Trump’s six-month report card

Three crucial counties grade the president’s performance. They all have the same criticism: his Twitter account.

The verdict is in, and President Trump’s first six months in office have been an abject failure — at least, that’s the conclusion most of the media have drawn. We’re just 12.5 percent of the way into Trump’s first term, but many journalists have taken it for granted that his presidency has been a disaster of historic proportions.

The public’s view is more nuanced, though probably not where the Trump administration would like it. Although polls show Trump’s approval numbers have dipped only a little since Inauguration Day, they were historically low to begin with. Today, only 38 percent of the country approves of Trump’s job performance, according to Gallup.

That approval rating should concern Team Trump. But what should concern them more are the modest grades he’s receiving from people in places that were crucial to him winning the election, the same people who may well determine whether he wins a second term.

In a series of interviews, I corresponded with nearly two dozen residents of Robeson County, N.C.; Erie County, Penn.; and Howard County, Iowa, about Trump’s first six months in office. In 2012, these counties voted for President Barack Obama by 17, 17 and 21 percentage points, respectively. They all swung to Trump in 2016. Howard County saw a 42-point swing over that four-year period.

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My focus group was made up of a diverse set of people that includes local economic, religious and political leaders; manufacturing and construction workers; a Muslim refugee and other immigrants; small business owners; and a member of the media.

Six months into Trump’s term, these people are giving him an average grade of B-.

On the one hand, that’s not a bad grade considering the climate of scandal that has engulfed Trump’s presidency. On the other hand, the majority of my focus group participants are Trump voters, and some of them suggested they might not vote for him again.

The main criticism most have with Trump is his injudicious use of Twitter. In fact, almost all the participants mentioned it as either his greatest failure thus far, or in response to my question asking them to give the president some advice.

Rachel Gooder, a Howard County, Iowa, resident and staunch Trump supporter, offered this advice: “Stop the stupid tweets so the press has no ammo to work with.”

Several participants said they’d give Trump a much higher grade (an A, usually) if not for the way he uses Twitter. Instead, they gave him grades of C. “Mr. President Please stop negative tweets,” Mark Locklear of Robeson County, N.C., wrote me 

Locklear, a Native American from the Lumbee Tribe, voted for Obama twice before voting for Trump. He said, “Mr. President you are allowing haters to pull you down to their level. Mr. President please rise above this and focus on the job at hand, it is yours for four years.” Locklear gives Trump a C thus far and says Trump has not earned his 2020 vote yet.

Jarrod Lowery, another Lumbee from Robeson County, texted me: “I’m frustrated. I love the America First…but you have a great address to Congress then Tweet something stupid about Morning Joe. What in the world?”

Another participant put it more bluntly: “Stop tweeting, don’t respond to every piece of criticism and grow a pair.”

There’s a certain irony in the backlash to Trump’s use of Twitter. Trump’s candor and lack of political correctness are what attracted many to his candidacy. His tweets allowed him to bypass traditional media and communicate directly with the people. As Bo Biggs, treasurer of the Robeson County Republican Party, put it: “Rough edges is what got him elected — that’s obvious. Not polished scripted typical political responses.”

But Trump’s tweets have also given people a window into the mind and heart of their president. Unfortunately for Trump, it seems many people, now that they’ve peered through that window, are begging him to close the blinds.

By far the biggest accomplishment my group could name was Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. A majority mentioned it, most without elaborating, which suggests that to them its worthiness is self-evident. Several people also mentioned Trump’s use of executive orders to roll back Obama-era regulations and his withdrawal of the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

The two issues that have thus far defined Trump’s presidency — the web of Russia controversies and efforts to repeal Obamacare — were also discussed.

Most people who mentioned Russia did so only in terms of the distraction and public relations problem it’s caused. Chris Chilson, of Howard County, Iowa., said, “The latest with Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer … probably nothing there, but it’s eating up the media cycles.”

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Obamacare seems to be a bigger problem to many participants. Many voted for Trump because he presented himself as a dealmaker and have been frustrated by his inability to work with Congress to strike a deal on repealing and replacing the healthcare law. Erie, Pa., resident Justin Gallagher (who gave Trump a B+ grade overall) said something to the effect that if you’re going to write a book called The Art of the Deal, you’d better be able to make the deal.

I also asked participants to tell me how their home communities were responding to Trump’s presidency. The answers usually corresponded with how the person I was asking viewed the president. Laura Hubka, who heads the Democratic Party in Howard County, said that many people she knew were feeling buyer’s remorse. “People are embarrassed by our president,” she said.

David Moore, a manufacturing worker in Erie County, Pa., wrote: “I do feel that A LOT of Americans are now experiencing buyer’s remorse after voting for him as they expected him to wave a magic wand once he got into office and make everything he promised and all of his presidential goals happen overnight. But I am not one of those citizens, as I already knew once in office he was in for a hell of a struggle to achieve his promises and goals and patience is a virtue.”

Many Trump supporters said they knew that it would take Trump, a nonpolitician who’s used to doing things his way, a while to learn how to govern. And many of his staunchest supporters are preaching patience. But for others, that patience may already be fraying.

Next: Trump and Race

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