BOSTON — His critics call him dangerous, unhinged and unstable, and 10 leading Democrat contenders and three Republican challengers would like to replace him.
But less than five months from the Iowa caucuses, President Donald Trump enjoys the support of a solid majority of Republicans, and they have sound reasons to stick with their man despite the furor that continually surrounds him.
According to Gallup, the president’s overall approval rating was 39% in the last two weeks of August.
Among Republicans, however, it was 88%, and it has not dipped below 77% since Trump took office on Jan. 20, 2017.
Those numbers may bewilder Trump’s opponents, but when conservatives look at the president’s record, most like what they see. Analysts agree that Trump the President has not changed significantly from Trump the Candidate, the billionaire-next-door who appealed to people who felt ignored by the political establishment.
Moreover, Trump now has a record of achievements on which to campaign, even as his opponents call loudly for his removal.
In his 2019 book, “The Case for Trump,” military historian Victor Davis Hanson called Trump “one of the rare presidents who has attempted to do what he said he would.” Hanson argues that Trump has improved the economy, established a smart and balanced foreign policy, and “taken on a toxic establishment and political culture that long ago needed an accounting.”
Trump was not elected by a groundswell of scholars, but by people like Patty Femino, a longtime Democrat who changed her party affiliation when Trump became the Republican nominee, and people like Don Peay, whose friends told him he was crazy for supporting a volatile candidate who’d been the star of a reality show and had no political experience.
They’re the ones making the case for Trump at state fairs and on highway overpasses, kindling grass-roots excitement that just might guarantee the president a second term.
Here’s the case for Trump in 2020, from six of his supporters across the U.S.
“He’s the first president in my lifetime who is actually reducing regulation.” — John Kluge, Silver Spring, Maryland
John Kluge, 49, an attorney who lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., cheers the president for fulfilling his pledge to reduce federal regulations, which the Heritage Foundation says resulted in $23 billion in savings in 2018.
“Ronald Reagan talked a good game, but in the end, while he didn’t expand regulation, he didn’t reduce it that much. Donald Trump is the first president to actually reduce it. That is earth-shattering; it’s such a big deal, and it is such an underplayed story,” he said.
It’s unknown exactly how many federal regulations exist, but just between 1995 and 2016, Congress passed 88,899 rules and regulations, according to Forbes.
In 2018, Heritage reported, the Trump administration took 57 deregulatory actions and 14 regulatory actions, and under Trump, there were fewer new regulations enacted in the first 22 months in office than under other presidents: 22 for Trump, 465 for George W. Bush and 647 for Barack Obama.
Moreover, Kluge says, “He’s recognized the threat of China, and that is enormously important. Russia is not the threat; it’s China. He also got us out of the Iranian deal, put pressure on Iran. And the thing I like about it is, he’s done so in a way that is reasonable and gives our adversaries a way to walk away from the situation and solve the problem.
“A lot of times in the past, what the U.S. has done is demand that our adversaries do whatever we want and offer them absolutely nothing in return. Trump, because he lives in the real world, seems to understand that you can’t do that. You have to give the Chinese, the North Koreans, whoever, a reason to deal with you. I’m very satisfied with his foreign policy and that he’s told Europe they need to defend themselves more.”
All this is not to say that Kluge doesn’t sometimes cringe at things the president says or tweets. But he believes Trump’s actions in office matter more than his words, and adds, “The idea that a politician should be some moral exemplar that we can all look up to vastly overemphasizes the importance of government.”
“The president is hired help. If he does his job well, who cares whether he’s the kind of person you want your daughter to date?”
Finally, Kluge says some of the Democratic contenders are making the case for Trump in 2020 with left-of-left positions that evoke socialism.
“One thing that scares me is how far off the rails the Democrats have gone. I don’t want to live in a world where the alternatives are the Republicans or the too-crazy-and-too-stupid-to-vote-for-under-any-circumstance party. And the Democrats are getting close to that. … If they lose (next year), hopefully we’ll have reasonable Democrats again.”
“He has put conservative judges on the bench, judges who will follow the Constitution.” — Sheri Auclair, Wayzata, Minnesota
Early in 2016, Sheri Auclair wasn’t for Trump; she was supporting Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
But Trump won her over during the debates with his charisma. “My eyes kept going to Trump,” she said. “I only wanted to watch (him) and listen to what he said.
“It wasn’t one issue. It was the man. I said, ‘Who can get this done?’ It was his business background. Unfiltered. Owned by no one,” she said, adding, “I have never felt as strongly about any president as I do about this president. He needs to stay in power.”
Trump deserves reelection because he has delivered on his promises to nominate conservative judges, including two Supreme Court justices, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, Auclair said. “He has put conservative judges on the bench, judges who will follow the Constitution.”
There have been 150 confirmations so far, with several more looming. This means the president’s appointments have put an “unmistakable stamp on the federal judiciary,” said Carrie Johnson, writing for NPR.
“In the 2 1/2 years that Trump has been in office, his administration has appointed nearly 1 in 4 of the nation’s federal appeals court judges and 1 in 7 of its district court judges,” Johnson reported.
Moreover, if the current pace of confirmations continue and Trump is reelected, by the end of his second term, he will have appointed the most federal judges of any U.S. president, constitutional law attorney Jenna Ellis wrote for Fox News.
Auclair, a stay-at-home mother for 20 years, also said that Trump has earned continued support because he has engaged Americans who previously felt alienated from the political process. “I knew he was going to win, because there was a whole segment of people — the forgotten man and woman — and nobody spoke to them. He spoke to the forgotten man and woman. He said I’m going to take care of you.
“And that he has done. Unemployment is low, black unemployment is at its lowest ever. Hispanic unemployment at its lowest, ever. He’s created the jobs by pulling away the business burdens. Taking away a lot of the silly regulations, nanny-state regulations.
“The restaurants are packed. The shopping malls are packed. People seem happier.”
Overall, unemployment is at 3.7%; the rate for African Americans is 5.5%, for Hispanics, 4.2%, both historic lows, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
And although the wall the president promised hasn’t been built, there’s been enough action on the immigration front to satisfy Auclair. “At the borders, his policies are starting to make a difference,” she said, citing a 28% drop in arrests at the border in June.
At the 2016 Republican convention, a photographer snapped a picture as Auclair spread her arms jubilantly, causing one writer to quip that she looked like “some sort of God-sent eagle, come to peck Trump’s party critics to a patriotic death.”
The photograph brought Auclair some measure of fame, as did a promotion she organized at the Minnesota State Fair, carrying Trump flags on a chairlift ride across the fairgrounds (until fair officials made her stop). She’s glad for that, not because she wants the attention, but because she sees it as her mission to encourage other people to support the president.
“I believe my job is to give other people permission to vote for Trump,” she said. “I’m intelligent, I’m a mother, I live in the suburbs. In political-speak, I check the boxes. If they can see that I can go out there and not be afraid, they can do the same things as well.’’
“Even the face of all this hell and brimstone, it seems the country is in a better position.” — Ben Schachter, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
For Ben Schachter, an artist and father of four who lives in Pittsburgh, where a candidate stands on the issues determines his support, not the controversy a candidate or his opponents might generate.
An early supporter of Marco Rubio in 2016, Schachter was willing to support Trump once he became the nominee because of his aversion to the Affordable Care Act and, in specific, the individual mandate. “All the other stuff felt like tabloid stuff to me,” Schachter said of controversies that swirled around Trump in 2016, including the salacious “Access Hollywood” recording.
Although Obamacare remains in place, Schachter, 45, is pleased that Trump was able to abolish the penalty for not having health insurance, which was his primary objection to the law.
“It’s OK to assert that people should have insurance, but the mandate, in my view, asserted that the federal government had a new power, the power to tell individuals what business deals or private contracts they must enter into. I didn’t like that,” he said.
Schachter, who declines to name his party affiliation, was also pleased with Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as well as the president’s foreign policy, overall.
“I thought the embassy move to Jerusalem was brave, and look, the sky’s not falling. There was all this hell and brimstone, but nothing much has changed.”
To Schachter the decision was emblematic of a sort of hysteria that accompanies Trump’s every move, with apocalyptic predictions that amount to nothing.
“It was an action that supported an American ally, that supported religion, that supported the Jewish people. It is a political and symbolic move that opened the door to the idea that other solutions to other problems may be out there.”
Trump’s much maligned presence on Twitter and indelicate language doesn’t bother Schachter because the president is doing the job he said he would do, Schachter said.
“He’s had a hand in helping the economy. He had a plan that he was going to lower taxes, and he did, of course, with Congress. He says he’s against regulation, and wants to reduce them. It seems as if business and hiring is up and these are all generally good things. There’s a difference between how he talks and how he actually governs. Even in the face of all this hell and brimstone, it seems the country is in a better position.”
“We may not all agree with his method, but he is effective, and that’s what we need.” — Bill Hamilton, Charleston, South Carolina
As a voter, Bill Hamilton has never been predictable. For example, the retired Air Force chief master sergeant, who lives in Charleston, South Carolina, voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976 and against him in 1980.
Overall, he considers himself “80 percent Republican” but will vote for any candidate he believes is best for the country. “This country is like a large ship. It’s really difficult for one guy to turn this thing around,” Hamilton said.
But he believes that Trump, who he calls “a blue-collar billionaire,” is steering well despite an unprecedented level of animosity, some from within his own party, and media coverage that sometimes reports the president’s jokes as serious statements. For example, Hamilton said, when Trump made a medal of honor presentation in August, he said in jest that he wanted to give one to himself. The president smiled, and the audience laughed, but some headlines made it appear that the comment had been made seriously.
“I see a lot of things like that,” Hamilton said. “So much of what he says is taken out of context. And that’s the thing about Twitter; he’s able to speak directly to the people,” Hamilton said, adding, “He should be an elitist, but he’s not. He identifies with the common man.”
The country benefits from having a businessman in its top office, as opposed to career politicians who promise to fix problems that have existed for the decades they’ve been in office, Hamilton believes.
“I sit on the board of directors of a local credit union, and I can tell you that the economy’s doing pretty good; he’s done a great job business-wise. He’s going to battle with China over tariffs, which he should. It may hurt some people for a while, but if we can stay the course, it will ultimately be better for us and bring jobs back to this country,” he said.
“We need a businessman to straighten things out, and he is someone who knows how to negotiate. He’s not afraid to walk away from a bad deal and say so. We’ve never had someone like that before.” Hamilton cited Trump pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris Agreement as examples of the president’s willingness to withstand criticism for actions he believes are ultimately in the best interest of the country.
And Hamilton believes that Trump’s volatility, which some people say is a sign of being unfit for office, is actually a shrewd calculation, a common business negotiating tactic to throw his opponents off guard.
“He may have money, but he says what the average, blue-collar, hard-working American citizen thinks. We may not all agree with his method, but he is effective, and that’s what we need.”
“There are jobs; everyone is back to work.” — Patty Femino, Wolfeboro, New Hampshire
In the beginning, it wasn’t Donald Trump who got Patty Femino enthusiastic about Donald Trump. It was Barack Obama.
Femino, who recently moved from Massachusetts to New Hampshire, said she was never involved in politics until the day she heard Trump’s Oval Office predecessor say on television that he didn’t have a strategy for defeating ISIS. “I remember that day like a bright light,” Femino said. “I said, ‘What? Did he really just say that?’ And I never really followed his presidency; my kids were in high school, we were busy with sports. But I decided then I had to do something to help save this country.”
Within a year, Trump declared his candidacy, and Femino was drawn to him because of the force of his personality, as well as his ideas. “We need a strong president,” she said. “He is someone to reckon with. He is a powerhouse.”
A longtime Democrat who grew up in Boston, Femino had started voting Republican in presidential elections beginning with Ronald Reagan. But she didn’t change her party registration to Republican until Trump was on the ballot and she was excited and inspired by his style and the policies he championed.
Married for 35 years to a Navy veteran and the mother of two, Femino said veterans issues are paramount to her family, and she said Trump’s policies and his pick of Robert Wilkie to head the VA have improved services at VA hospitals. (The Associated Press reported that some of the improvements are the result of changes begun during the Obama administration, but acknowledged that Trump expanded eligibility for Veterans Choice, which allows veterans to see private doctors if they have to wait 20 days to see a VA doctor.)
Trump’s efforts to curb illegal immigration have also earned him another term, Femino said, as do the policies that are sustaining a robust economy despite regular prophecies of economic doom. Even amid worries about the effect of the trade war with China, consumer confidence fell less than expected in August as the U.S. continues its 11th year of economic expansion, Reuters reported last month.
“Right now, I think he’s doing it all by himself,” Femino said. “There are jobs; everybody is back to work. There is pride. He’s instilled pride back in Americans, and it’s not been this way for a long time.
“I trust Trump. I believe this is a spiritual battle, and I believe he’s trying to save the country, if not the world. He’s saving the country from socialism.”
“I think the man sleeps four hours a night, and he’s working 20.” — Don Peay, Bountiful, Utah
Don Peay, 59, of Bountiful, Utah, will tell anyone who has questions about Trump’s character to look to his children. “A good tree can’t bring forth bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t bring forth good fruit,” Peay said, quoting Jesus.
As founder of the Utah-based Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, Peay has gotten to know Trump’s sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, and has been hunting with both men. He says they are down-to-earth and hard workers despite their family’s wealth, having been schooled in a Spartan work ethic by their father. “I think the guy sleeps four hours a night, and he’s working 20,” Peay said. “He works harder and plays less than any president in the last 50 years.”
The president also has donated his salary to government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Peay ticks off Trump’s accomplishments, to include the appointment of two conservative Supreme Court justices, tax reform and a defense strategy that has kept Americans safe at home and seen a lower profile from ISIS and other terrorist groups. “He’s a soldier’s commander in chief; he turned the dogs loose,” he said of the president’s strategies on defense.
Any turmoil in Trump’s administration is justified by the president’s high standards, Peay said. “He has great Cabinet members and expects results. Not just photo ops,” Peay said.
“He is the real deal. The swamp — Washington, D.C. — is a corrupt place, and Trump is not beholden to anyone. He’s not a politician,” he said. “Sometimes he’s inartful, but bold leaders are at times.
“Yeah, he’s a character. But he’s a patriot. He loves this country, and it struck a chord when he said ‘Let’s make America great again’ because America was becoming a doorstop for the rest of the world.”
Earlier this year, Scott Horsley, chief economics correspondent for NPR, examined some of Trump’s 2016 campaign promises and where they stand now. Of 11 promises, including tax cuts, boosting production of oil and gas and eliminating two federal regulations for every new one created, five goals have been accomplished and three are in progress, Horsley said. (Peay would take issue, however, with Horsley saying “no action” on Trump’s promise to drain the swamp as he believes the president is doing just that.)
On most issues, however, Trump has at least made some progress, the NPR report acknowledged, even if he has been unable to repeal and replace Obamacare and make Mexico pay for a border wall. And he has accomplished many of his goals with regard to business, including renegotiating trade deals, imposing tariffs and creating a business-first agenda in federal agencies.
“They (the Trump family) work harder than anyone, and like it or not, they’re doing what they said they would do,” Peay said.