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Trump voters disappointed by his presidency threaten the GOP

Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

Anthony Miles figured that Donald Trump, rich as he was, could not be bought off. Now he regrets voting for him.

"He said he was going to drain the swamp," said Miles, 62, a computer programmer who lives in Middletown, Conn. "All he's done is restocked it."

Miles was especially appalled by President Trump's appointment, since withdrawn, of a drug czar who took pharmaceutical donations as a congressman and wrote a law that thwarted federal power to punish companies that fuel opioid abuse.

A year after Trump stunned the world by defeating Hillary Clinton in one of the most consequential elections of modern times, the president is breaking records for unpopularity. Since World War II, no other president has scored Gallup approval ratings as low as Trump's during his first year in office. He bottomed out last week at 33 percent.

That's largely because of Americans who voted for Trump but disapprove of the way he has conducted himself in office.

Many of them, like Miles, are independents. Some were never Trump fans, but cast ballots for him out of loathing for Clinton. They were essential to his Electoral College victory, securing his narrow wins in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

They will also be crucial to Republicans' fight to keep control of Congress next year -- and to Trump's prospects for re-election in 2020.

Since Trump took office in January, they've recoiled at his behavior -- the cascade of Twitter insults; the messy relations with foreign leaders, both friend and foe; the racial provocations; and the lack of success in Congress, among other things.

"He has no clue how to run a country," said independent voter Pradeepta Chowdhury, 65, a doctor in Hilo, Hawaii.

Chowdhury was counting on Trump to repeal Obamacare because of the paperwork burden it imposed on his solo medical practice.

The public's concerns about the president are part of a larger national anxiety: 63 percent of Americans report being stressed about the country's future, according to the most recent Stress in America survey by the American Psychological Association.

The chaos of Trump's leadership is also sharpening the nation's cultural divisions. America is nearly as fractured as it was during the trauma of the Vietnam War.

One side, mostly white, sees Trump as tightening America's borders, safeguarding its heritage, standing up for U.S. workers, fighting to cut health care costs, disrupting a corrupt political establishment and calling out lies of the mainstream media.

The other, more diverse, sees him as abusing power for personal gain, stoking prejudice, diminishing America's standing in the world, imperiling the planet by ignoring climate change and threatening to take health care away from millions so he can cut taxes for the rich.

With the nation already on edge, social media and cable news are driving the two factions farther apart.

"Our politics has become so tribal that people filter new information through a lens that tends to reinforce their pre-existing point of view rather than change their point of view," said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

Trump's most devoted backers remain a strong political base. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday found 91 percent of those who voted for Trump approve of his job performance, and 69 percent of them strongly approve.

Trump has managed to retain that core following even as he relentlessly defies presidential norms -- belittling fellow Republicans in Congress, undercutting his secretary of state, falsely accusing Britain of wiretapping Trump Tower and demanding prosecution of political opponents. Criminal charges against three Trump campaign aides portend more drama in the Russia scandal.

April Pfrogner, of Monongahela, Pa., is unfazed. "I kept my Trump sign until it withered in the wind," she said.

The daughter of a laid-off steelworker, Pfrogner, 42, grew up in a military family in a town where the coal mine shut down. Everyone in the family is a proud "Trumpster," she said. What others see as boorish or belligerent, Pfrogner, a journalism student, sees as refreshing.

She wholeheartedly backs Trump's agenda. "Shut the borders," she said. "Please build the wall. Build it 50 feet tall."

Pfrogner does not believe the women who have accused Trump of sexual assault. "All those women coming out, it just made me think, I'm voting for him anyway, you idiots -- I'm not a feminist," she said.

For now, Trump's detractors are not just more numerous than his supporters, but also more fervent -- an alarming sign for Republicans as the 2018 election approaches. The Post-ABC poll found 95 percent of Clinton voters disapprove of Trump's job performance, including 88 percent who strongly disapproved.

"It's the strongest, most virulent, most potentially damaging counter-reaction to an incumbent president that we've ever seen," said Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster.

Stephanie Caballero, a Democrat who lives in San Marcos in northern San Diego County, said Trump's election "gave men more freedom to be verbally abusive or physically abusive, not only to women, but to ethnic minorities."

Trump's volatility, she said, frightens her family.

"When North Korea was testing their nuclear warheads, my children felt like we're going to be bombed," said Caballero, a 56-year-old lawyer.

If Trump is to recover, he must regain strength with independents. In last year's election, they tilted toward him over Clinton, exit polls found.

Some have stuck with him. Honky-tonk musician Kim Carson of New Orleans knows that Trump's taunting of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un scares some Americans. But to her, it's more like a big brother who shows up in the schoolyard to punch a bully in the nose.

"He's viewed as a loose cannon, which I think is a good thing," she said.

Still, the Post-ABC poll found a sharp drop in independents' support for Trump -- 63 percent of them disapproved of his job performance, including 54 percent who strongly disapproved.

Even Trump loyalists see room for improvement. Pfrogner, a staunch Republican who hopes Trump wins a second term, wishes he would dial it down once in a while.

"He battles too much," she said. "I wish he'd let some stuff go and not comment on it."

(The voters quoted in this story are among the more than 400 Los Angeles Times readers who responded last month to an email asking for their assessment of Trump's presidency. They were part of a group of more than 4,000 readers who responded a year ago to a Times request to share their feelings about Trump's election as president.)

(c)2017 Los Angeles Times

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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