February 03, 2019
The temperature was hovering around zero in this former steel town in eastern Ohio, but Jessica Hilton had still slipped outside for a smoke. Wearing a faded leopard-print sweater, the lifelong Democrat took a long drag of her cigarette before she explained her vote for Donald Trump in 2016.
Trump kicks back: Ohio voters expect strong state of the union
“I thought we needed someone outside the box – someone who could bring change and fire to Washington,” she said. “I thought he was the best choice for the country.”
She is no longer confident she was right.
“The economy is still terrible here,” she said. “Other countries think we’re a joke. Trust in our leaders is not there either. Sometimes he gives speeches that just don’t sound intelligent. And the shutdown … over a wall? That was stupid.”
She sighed, exhaling a plume of smoke: “I just can’t see myself voting for him again in 2020.”
On a visit to Ohio this week, however, Hilton’s views were not common. A short and snowy drive away, for example, Bill Strimbu was more optimistic about the economy – and the state of the union. He had already hung a Trump 2020 flag, right under the stars and stripes.
“The economy is booming right now and Trump doesn’t get any credit for it,” said the president of the Nick Strimbu Trucking Company, heralding its best year since his grandfather started hauling goods cross-country in 1926. Strimbu said he had hired more drivers and started a profit-sharing plan for employees, thanks in part, he said, to the Republican tax cut.
Trump could go further if Democrats, led by the newly-empowered House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, weren’t blocking him at every turn, he said.
Strimbu has been a Republican “since the day he started paying taxes”, but he said many of his friends were Democrats who voted Trump. None were having second thoughts, he said, especially as the party swerves sharply to the left.
“We’re not socialist-type people here,” he said. “John F Kennedy wouldn’t even be allowed to be in the Democratic party if he were alive today.”
On Tuesday, Trump will deliver his State of the Union. The prime-time address, delayed by a standoff with congressional Democrats, comes at a troublesome time for the president. Trump began his third year in office presiding over the longest government shutdown in history, for which he was widely blamed. He is also beset by an increasingly adversarial Congress, sinking approval ratings and a swirl of legal threats.
While Trump spent the weekend in Florida, playing golf with Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, his campaign asked supporters for advice on what he should say in Tuesday’s speech.
“No Democrat can keep President Trump from telling the TRUTH,” read an email from his campaign team, “about not only the State of Our Union, but also the CRISIS at our Southern Border.”
Yet two years after his inauguration, Trump’s most loyal backers remain overwhelmingly pleased. In conversation in corners of Ohio that helped deliver the White House, they shared many of the president’s grievances.
“The Democrats’ No 1 goal is to destroy Donald Trump,” said Kyle Walker, a business owner from Avon.
A Republican, he cringes when Trump lashes out at officials and allies or when he repeats falsehoods that can be easily disproven. But Walker grades Trump on what he is delivering – not what he is tweeting. And by that standard he is keeping his promises to lower taxes, cut regulation and secure the borders.
“Is he bombastic? Yes. Does he say and do things he probably shouldn’t? Absolutely. But on the other side of the coin, the things that are said about him and his family are despicable,” Walker said. “Like or dislike the president, there’s not too many people who can take what he takes on a daily basis and still push us forward.”
Supporters repeatedly blamed Congress – Democrats and the so-called “Never Trumpers” – for hindering the president’s ambitious agenda and a supposedly biased media for allegedly ignoring his successes, among which they counted a booming economy, a fairer tax code and a more secure border. In the fight over his wall, many felt Democrats had left Trump with few alternatives.
Asked how they would vote in 2020, few had second thoughts.
Lori Stack, a retired nurse from Lorain, was shopping for a birthday card at a Dollar General. She said she was “sticking with” the president – even if she hesitated to call herself a Republican.
“There was a time when I thought Hillary [Clinton] would have been good – that it was time to get a woman in there,” she said. But by the time she ran again in 2016, Stack was ready for change.
Trump kicks back: Ohio voters expect strong state of the union
She too wished he would act “more presidential” at times. But she also believed Trump had received an unparalleled – and wholly unfair – level of opposition.
A friend of several decades “unfriended” her on Facebook after an online disagreement over a post disparaging the president, she said, adding that though the woman apologized their friendship never recovered.
“There’s a lot of people like us who are still for Trump but they’re not really exposing ourselves because they don’t want to get yelled at,” she said.
For Bill Ewers, a retired sales manager who also lives in Lorain, part of Trump’s appeal lay in his cavalier approach.
“The only reason people don’t like Trump is because he kicks back,” he said. “That’s what I love about him.”
As for Trump’s tweets, Ewers said he appreciated such radical transparency. He considered among Trump’s crowning achievements the appointments of two conservative justices to the supreme court and a decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
On Tuesday Ewers will said he hoped Trump would hammer Democrats over their past support for the construction of hundreds of miles of fencing along the border with Mexico.
He chuckled, and added that he looked forward to watching the “grimace on Nancy Pelosi’s face as she sits there and listens to him for the entire hour and a half”.
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