The Ever-Trumpers: Revisiting his backers from 2016, we find they still like him

Jerry Adler
Senior Editor

Every president embarks on his term with a honeymoon, a reservoir of goodwill with voters, Congress and the press that lasts weeks or months, until the glow of electoral victory is dimmed by the inevitable disappointments of governing. For Donald Trump, his romance, or at least truce, with the media came to an abrupt end within hours of his inauguration, when he dispatched press secretary Sean Spicer to browbeat reporters into accepting Trump’s claims about the size of the crowd that witnessed his swearing-in. Various parts of his constituency began falling away thereafter, disillusioned by his failure to pass an Obamacare repeal (or, contrariwise, by the specifics of his proposal for a replacement), by his suspected squishiness on immigration (or, on the other hand, by instances of heavy-handed heartlessness in pursuing deportations), by his confusing and contradictory positions on foreign trade, currency exchange rates and numerous other topics.

But as we head into the symbolic, albeit meaningless, 100-day marker of his administration, there are many for whom the honeymoon never ended, who cannot imagine it ending, who by and large have adopted Trump’s own view of himself as a good man, a strong leader, a shrewd negotiator and a brave truth teller who has somehow been stymied by a cowardly Congress, a lying press and a treacherous bureaucracy. Call them the Ever-Trumpers.

A year ago, as Trump was surprising even himself — not to speak of the media and the Republican establishment — with his remarkably resilient popularity, Yahoo News interviewed a half-dozen Trump supporters from around the country to get at the secret of his appeal. Beyond the stereotype of angry working-class white men, we found a range of backgrounds, beliefs and values that drew voters: conservative, but less so than supporters of his rival Sen. Ted Cruz; concerned about immigration, but not as racist as the handful of well-publicized altercations at his campaign rallies led some to suspect; worried about the economy, although it’s hard to think of a time in recent American history when that hasn’t been true.

As part of our 100-days reporting, we went back and interviewed five of these six voters again. (The sixth, a young Cuban-American lawyer named A.J. Delgado, went on to work for Trump’s campaign.) The five we did speak to are Rick Cruz, a 63-year-old small-business owner from Michigan; Nell Frisbie, an 80-year-old real estate agent in Mississippi; Justin Neal, a 41-year-old mechanic at a Marine base in Virginia; Eileen Schmidt, a 47-year-old nurse from Iowa; and Ron Vance, 60, a Nevada insurance agent.

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Anyone either hoping or fearing that the stumbles of Trump’s young administration have shaken the faith of his core backers will find little support here. There is certainly disappointment, especially around Trump’s inability to deliver on his signature promise to get rid of Obamacare, but in almost identical words they blame someone else for it, specifically congressional Republicans. (Cruz: “Why didn’t they have a plan?” Neal: “I don’t like that we still have rogue Republicans that are just not supporting.” Frisbie: “Why haven’t they been working for the last eight years planning on what they’d do if they got control again? They should have had a plan.”)

But among these confirmed Trump supporters, slashing environmental regulations in the name of bringing back the coal industry is popular, and his tough talk on immigration is just what they wanted to hear. (Frisbie: “When I think of sanctuary cities, I think they need to cut them off at the knees.” Schmidt: “This is about keeping us safe, and I support that.”)

Schmidt, whose young son was wearing a button saying “Bomb the s*** out of ISIS” when she was interviewed last year, was equally enthusiastic about Trump’s bellicose stance against terrorism, citing the use of the 10-ton MOAB bomb against an ISIS complex in Afghanistan. (“Progress! This is a wake-up call to people that [Trump] isn’t messing around, that he is moving forward and he’s doing what he can to keep America safe.”) But that was one of the few actions that engendered some unease. Vance wasn’t pleased to see so many former generals in Trump’s cabinet. (“The military always thinks there’s a military solution to these problems. … I don’t want to see us going down a rabbit hole, dropping big MOAB bombs every week over in Afghanistan.”) And Frisbie, while supporting Trump’s missile attack on Syria as a way for America to show it means business in that part of the world, worried about getting embroiled in another endless Mideast war — at least insofar as it might affect her grandson, who is interested in applying to become a Navy SEAL.

Among the subjects that did not come up in the interviews: Russia, the Trump family and business dealings, golfing, Dodd-Frank, the 3 million illegal votes that Trump claimed were cast for his opponent. But everyone we spoke to had an opinion on Trump’s tweets, even if it was hard to decipher or based on suspect premises, such as Cruz’s assessment that since becoming president Trump has “toned down quite a bit” in his use of Twitter to insult and bait his opponents. The other four were split 2-2 on their feelings about the presidential tweets. Readers can go to the interviews and see for themselves.
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Read more from Yahoo News’ coverage of Trump’s first 100 days: