Blue-col­lar vot­ers in Demo­crat strongholds still sup­port Trump

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY S.A. MILLER

BETHLEHEM, PA. | Big rig me­chanic Sal­va­tore Pirozzi hadn’t cast a bal­lot in a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion for most of his life un­til he got ex­cited about vot­ing for Don­ald Trump, and his sup­port isn’t wa­ver­ing.

Like many other blue-col­lar vot­ers across the Rust Belt who con­founded poll­sters and pun­dits to de­liver Mr. Trump an up­set win in Novem­ber, Mr. Pirozzi isn’t feel­ing buyer’s re­morse as the pres­i­dent hits the six-month mark this week.

“He could be do­ing bet­ter, but he’s up against a lot of op­po­si­tion,” said Mr. Pirozzi, 48. “I don’t re­gret it as far as vot­ing is con­cerned. He’s our last hope.”

For now, he will over­look the pres­i­dent’s fail­ure to score a ma­jor leg­isla­tive win and the un­re­lent­ing stream of neg­a­tive news sto­ries to fo­cus in­stead on Mr. Trump’s suc­cess in dra­mat­i­cally al­ter­ing the di­rec­tion of the coun­try.

Af­ter putting Penn­syl­va­nia in the Repub­li­can col­umn for the first time in nearly three decades, work­ing-class vot­ers said they are still happy that they took a gam­ble in send­ing a celebrity New York bil­lion­aire to shake up Wash­ing­ton.

“He is a d--k and he doesn’t go by ev­ery­body’s so­cial norms, but he wants to help the econ­omy. He wants to make Amer­ica great again,” said Eric Walz, 47, a self­em­ployed in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy and main­te­nance spe­cial­ist.

One of the so-called in­vis­i­ble Amer­i­cans whom Mr. Trump con­nected with in the Rust Belt, Mr. Walz skipped other pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. He said he was ex­cited as he was on Elec­tion Day about cast­ing his bal­lot for Mr. Trump.

“There’s al­ways go­ing to be neg­a­tive things,” he said, “but the econ­omy is boom­ing.”

He didn’t blame Mr. Trump for the stale­mate in Congress, which he said would con­tinue re­gard­less of who lives in the White House.

Bethlehem and sur­round­ing Northamp­ton County were key to Mr. Trump’s up­set vic­tory over Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton. The county in Penn­syl­va­nia’s Le­high Val­ley sided with Pres­i­dent Obama in 2012 by 4 per­cent­age points and 6,000 votes. Mr. Trump took the county by 5 points and just over 6,000 votes.

Big swings in the vote in places such as Northamp­ton County were partly a re­sult of Mr. Trump’s abil­ity to tap into the frus­tra­tion felt by work­ing-class Amer­i­cans.

The re­gion strug­gled for more than two decades to re­cover from the clos­ing of Bethlehem Steel but has ex­pe­ri­enced a re­vival in re­cent years with a con­ver­sion of the mill into a SteelS­tacks arts cam­pus and a Sands Casino Re­sort.

De­spite the prom­ise of eco­nomic ex­pan­sion from a suc­ces­sion of pres­i­dents from both par­ties, they have strug­gled with stag­nant wages and dwin­dling job op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Those an­gry blue-col­lar vot­ers across long­time Demo­cratic strongholds such as Penn­syl­va­nia, Michi­gan and Wis­con­sin are now firmly be­hind Mr. Trump and his Repub­li­can Party, said G. Terry Madonna, di­rec­tor of the polling pro­gram at Franklin and Mar­shall Col­lege in Lan­caster, Penn­syl­va­nia.

“Th­ese are vot­ers who think the Demo­cratic Party no longer rep­re­sents them,” he said. “We could go through the is­sues, whether it is cli­mate change, whether it is im­mi­gra­tion — you can pick the is­sue.”

While de­nied ma­jor leg­isla­tive wins, in­clud­ing fail­ing to re­peal and re­place Oba­macare, Mr. Trump has kept sev­eral top cam­paign prom­ises. He rolled back fed­eral reg­u­la­tions, cracked down on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and ripped up or opened rene­go­ti­a­tions of trade deals.

Many of th­ese vot­ers shrug off the al­le­ga­tions of Trump cam­paign col­lu­sion as a par­ti­san hatchet job.

“Re­mem­ber, they also have be­come much more anti-es­tab­lish­ment and the Trump ap­peal was very big,” said Mr. Madonna. “He wasn’t a politi­cian. He was stick­ing his fin­ger in the eye of the es­tab­lish­ment. That’s all part of the mix.”

Be­yond the loy­alty of his base, how­ever, Mr. Trump has not ex­panded his ap­peal. Bethlehem res­i­dents who didn’t vote for Mr. Trump re­mained staunchly op­posed to him and were ea­ger to share their dis­may and dis­gust with his pres­i­dency.

“I got what I ex­pected. He’s so­cially in­ept,” said Demo­crat Scott Wertz, 50, a bar­tender at Joe’s Tav­ern.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll this week showed a slip in sup­port for Mr. Trump in the coun­ties he flipped from blue to red in Novem­ber. His job ap­proval rat­ing now stands at 44 per­cent.

The poll also found a drop in sup­port in “surge coun­ties,” where Mr. Trump beat Mrs. Clin­ton with over­whelm­ing ma­jori­ties. The pres­i­dent’s sup­port in those coun­ties set­tled to 56 per­cent.

De­spite a se­ries of polls show­ing his­tor­i­cally low job ap­proval rat­ings af­ter six months in of­fice, as low as 36 per­cent in a Wash­ing­ton Post/ABC News sur­vey, Mr. Trump re­mains pop­u­lar with his base.

The Wash­ing­ton Post/ABC News poll found 82 per­cent ap­proval among Repub­li­can vot­ers na­tion­wide.

In­de­pen­dent voter Jack Mur­ray, a 20-year-old bar­ber in Bethlehem, cast his first vote in a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion for Mr. Trump and said he was happy over­all with what he got.

The econ­omy is good and the U.S. has a leader who is tak­ing charge, he said.

“He’s very blunt, which I think can some­times be a bad thing, but it’s good that we have a pres­i­dent who is strong now,” said Mr. Mur­ray.

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