getloaded.com were launched in the early 2000s. In 2001, DAT was purchased by TransCore. In 2004, TransCore was acquired by Roper Technologies. In 2014, TransCore DAT became DAT Solutions. For four decades, this group of companies has been offering, for a fee, a process for shippers and brokers to post loads that need to be moved and for carriers to highlight available capacity.

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The grocery business is about an $800 billion market in the United States and about $80 billion in Canada. This is one sector of the retail market where Amazon has not achieved a significant beachhead in either country. With the deal to buy Whole Foods, the online retailer will have a small slice of the grocery market (about 1.2% in the United States) in North America, which is dominated by a handful of firms like Walmart (14.2%) and Kroger (7.2%) in the United States and Loblaw Companies, Metro Inc. and Sobeys in Canada.

Last year, the online shopping giant launched Amazon Go, an experimental grocery store with no checkout counter that's currently open to Amazon employees in Seattle. Amazon also opened its first brick-and-mortar book store in Seattle in 2015, and has since expanded to New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The company is said to be evaluating various physical retail experiments that range from futuristic Home-Depot-like stores that incorporate augmented reality to Apple-like electronics boutiques, according to The New York Times. Amazon's acquisition gives the company 431 physical Whole Foods locations to potentially flesh out new concepts.

Amazon’s entry into the grocery market will expose the company to an incredible array of commodities and supply chain variables.

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On February 28, 2016, I posted a blog entitled Passion (http://www.dantranscon.com/index.php/blog/entry/passion ). The objective of the article was to share my thoughts on one of the most important elements of career and personal success, the inner drive to achieve fulfillment and self-actualization. In the blog, I highlighted the importance of having a “passion’ for what you do. I was very pleased to receive some positive feedback on this piece and to learn that it inspired people to rethink their current positions and move to more fulfilling work environments.

I was reminded of this blog after reading, I left my corporate job, and these 8 things became clear (http://www.businessinsider.com/i-left-my-corporate-job-and-these-8-things-became-clear-2017-6 ). The decision to leave the corporate world to go in a different direction is not for everyone. I had the desire to move in a new direction several years before I made the decision to become an entrepreneur. Initially, as I started down the path, I was attracted to a new corporate opportunity and pulled back. Finally, I summoned the courage and “passion” to resist the temptation of a corporate job and launch a freight transportation consulting practice.

I am now in the fourteenth year of running my own business. This is what I can tell you about the experience. Every person has his or her own unique financial situation, level of risk tolerance and self-confidence, and set of skills and competencies. Unless one comes from an affluent background, has backers with deep pockets, or has a war chest to fall back on, almost everyone requires some level of consistent cash flow. If one transitions from the corporate world to academia, or to a small business that has an existing revenue and profit stream, this issue is of less concern. If an individual takes the leap into his or her business, or a start-up venture, with others, this issue must be carefully evaluated.

As we all know, there are few guarantees in life. Many new businesses fail. Some combination of poor business planning, weak execution, inadequate finances, and/or insufficient human resources sink many companies. On the other hand, the rewards of becoming a successful entrepreneur are extremely gratifying. The last 14 years have been among the most enjoyable of my career.

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Donald Trump. Robotics. Omni-Channel Fulfillment. The New NAFTA. Freight Marketplaces. Autonomous Vehicles. The Internet of Things. Andrew Scheer. Brexit. Climate Change. Last-Mile Delivery. Legalized Marijuana. E-commerce. Emmanuel Macron. The Amazon Effect. Drones. Digital Freight Management. Uber. Clean Energy. This is just a partial list of the major forces shaping the world of Freight Transportation in 2017.

This year's Surface Transportation Summit (www.surfacetransportationsummit.com) will focus on the strategies and tactics that shippers and carriers can employ to address these forces. The event will take place at the International Centre in Toronto on October 11. This is a joint venture between Newcom Business Media and Dan Goodwill & Associates with the support of the Freight Management Association of Canada and the Canadian Trucking Alliance. Northbridge Insurance will be the Gold sponsor, with Navistar, Volvo Trucks and Isaac Instruments, the silver sponsors and Trailer Wizards, the bronze sponsor.

In a year when political and economic alliances, new technologies and environmental policies are changing rapidly, the Summit will provide strategies and tactics to address these forces.  Here is an overview of the agenda and speakers.

The first track is entitled, The Donald Trump Effect and The Economy in 2018: What trends will impact your business? Carlos Gomes, Senior Economist with Scotiabank, will share data on the Key Economic Indicators for 2017 and then provide his insights into the economy in the New Year. John Larkin, one of America’s foremost transportation industry analysts, will share his thoughts on the some of the most important developments in the US transportation industry. Walter Spracklin, Equity Transportation Analyst, RBC Capital Markets, will provide his insights on the Canadian transportation industry.  Sylvie Messier, Corporate Transportation & Customs Manager, IPEX and Doug Munro, President and Owner, Maritime-Ontario Freight Lines Limited will share their thoughts on this topic in a panel discussion.

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America’s Downward Spiral in 2017

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We are now four and a half months into the Trump presidency. While the president has not been able to achieve any significant legislative successes, he has been able to accomplish something much more far-reaching. He has managed to undo decades of American policy and dramatically reduce the country’s stature in the world. How do we make sense of Trump’s strange journey so far? These are my thoughts.

Donald Trump received 62 million votes in last year’s election. These votes did not come from a homogeneous base of voters. Rather, they came from the following groups.

Loyal Republican Voters

There are American citizens who vote for the Republican candidate in every election. While Donald Trump may have not been the preferred candidate for all Republican voters, the people who typically support this party voted predominantly for him. They expect him to uphold traditional Republican party values.

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