In Penn­syl­va­nia, Trump’s core sup­port­ers em­brace his ‘ob­nox­ious’ per­son­al­ity

The Washington Post - - POWER POST - JAMES HOHMANN james.hohmann@wash­post.com

moon town­ship, pa. — How could con­ser­va­tives be so crit­i­cal of Barack Obama’s mul­ti­lat­eral agree­ment with Iran to cur­tail its nu­clear pro­gram but so sup­port­ive of Don­ald Trump meet­ing face to face with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un?

I posed that ques­tion to 30 sup­port­ers of the pres­i­dent over three hours on Satur­day night as they waited to see Trump speak at a rally out­side the Pitts­burgh air­port, where he cam­paigned for Repub­li­can con­gres­sional can­di­date Rick Sac­cone ahead of Tues­day’s spe­cial elec­tion. The answers had noth­ing to do with ide­ol­ogy and ev­ery­thing to do with per­son­al­ity.

“To me, Obama was a but­tkiss­ing lib­eral. Trump is Teddy Roo­sevelt. He just might go in there and kick some a--,” said Paul Am­brose, 70, a re­tired ap­parel man­u­fac­turer who col­lects toy trains and lives by a golf course in Canons­burg, Pa. “It’s the fear factor. Kim’s kind of [defe­cat­ing] his pants be­cause Trump’s put the fear of God into him. Obama would have come and bowed. We’ve got a wild card here. We’ve got a cow­boy. He ain’t on the reser­va­tion. He just may do some­thing. That’s why they’re com­ing to the ta­ble. Now lock the damn door. Or­der cof­fee and dough­nuts. Keep the press out. And no­body leaves un­til a deal is done. What can go wrong?”

Am­brose added that he does not like Trump as an in­di­vid­ual but thinks he’s an in­cred­i­bly ef­fec­tive ex­ec­u­tive. “Do I like him as a per­son? Hell no,” Am­brose said of Trump. “He’s dis­gust­ing. He’s ob­nox­ious. I don’t know how his wife stands him. He’s got the worst hair­cut in the world. No man­ners. In­so­lent. Ar­ro­gant. Ob­nox­ious. But he gets things done. He cut taxes. He’s telling NAFTA to go pound salt.”

Many de­scribed Trump’s gam­bit to ac­cept a meet­ing with Kim, which caught even his top ad­vis­ers off guard, as a mas­ter­stroke. The con­ver­sa­tions of­fered a re­veal­ing win­dow into why about 40 per­cent of Amer­i­cans ap­prove of the job he’s do­ing.

“He’s not just a good ne­go­tia­tor. He’s the best ne­go­tia­tor,” said Kim Shan­non, 57, an ul­tra­sound tech­ni­cian from Ohio, who called Trump’s de­ci­sion to ac­cept Kim’s of­fer “bril­liant.” She down­loaded “The Art of the Deal,” Trump’s 1987 book, on her Kin­dle and has been ea­ger to read it.

“Maybe I can learn some­thing and help my per­sonal fi­nances,” she said. “He’s saved the coun­try. It’s not done yet, but he’s go­ing to be­come the great­est pres­i­dent to ever serve in of­fice.”

Shan­non re­mains as con­fi­dent as ever that Trump will re­verse decades of de­cline in the Ohio River Val­ley. When she was a kid in East Liver­pool, Ohio, a nearby steel mill em­ployed 6,000 peo­ple and kept the town thriv­ing. It’s been shut­tered for decades.

“When I grew up, it was like May­berry and Andy Grif­fith. Now it’s junkie-ville,” she said. “Ev­ery­body is in a hold­ing pat­tern. We’re wait­ing for the fac­to­ries to re­turn, but I know they will. . . . For the first time in many, many years, I’m op­ti­mistic. Ev­ery­thing didn’t col­lapse at once, and it will not re­turn in one day. It’s go­ing to take a pe­riod of years to re­turn.”

Ven­dors sold T-shirts that said “Trust in Trump” and “Built Trump Tough.” These mes­sages cap­tured the sen­ti­ments that came up re­peat­edly as peo­ple waited pa­tiently to go through metal de­tec­tors in tem­per­a­tures just above freez­ing.

Dur­ing his 75-minute speech to a ca­pac­ity crowd inside a hangar, Trump promised to go into any ne­go­ti­a­tion with clear eyes and to drive a hard bar­gain.

“Who knows what’s go­ing to hap­pen? I may leave fast or we may sit down and make the great­est deal for the world,” he said. “Look, North Korea’s tough. This should have been han­dled, by the way, over the last 30 years — not now. . . . But that’s okay. Be­cause that’s what we do: We han­dle things.”

Trump urged the crowd not to jeer Kim. “For now, we have to be very nice,” the pres­i­dent said. (In­stead, he egged the au­di­ence on as they booed NBC host Chuck Todd.)

You couldn’t help but get the feel­ing that if Trump had ne­go­ti­ated the Iran deal with the same terms, many of his sup­port­ers would praise him for it. He re­tains a deep reser­voir of cred­i­bil­ity with his core base of sup­port­ers. There are prece­dents for this: Richard Nixon could go to China and Ron­ald Rea­gan could ne­go­ti­ate treaties re­duc­ing the nu­clear stock­pile be­cause they were per­ceived as hawks.

“In­stinc­tively, I love the man. He won’t give away the store or the farm,” said Paul Treese, 78, who brought his grand­daugh­ter to see the pres­i­dent. “Kim re­spects his tough­ness. Bill Clin­ton gave [North Korea] the sun, the moon and some of the plan­ets. They laughed and went right on their way. That deal was bro­ken be­fore who­ever ne­go­ti­ated it even got home. Same with the Iran deal. . . . Be­cause Obama was soft slush.”

“Be­cause he’s a busi­ness­man, no­body can pull wool over his eyes when it comes to ne­go­ti­a­tions,” said John Kotse, 68, a re­tired lab tech­ni­cian. “I could have ne­go­ti­ated with Iran bet­ter than Obama did. He got noth­ing. That was just plain stupid.”

“Obama never ac­tu­ally tried to ne­go­ti­ate. He just apol­o­gized for us,” said Ed Camp­bell, 68, a re­tired air­line pi­lot.

“I don’t think he’ll do what the Democrats say, which is to start a war,” said Ch­eryl Man­tich, 65, a re­tired se­cond-grade teacher. “I think it’s al­ways good to talk.”

“Ev­ery­one says there’s too much blus­ter, but look at the re­sults,” said Nick Nadeau, 25, a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer at a 3-D print­ing plant in Har­ris­burg. “He got North Korea to come to the ta­ble. I trust him to do what’s right.”

There’s al­ways an eclec­tic cast of char­ac­ters at Trump events. Ti­tus North ran for Congress twice as a Green Party can­di­date against Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.). But he reg­is­tered as a Repub­li­can to vote for Trump in the 2016 pri­mary and re­mains a fan. “I liked him say­ing he could get along with [ Vladimir] Putin,” said North, an in­sur­ance agent.

He thinks Trump is play­ing chess while his crit­ics play check­ers. “The for­eign pol­icy es­tab­lish­ment and the me­dia just want the sta­tus quo with North Korea,” North said. “Trump’s bel­liger­ence wasn’t aimed at the North Kore­ans. They were al­ready scared. . . . This was aimed at scar­ing the me­dia and es­tab­lish­ment to think he was se­ri­ous. . . . If the al­ter­na­tive is war, they’re go­ing to let him ne­go­ti­ate.”

Ben Safer, a ju­nior at West Vir­ginia Univer­sity who is ma­jor­ing in mine en­gi­neer­ing, was the only per­son I spoke with who thought Obama might also have been able to ne­go­ti­ate a good deal with Py­ongyang. He said his first choice for the GOP nom­i­na­tion in 2016 was Sen. Marco Ru­bio (Fla.). His se­cond choice was Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.). “I was ini­tially a lit­tle ‘eh’ on Trump,” he said. “There are mo­ments when I look at his Twit­ter feed and shake my head, but over­all I think he’s done a good job.”

The 22-year-old, who was wear­ing a miner’s hat, vol­un­teered be­fore I asked about North Korea that he was “ex­cited” Trump agreed to a meet­ing with Kim be­cause the pres­i­dent is at his best when he’s reach­ing out to peo­ple who dis­agree with him.

“That’s been the big­gest threat we face,” Safer said of North Korea.

“If he keeps a cool head, I hope he can make a deal. I will give Obama this: He al­ways kept a very cool head. . . . There was a lot I didn’t like with Obama — es­pe­cially coal-wise — but he was pretty cool­headed.”

“He’s got the worst hair­cut in the world. . . . In­so­lent. Ar­ro­gant. Ob­nox­ious. But he gets things done.” Paul Am­brose, 70, a re­tired ap­parel man­u­fac­turer who lives in Canons­burg, Pa.

JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS

A sup­porter holds an Amer­i­can flag with a Pur­ple Heart medal pinned to it as Pres­i­dent Trump speaks Satur­day at a rally for GOP con­gres­sional can­di­date Rick Sac­cone in Moon Town­ship, Pa.

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