To th­ese vot­ers, Trump fit­ting in with ‘the swamp’

Many in Ari­zona see just an­other politi­cian — and they hold no love for D.C.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Cath­leen Decker

PHOENIX — In Ari­zona, where the Great Re­ces­sion cut a deep swath through home prices and shook all facets of the econ­omy, vot­ers are now in­creas­ingly buoy­ant about the fis­cal fu­ture they en­vi­sion for them­selves and the na­tion.

They’re sav­ing their ire for pol­i­tics and politi­cians.

More than two dozen vot­ers gath­ered in Phoenix this week de­liv­ered a bi­par­ti­san broad­side against Pres­i­dent Trump, Re­pub­li­cans and Democrats, dis­miss­ing the po­lit­i­cal class as serv­ing its wealthy bene­fac­tors and aban­don­ing ev­ery­day Amer­i­cans.

Their fiercest dis­ap­point­ment was aimed at Trump.

Ari­zona has been some­thing of a desert mi­rage for Democrats in re­cent years; Hil­lary Clin­ton made a late stab at the state be­fore Novem­ber’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, but Trump won eas­ily.

Eight months later, how­ever, even many of his sup­port­ers have thrown up their hands at his pres­i­dency.

“I loved him be­cause he

was dif­fer­ent. I thought that he was re­ally go­ing to do a lot of change, good changes,” said one Repub­li­can woman. “I hated Obama, so I was ready for a change.”

Now, she said, “peo­ple are laugh­ing at us.”

“Be­fore I felt like he could do it all, and now I think just if some­body can con­trol him a lit­tle bit.”

She said she would not vote for Trump again un­less he ful­fills his cam­paign prom­ises — specif­i­cally his pledge to pro­vide bet­ter health­care at a cheaper price. She noted that he had ul­ti­mately sup­ported GOP health­care plans that did “the op­po­site.”

The fo­cus groups, or­ga­nized by Pri­or­i­ties USA, a lib­eral ad­vo­cacy group, were meant to probe voter views in ad­vance of the 2018 midterm elec­tion. Re­porters were al­lowed to view six hours of ques­tion­ing on the agree­ment that they not specif­i­cally iden­tify the vot­ers.

The ques­tions largely re­volved around views of Trump and Repub­li­can ef­forts to pass health­care and tax re­form mea­sures. Yet in the process, par­tic­i­pants voiced strik­ingly lit­tle sup­port for Democrats nor any en­thu­si­asm about us­ing their vote to cast out Re­pub­li­cans next year.

“Democrats are do­ing some­thing badly wrong,” said one Demo­cratic-lean­ing voter, say­ing the party “should have done a bet­ter job” last year. “Democrats are flail­ing.”

“I think the gov­ern­ment is to­tally cor­rupt,” said an in­de­pen­dent voter who leaned to­ward Democrats in elec­tions but dis­par­aged both sides.

Je­frey Pol­lock, a Pri­or­i­ties poll­ster who con­ducted the fo­cus groups, ac­knowl­edged that “it’s not all roses for the Democrats.”

“The Democrats still have to put for­ward an eco­nomic vi­sion that is per­sua­sive,” he said. The 2018 elec­tion “isn’t just all about be­ing anti-Trump. It’s not.”

Although Re­pub­li­cans con­trol both houses of Congress and the White House, he said, in­fight­ing be­tween the par­ties and the ab­sence of any suc­cess­ful and pop­u­lar leg­is­la­tion has tar­nished both sides.

“The soup of Wash­ing­ton has be­come so thick they just be­lieve ev­ery­one is stuck in it,” Pol­lock said of vot­ers. “The Democrats do have to put for­ward a sort of bold pos­i­tive.” As a Demo­cratic par­ti­san, he in­sisted that “they have” made pos­i­tive pro­pos­als, “but the peo­ple need to hear it,” he said.

Since the elec­tion, in which he re­ceived 46% of the vote, Trump’s pop­u­lar­ity has slumped. Polls by a half­dozen non­par­ti­san sur­vey or­ga­ni­za­tions in the last week have shown his job ap­proval drop­ping again af­ter sev­eral months of a sta­ble, al­beit low, plateau. Fewer than 40% of Amer­i­cans have a fa­vor­able view of his per­for­mance in of­fice, the polls in­di­cate.

Trump’s drop in polls has fea­tured a no­table de­cline in sup­port among in­de­pen­dents and a smaller, but still sig­nif­i­cant, de­cline among mod­er­ate Re­pub­li­cans.

That de­cline was re­flected in all three fo­cus groups, both a Repub­li­can­dom­i­nated one and two that in­cluded Demo­crat-sym­pa­thetic vot­ers.

Ear­lier fo­cus groups in Florida and Ohio — two states Trump wrested from the Democrats in 2016 on his way to vic­tory — showed the same drop in Trump sup­port, poll­sters said.

Among Re­pub­li­cans in Ari­zona, Trump seemed to have mor­phed from out­sider can­di­date to just an­other politi­cian, a dan­ger­ous tran­si­tion at a time when any­one in­volved in pol­i­tics is looked upon with dis­dain.

Asked whether Trump sided with reg­u­lar peo­ple or big cor­po­ra­tions, nine of 10 in the Repub­li­can group said he sided with cor­po­ra­tions. All 10 said Re­pub­li­cans in Congress sided with cor­po­ra­tions. Two said Democrats sided with or­di­nary peo­ple. Sen­ti­ments were not dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent in other groups.

“They’re all the same; they’re all pup­pets,” said one Trump voter.

One voter brought up the case of for­mer Utah Rep. Ja­son Chaf­fetz, who re­cently re­signed his seat af­ter com­plain­ing that he no longer could af­ford to main­tain homes in two places.

“Se­ri­ously?” asked one voter, who had backed both Ari­zona Sen. John McCain and, in 2012, Mitt Rom­ney’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. “To be fair, that’s in­sane…. Th­ese guys have health­care for life, six-fig­ure in­comes … a pay raise and con­sid­er­able ben­e­fits, and we’re sup­posed to have sym­pa­thy for them?”

An­other Trump and McCain sup­porter cited the se­na­tor’s re­cent can­cer treat­ment at the nearby Mayo Clinic to sig­nal the dif­fer­ence be­tween elected of­fi­cials and peo­ple like her. McCain, she said, was cer­tain to main­tain care at the highly re­garded hos­pi­tal, a cir­cum­stance she said would not be af­forded to most of those McCain’s age who are cov­ered by Medi­care.

“What about the rest of us?” she asked.

Still, sev­eral in the Repub­li­can-lean­ing group held out hope that Trump would find a way to right his pres­i­dency, although they sug­gested he has mere months to do so.

Asked what the pres­i­dent would have to do to gain her vote in 2020, one in­de­pen­dent replied, “I think he needs to be­come more hum­ble.”

The crit­i­cisms of the pres­i­dent were all the more no­table con­sid­er­ing many vot­ers ex­pressed sup­port for some of his po­si­tions. Sev­eral Latino and mil­len­nial vot­ers — groups gen­er­ally al­lied with Democrats — favored re­fo­cus­ing the na­tion’s at­ten­tion and re­sources to this coun­try rather than spend­ing over­seas. That was a ma­jor ar­gu­ment Trump made dur­ing his cam­paign.

“Stop wor­ry­ing about the rest of the world,” said one in­de­pen­dent voter. “See what hap­pens.”

“Fo­cus­ing on Amer­ica — not what Korea’s do­ing, what Rus­sia’s do­ing. Just us,” an­other said.

An­other sign of the shift­ing views was Repub­li­can vot­ers’ aban­don­ment of tra­di­tional GOP po­si­tions on tax re­form, the sub­ject of the next fight in Wash­ing­ton.

Re­pub­li­cans have pro­posed a plan that would lower rates on busi­nesses and par­tic­u­larly ben­e­fit the wealthy, who pay more in taxes than the less well-off. The Ari­zona vot­ers were dis­mis­sive of one tra­di­tional GOP plan — sim­pli­fy­ing tax rates — and ex­pressed sus­pi­cion about the im­pact of the re­forms.

Even more than Latino vot­ers or mil­len­ni­als, Re­pub­li­cans ex­pressed fear that GOP tax plans would ben­e­fit cor­po­ra­tions in­stead of the mid­dle class. They turned aside what has been a tenet of GOP tax pol­icy for more than a gen­er­a­tion: that tax cuts for cor­po­ra­tions and the wealthy would trickle down to oth­ers lower on the eco­nomic lad­der.

Much of their con­cern seemed to re­flect last­ing un­ease stem­ming from the eco­nomic col­lapse of 2008. That same sen­ti­ment helped pro­pel Trump in 2016 — and in the ab­sence of any mea­sur­able im­prove­ments from Wash­ing­ton, now threat­ens him.

“Peo­ple in Ari­zona and Ohio, all th­ese other groups in other places in the coun­try, thought af­ter the crash that Wall Street and big cor­po­ra­tions were made whole again, and they were left be­hind,” said Pa­trick McHugh, the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Pri­or­i­ties, who ob­served the fo­cus groups.

“Trump made a lot of prom­ises to ad­dress those is­sues. He’s now pres­i­dent…. He’s now re­spon­si­ble for ful­fill­ing those prom­ises.”

In all three groups, vot­ers seemed less an­gry than dis­gusted. Rather than make Amer­ica great again, sev­eral sug­gested, Trump has ush­ered in de­cline.

“We’ve lost our way as peo­ple,” one in­de­pen­dent voter said. “The gov­ern­ment it­self and the elected of­fi­cials are fat­ten­ing their pock­ets off our backs.”

Allen J. Sch­aben Los An­ge­les Times

DON­ALD TRUMP cam­paigned as a po­lit­i­cal out­sider, but some vot­ers say he hasn’t fol­lowed through.

ANAL­Y­SIS

Ni­cholas Kamm AFP/Getty Im­ages

PRES­I­DENT TRUMP ar­rives Fri­day in New Jer­sey for a 17-day va­ca­tion at his golf course there. In Ari­zona fo­cus groups, vot­ers said Trump and politi­cians on both sides of the aisle have aban­doned ev­ery­day Amer­i­cans.

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