Trump Backers Cheer Economic Agenda, Blame GOP -2-

By Valerie Bauerlein, Arian Campo-Flores and Quint Forgey Features Dow Jones Newswires

As President Donald Trump approaches his 10th month in the White House, The Wall Street Journal revisited voters in six counties representing the economic underpinnings of his support. In each county, the Journal spoke to supporters, converts, abstainers and opponents to see how their economic situation is changing, and whether their expectations are being met.

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Supporters of President Donald Trump generally approve of his overall performance on what they see as core issues such as jobs and taxes, and they blame Republicans in Congress for failing to support the White House agenda.

"I think he's doing great," said Emory Terensky, 66 years old, a former steelworker in Monessen, Pa. Similarly, Patti Thompson, who lives in the Phoenix-area retirement community of Sun City, said her support of the president hasn't wavered, though she continues to be frustrated that "we can't get Congress and Trump on the same page." She puts the fault for that on congressional Republican leaders.

On a few issues, such as tensions with North Korea and clashes with white supremacists in the U.S., Mr. Trump received a slightly lower rating. "I'm very concerned about the North Koreans," said John Golomb, 65, a former steelworker, in Monessen, Pa. "Is Donald Trump talk, or is he action? That's the $64,000 question."

Robert Lee, the 62-year-old owner of Rockingham Guns & Ammo in Richmond County, N.C., gives the president an overall grade of "B-minus, at best." He is holding out hope that Mr. Trump will begin successfully working with Congress to get his agenda passed. "He is more intent on fighting," Mr. Lee said. "You can't fight all the time. You've got to step back away from it, take a look at the broader picture of what's taking place and do something about it."

Trump opponents, for the most part, remain angry, and, in some cases, disheartened, with his handling of several key issues over the past few months. Trish Collins, a 40-year-old human resources manager in Pinellas County, Fla., said she feels exhausted by the "roller coaster" of Mr. Trump's presidency.

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Rachel Kalenberg, 35, who voted for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian presidential candidate, said she hadn't yet seen evidence of an economic boom in energy-rich Gillette, Wyo, where she owns a pizza shop. But she acknowledged that many people here still believe Mr. Trump's support of the coal industry could ultimately mean more jobs and other good things. "I think Gillette is very hopeful, and we have seen a little bit of growth," she said. "Maybe it's not enough."

Among Trump supporters, views were mixed on his response to the Confederate statue protests in Charlottesville, Va., which descended into a fatal confrontation. Some, including Mr. Lee in Richmond County, N.C., believe that Mr. Trump created unnecessary problems by blaming white nationalists for violent confrontations with counterprotesters in an Aug. 14 prepared speech, then saying there was "blame on both sides" in a news conference the next day at Trump Tower in New York.

"He added a little bit more to it than should've been added and that drove a wedge," Mr. Lee said. "If you keep on tossing something into the wind, it's going to blow back on you, and it did."

But others, such as Earl Cassorla, 61, agreed with Mr. Trump's stance, and blamed the media for not reporting his remarks accurately. "The president denounced white supremacists and neo-Nazis," said Mr. Cassorla, co-owner of a fireworks shop in Battle Mountain, Nev. "The president said there were good people on both sides of the statue protest. The media responded that 'No, there are no good Nazis.' Fake news."

Mr. Cassorla also agreed with Mr. Trump's assertions in various tweets that removal of Confederate statues is wrong. In the case of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, whose statue in Charlottesville was at the center of the Aug. 12 protest, Mr. Cassorla said the Southern war commander wasn't the racist he has been portrayed to be.

"People were protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, who fought for the rights of his state, despite his desire for the country to remain undivided," he said. "Some opposing the removal of Lee's statue were a fringe group of white supremacists. Additionally, some protesting were just people who simply opposed the removal of a historical statue."

Jocelyn Golomb, a 20-year-old Monessen, Pa., store clerk, who voted for Hillary Clinton in November, said she has always hated Mr. Trump. But her contempt for the president reached new heights following his response to the violence in Charlottesville.

"He kind of didn't really have anything to say until after he was pushed to say something, and that wasn't right," she said. "I don't think he'll ever have my support. Ever."

Ms. Collins in Pinellas County, Fla., who voted for Mrs. Clinton, thinks Mr. Trump's handling of the Charlottesville violence was abysmal. "If I had to guess what is the worst way to respond to this, he nearly hit it, " she said. "It was terrifying to see that." At the same time, "this is not a surprise," she said. "He's been saying racist things from the beginning of his campaign."

Some Trump supporters, such as Curtis Chambers, a 54-year-old financial adviser, in Pinellas County, praised the way the president has handled the North Korea problem. "It is the question no one seems to have an answer for," Mr. Chambers said.

"I think the Obama period was a period of appeasement," Mr. Chambers said. "The Trump approach is different. It will be more confrontational, highlighted by his rhetoric. I feel like he's being strong with North Korea. ... I wish there was a better answer, but at least he's standing up to [ Kim Jong Un]."

"It's a tough situation," said Steve Lang, a 54-year-old contingency planner in Pinellas County. He backs the way the president is working with allies such as Japan to try to contain the threat. "I don't think the American people want us to go to war with North Korea."

But Mr. Golomb, the former steelworker in Monessen, Pa., who feels more "cheated" than ever after voting for Mr. Trump in November 2016, fears a growing threat from Pyongyang that he believes is exacerbated by Mr. Trump's bluster on social media.

"I'm very concerned about the North Koreans," he said. "Is Donald Trump talk, or is he action? That's the $64,000 question."

To Ms. Collins, the Clinton voter, Mr. Trump's handling of hostilities with North Korea has been unsettling. "He and Kim Jong Un are very similar in what they say to each other, and it's terrifying to see our president saber-rattling," she said. "I can't see how his approach is making things better." Moreover, she said, Mr. Trump is alienating key allies such as China that could help defuse the situation.

The president's August speech on Afghanistan, in which he backed a continued commitment there despite a campaign pledge to quickly pull out, earned mixed reviews from his supporters.

"I don't think putting more troops on the ground in Afghanistan is the answer," said Samme Engelson, 40, owner of an embroidery shop in Battle Mountain, Nev., who voted for the president. "I worry about the counsel the president is getting as far as this 'war' is concerned. We have been there so long."

But Mr. Lang, who also backed the president, said the president's change of heart was a positive step. "He sounded like he listened to his generals," he said.

John Golomb, the former steelworker from Monessen, Pa., who early into Mr. Trump's presidency began to regret his Trump vote, was particularly worried about the shift in Afghanistan which he hopes "doesn't turn into another Vietnam."

Responses to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma split along partisan lines, even in Florida, where Irma did the most damage.

Mr. Chambers, a Trump supporter in Pinellas County, thinks Mr. Trump performed well in the wake of the recent hurricanes.

"He went there right away," Mr. Chambers said. "That kind of hands-on leadership, and showing up at the front where the trouble is, is a morale booster to everybody."

But Ms. Collins, the Clinton supporter from Pinellas County, faulted Mr. Trump's response.

"It seemed pretty obvious on his first visit [to Texas] that he was there just to promote himself," she said. She credited the Federal Emergency Management Agency's mobilization of resources, but said "this is another example of the career government staffers around him doing the best they can."

Outside the hurricane zone, reactions were similarly divided.

"The president has behaved in a most compassionate manner related to the victims of this terrible storm," said Mr. Cassorla of Nevada.

But Ms. Golomb of Monessen, Pa., viewed the president's trip to Corpus Christi, Texas, in late August as nothing more than a glorified photo opportunity. "He wasn't talking about, 'Oh, we have a natural disaster, '" she said. "He was talking about, 'What a huge crowd.'"

The president's moves on DACA won praise from supporters for his initial move to toss the topic into Congress's lap, but became more divisive when he began negotiating directly with Democrats. The suggestion to press for a continuance of such protections for young immigrants is also in line with a majority of Americans, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

Ms. Engelson, of Battle Mountain, Nev., expressed concern about the president's handling of DACA.

"I originally thought that the president did the right thing in canceling DACA in six months," she said. "Let Congress do their job. Now I am a bit worried that he is going to sacrifice immigration law to advance other items in his agenda, such as repealing Obamacare and tax reform. If that happens, I think he will have done great damage to his political future and perhaps our country's future."

But some supporters were willing to cut him more slack.

"The law is the law, but it's just so hard. Those kids were brought over here illegally," said Ms. Thompson of Sun City, Ariz., adding that she doesn't think it's fair to just send them away, "It is so sensitive. My heart goes out to them."

She said the president was right to put the problem in congress's lap. "The House and Senate need to figure it out. The president has passed it to them," she said.

And some even thought he should deal with Democrats.

"I have no love whatsoever for Nancy Pelosi," said Mr. Lee of North Carolina, but the president's meetings with top Democrats were at least an indication that members of Congress and the White House might be able to work together. "Until they get on the same page, it's going to be same thing, day in and day out," he said.

Supporters of Secretary Clinton were angered at the rollback of DACA.

Ms. Collins of Pinellas County said Mr. Trump's decision to end the program protecting Dreamers is consistent with other measures he has taken that she considers anti-immigrant. But she said his actions have prodded some Republicans to defend Dreamers with a passion that has surprised her. "Maybe we'll get some solid legislative protection" for Dreamers, Ms. Collins said. "I'm really curious to see how it plays out."

Dan Frosch and Jim Carlton contributed to this article.

Write to Valerie Bauerlein at valerie.bauerlein@wsj.com, Arian Campo-Flores at arian.campo-flores@wsj.com and Quint Forgey at quint.forgey@dowjones.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 22, 2017 07:14 ET (11:14 GMT)