San Francisco Chronicle

Backers remain true to Trump

Base stands by president amid criticism, low polls

- By Joe Garofoli

While a growing number of Republican­s in Congress are calling for investigat­ions into the Trump campaign’s communicat­ions with Russia last year, the president himself Thursday dismissed the story as “fake news” based on “illegal” leaks.

And that’s good enough for Trump’s supporters.

Trump’s approval ratings are at record lows for recent presidents in their first month in office, and he’s continuall­y criticized for repeating contradict­ions and falsehoods. But his hard-core supporters’ faith appears to be unshakeabl­e; his support among Republican­s is higher than than of President Ronald Reagan at a similar point. It is their support of the first-time officehold­er that emboldens him to stiff-arm the media and castigate leaks from the intelligen­ce community, as he did during his rambling, 80-minute news conference Thursday.

To Trump’s base, the president is facing blowback for doing what he promised he would do: take action — quickly.

“In my view, (the Russian story) is complete BS,” said Richard Jones, the former president of the Sun City Conservati­ve Club outside Las Vegas. “So, somebody from the organizati­on may or may not have spoken to the Russians. So what? It could be as simple as trying to establish relations

with them.”

“We share (Trump’s) shock and disgust at these leaks that are coming out of the intelligen­ce community,” said Mark Munroe, chairman of the Republican Party of Mahoning County, Ohio, which is near Youngstown in the heart of the Rust Belt.

“It suggests that there are people inside the administra­tion who are trying to undermine him,” Munroe said. “The fact that people are talking to each other isn’t troubling. I haven’t heard anything about the content of those conversati­ons that would give me pause. I think what it is is Democrats lost a bitterly contested election.”

On Thursday, a Pew Research poll found Trump’s job approval rating “is much lower than those of prior presidents in their first weeks in office: 39 percent approve of his job performanc­e, while 56 percent disapprove.”

But what the poll found striking is the intensity of people’s feelings toward the new president, as “fully 75 percent either approve or disapprove of Trump strongly,” according to the poll’s authors. The only time voters felt like that about a president was in 2008, the last year of George W. Bush’s presidency, after he led the nation into two unpopular wars and a recession, when his approval rating sank to 22 percent.

Yet many of Trump’s supporters from swing states Ohio and Nevada and the more conservati­ve areas of California are in lockstep with many of the things Trump said during his often contentiou­s news conference Thursday.

Like him, they blame the “fake news” media for the criticism of his first few weeks in office and emphasize that Democrat Hillary Clinton would have been a much worse choice for president. Trump just briefly mentioned Alexander Acosta, his new nominee for labor secretary after fast-food executive Andrew Puzder withdrew his nomination Wednesday, but he did name-check Clinton a dozen times.

When Trump is in campaign mode, his supporters love it.

“He’s doing what he said he’s going to do,” said Jessica Thompson, a two-time Obama voter from Ohio who backed Trump in November. “He’s got his list and he’s not messing around. People don’t expect politician­s to go in and check off all the boxes of what they said they’re going to do. People complain when they don’t do that, and now they’re complainin­g when someone is actually doing it.”

While Trump’s core supporters believe deeply in him, the rest of America is far more dubious of him than they were of previous presidents. At this early point in their presidency, 76 percent of Americans found Obama trustworth­y, 60 percent found Bush that way, and 63 percent trusted Bill Clinton. But only 37 percent view Trump as trustworth­y. Only 39 percent find say Trump is “well-informed,” according to Pew. Nearly twice as many Americans found Obama to be well-informed.

While some Democrats are frustrated that Trump’s voters haven’t yet turned on him, they understand why.

“These people will not be disabused by the fact that this guy wouldn’t recognize the truth if it smacked him in the face,” said Leo Jennings, a longtime Democratic political consultant in the Youngstown area.

“The only thing that will erode his support is when no jobs come back from Mexico. Or when people lose their health care. Or in two years, when coal miners in West Virginia see there are no new jobs there,” Jennings said. “Then maybe the light will go on, because no amount of yelling and screaming and calling the guy a liar is going to change things.”

But, Jennings said, Democrats “can’t just be the party of no. They have to start proposing things.”

Meanwhile, Trump moves ahead, unabated by either criticism or self-reflection.

On Thursday, he continued to blame the media for the departure of Gen. Michael Flynn as his national security adviser — even though Trump accepted his resignatio­n this week after it was revealed that Flynn provided false informatio­n to Vice President Mike Pence about his communicat­ions with Russia.

The session was often contentiou­s, as the president spent most of the time attacking the media and offered few specifics of what he planned to do to help the working people who were one of his pivotal voting blocs. He mentioned “fake” news nearly two dozen times, but barely touched on his proposed tax cuts.

Nancy Hinton, a Trump voter from Stanislaus County, would like to see the United States and Russia cooperate militarily against the Islamic State. She worries that that as long as the courts forbid the administra­tion from enforcing its travel ban, the country will be vulnerable.

“Now is the perfect time for ISIS to send their people, because we have open borders now. And that’s more scary than Russia.” said Hinton, who is semiretire­d. She is concerned that some Americans “are already practicing Sharia law.”

But, like many Trump supporters, Hinton said, “I think we need to back our president. He isn’t doing anything he didn’t say he’d do.”

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