For Trump voters, few cracks after an unsteady first year

WARRENTON — Christine Bridgens likes President Donald Trump on the economy and national security, the way the Republican has lifted regulations on business, the way he has defended the country on the international stage.

“There’s nothing I don’t support about what he has done to put America first,” said Bridgens, who serves on the Warrenton Planning Commission.

Michael Seppa, a retired dairy farmer in Lewis and Clark, likes that Trump was the first president in 26 years to speak at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention, a nod to rural America.

“I think he’s actually done way better than the press and everybody gives him credit for,” said Seppa, the board chairman of the Clatsop Soil and Water Conservation District. “I think the tax cuts are going to be helpful. I just think he’s got us headed in the right direction as far as foreign and national policy.”

Clatsop County reliably votes for Democrats in presidential elections. Trump, despite being the most polarizing Republican to win the party’s nomination in the modern political era, still captured 41 percent of the vote here in 2016. Trump’s footprint in the county was roughly the same as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012 — 41 percent — and U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona in 2008 — 39 percent.

Like across Oregon and the United States, there is something of an urban and rural chasm. Trump fared better in Warrenton and in rural precincts like Lewis and Clark, Knappa and Olney, while former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democrat, won in Astoria, Gearhart, Seaside and Cannon Beach.

For many voters in Trumpville, the billionaire real estate tycoon’s first year in the White House was an unqualified success.

Trump’s low job approval rating — 39 percent, according to Gallup — is shrugged off as inaccurate. The special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election, which has led to federal charges against several of Trump’s former advisers, is dismissed as a politically motivated witch hunt. The warnings from Democrats and some establishment Republicans that Trump is a demagogue who is steering the country in a dangerous direction are mocked as hysteria.

Jim Hoffman, the chairman of the county’s Republican Central Committee, who lives in Gearhart, believes most local Republicans are optimistic.

“I talk to people every day that are just so happy with what he’s doing,” he said, even some he doesn’t know. “They see my Jeep running around and they have a tendency to open up and start talking with me.”


“Well, it’s got a Trump-Pence sticker for one,” Hoffman said. “The wheel cover on the back says, ‘Help save America, have your liberal spayed or neutered.’”

Asked to assess Trump’s first year, Trump voters interviewed by The Daily Astorian — including several, like Bridgens and Seppa, who represent precincts on the Republican Central Committee — did not mention Russia or the parade of other controversies that have undermined his administration.

“I had a lot of confidence in his honesty, his business sense, his faithfulness to America,” Bridgens said of her view of Trump before the election. “I think he is a sincere man who loves this country and cares a great deal about its success.

“So I was hopeful for that,” she said. “And I have not been disappointed.”

Bridgens would like Trump to place more emphasis on education, particularly school vouchers. She sees a small victory in the appointment of Valerie Huber, an advocate for abstinence education, to a top post with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Like many Trump voters, she also wants the president to follow through with his campaign promise to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

“I’m still hopeful about the national security and building the wall to keep the drugs out and the illegals out of our country that do so much damage,” she said.

Her advice to Trump’s doubters?

“I believe they should take an honest look at the successes that he’s had that help all of us, and put aside their ideology and just look at putting America first, as he puts it,” she said.

Some Trump voters blame Republicans who control Congress for not acting fast enough on Trump’s agenda, like repealing the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which could be politically costly if Republicans lose the Senate or House to Democrats in the midterm elections in November.

“It’s been disappointing that we haven’t been able to get Congress going on a lot of things that need to be done that are good for everybody. Good for America, I guess that’s the main thing,” Seppa said. “I’m disappointed in that.”

Many of Trump’s troubles since his inauguration have been self-inflicted, from picking diplomatic fights with allies like Britain and Australia to reality show-style Twitter feuds to shockingly coarse descriptions of poverty in Haiti, El Salvador and Africa.

Kurt Donnaku, who lives in Brownsmead and serves as a Republican precinct committeeman for Knappa, was a reluctant Trump voter.

Donnaku likes Trump’s drive to reduce regulation and rescind some of President Barack Obama’s executive orders, turning those issues back to Congress, where he believes they belong.

“Every time I start feeling good about Trump, then he shoots his mouth off and just says ridiculously stupid stuff,” he said. “He tends to be a bully with the name-calling and third-grade stuff. That’s, I guess, what gets me.”

Donnaku’s advice for the president?

“Get rid of his Twitter account.”

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