‘Keep doing exactly what you’re doing.’ On election anniversary, no buyer’s remorse among Trump voters

In pivotal counties, Trump supporters and opponents feel validated in their votes.

On the anniversary of Donald Trump’s historic election victory, there are two views of the president’s performance thus far.

The prevailing media narrative is that Trump’s presidency is floundering. His approval ratings are languishing in the mid-30s and his legislative agenda has yet to get off the ground. Media outlets have been publishing buyer’s remorse pieces almost nonstop since the early weeks of Trump’s presidency.

But among his supporters, Trump’s presidency is already viewed as a success. Most Trump voters credit him with at least trying to follow through on his campaign promises, particularly his pledges to boost the economy, appoint conservative judges, renegotiate trade deals, and reform the immigration, healthcare and federal tax systems.

In fact, almost without exception, the 30 or so residents of key Trump counties that I’ve canvassed in recent days say they would vote the same way they did one year ago.

In Grant County, W. Va., I couldn’t find anyone who regretted their vote for Trump. Allen Evans, who represents part of Grant County in the West Virginia House of Delegates, and Bill Hamilton, who represents nearby Upshur County, both said they think Trump would win more votes today than he did a year ago. That’s saying something since 88 percent of Grant County voters cast their ballots for Trump in 2016, the highest share of any of the state’s 55 counties. 

“Keep doing exactly what you’re doing, because all my friends and relatives agree with what you’re doing,” Evans said when asked if he had any advice for the president. “I’ll ditto that,” Hamilton added.

“For the people who live [in Grant County], Trump offered a change and it was worth taking a risk,” said Ray Blum, who owns a Dairy Queen in Petersburg, W. Va. “Trump has been a breath of fresh air.”

Chris and Sandy Chilson of Howard County, Iowa, both said they would vote for Trump again without reservation. “Look at the stock market,” Sandy wrote. The stock market has reached record highs in recent months, and Trump hasn’t been shy about taking credit for it, writing that it is booming “because of me.”

Mike Gooder of Howard County, Iowa, said he would vote for Trump again “without hesitation.” His wife, Rachel, responded with “YES!!” to my emailed question asking whether she’d vote for Trump again. She just wishes Democrats would work with Republicans to get some things done. “I have never seen such a bunch of poor losers,” she wrote.

In a recent op-ed, Democratic strategist Doug Sosnik wrote that Trump is on track to win re-election because his base is still with him.

“He consolidated the growing number of angry voters who felt let down by the people and institutions controlling power in the country. Trump’s support from these voters is personal, not ideological. That explains their willingness to stick with him despite his failures of leadership.”

Sosnik’s analysis is not quite right. Trump’s base is with him for both personal and ideological reasons. Many held their noses to vote for Trump because they couldn’t abide Hillary Clinton or because they backed Trump’s policies, even if they disliked his personality and were put off by his character flaws.

Gayle Mazurkiewicz of Macomb County, Mich., said that while “Trump does not have the most winning personality,” she would vote for him again because of his administration’s efforts to protect religious freedom, parental rights, and the dignity of human life. A Clinton administration, she wrote, would have done the opposite.

Mazurkiewicz cited the administration’s recent move to roll back the Obamacare birth control mandate, which required all employers to provide free birth control to their employees. No exceptions were made for religious groups with deeply-held objections to the use of contraception.

Along the same lines, Phillip Stephens of Robeson County, N.C., said that a vote for Trump wasn’t really about Trump the man but about what his election represented. A vote for Trump was a vote for conservative judges, tax and immigration reform, and “fixing unfair trade deals.” In short, Stephens said, it was a vote for the idea of “national greatness.”

Contra Sosnik, most Trump supporters in my group are sticking with the president not despite his failures of leadership but because they feel he is demonstrating leadership America has not seen in decades. Most laud him for taking strong stands against the NFL flag protests and for the police and military. And they appreciate his efforts to enact the agenda he campaigned on. “In my lifetime, I think he is the first elected official that actually has a list and works towards keeping his promises,” wrote Mike Gooder.

To the extent that Trump supporters are unhappy with the lack of big legislative accomplishments thus far, very few blame Trump. They are more likely to blame Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

Jasmine Alsabunji, a Muslim refugee from Iraq now living in Erie County, Pa., said that if she were allowed to vote, she’d vote for Trump based on his financial and business experience. Alsabunji blames Trump’s lack of legislative accomplishments on “Democrats and Congress.” 

“Just think of what [Trump] could get done if the rest of the Rs would work with him!!!” wrote brothers Ernie and Lee Walter from Cresco, Iowa. This view is hardly an outlier. A recent CNN poll found that 85 percent of Republicans approve of the job Trump is doing, while just 66 percent have a favorable view of the Republican Party.

Just as most of the Trump voters in my group wouldn’t change their vote if given the chance, most of those who voted for other candidates said their choice has been validated. Tiffany Powers, a Clinton voter in North Carolina, said Trump “epitomizes divisiveness, ignorance, excesses and evil.” 

Chris Danou, a Democratic former state assemblyman in Trempealeau County, Wis., said he would vote for Hillary Clinton again and that “Trump has proven to be an absolute nightmare,” especially in his racial demagoguery. “The only reason things aren’t worse is his own incompetence,” he said. 

Erie’s Jake Rouch, who didn’t vote for either Trump or Clinton, wrote that while Trump’s election victory was necessary to “upset the apple cart,” Trump’s “lack of presidential class” is offensive and his administration’s dysfunction dismaying. 

Only two participants expressed much ambivalence about their 2016 vote. Permeet Patel of Robeson County said he’s undecided about the whether he’d vote for Trump again. “He has not been able to get anything done,” Patel said of the president. “He has us close to a nuclear war. Not sure if that’s what we want.”

The most interesting response came from Darryl Howard of Macomb County, Mich. Howard reluctantly voted for Clinton in 2016. He now says he’d vote for Trump, though not because he’s a fan of the president.

“Trump inadvertently sparked a serious conversation about police brutality by insulting protesters,” and now more independent candidates than ever are planning to run for office, Howard said. “These things would not have happened had Clinton won.”

“He is a horrible leader, worse politician and commands an abysmally low IQ,” Howard concluded about the man he now says he’d vote for. “But if the result of that is freedom and justice for all, I can’t complain.” 

The past year has seen many changes in politics, from the way people consume political news to the nasty internal battles roiling both political parties. One thing that hasn’t changed much are people’s views of President Trump.  

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