President Donald Trump’s performance during his first 100 days in the Oval Office has galvanized his supporters, according to national polls, despite historically low overall approval numbers.
Based on conversations with Trump voters and donors this week, the national trend also appears to be true in the Inland Northwest.
Supporters praised the president for his spate of executive orders rolling back policies and regulations instituted by Barack Obama, selecting a Supreme Court candidate who already has taken the bench and taking a hard line on keeping jobs in America and foes abroad, including North Korea. Their vocal support comes as opponents of Trump’s agenda pack town halls – with or without local representatives – urging the president and Republican lawmakers not to roll back provisions of the Affordable Care Act and to speak out against hateful rhetoric toward vulnerable groups that has been more prominent in the days since Trump won the election.
Based on that divisive political climate, where a Fox News poll reports 97 percent of Trump voters are satisfied with their pick despite an overall 45 percent approval rating, supporters differ on whether a 100-day window is enough to judge the sweeping changes the 45th president is seeking in Washington. NBC/Wall Street Journal and ABC/Washington Post polls put Trump’s approval rating closer to the low 40s at this point in his presidency.
Florian Erhart, an 88-year-old Korean War veteran, said 100 days was too soon to judge Trump’s performance, based on all the promises he made to American voters during the campaign.
“What can anybody accomplish in 100 days?” Erhart said in late March, from his home in Spokane’s East Central neighborhood. “Hopefully, he gets re-elected.”
Erhart grew up on a family farm in Hamilton, Montana, and saw several of his siblings drafted into World War II before he received the call to serve as a U.S. infantryman in 1950. A one-time Obama voter, Erhart worries about America’s mounting deficit and the lack of support the president is receiving, even from his own party.
“If he doesn’t get any cooperation, he’s not going to accomplish anything,” Erhart said of Trump. “He’s got a tough job ahead of him.”
Erhart said he believed Trump is facing even more opposition than Obama, who saw a federal government shutdown in October 2013 and Senate blockage of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch after taking office, who was confirmed 419 days after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and after Senate Republicans amended the chamber’s rules to allow a simple majority to approve judges to the court, rather than a 60-vote supermajority.
“I think Republicans were accommodating to him,” Erhart said of Obama. “I think he just coasted through really well.”
Gary Buck, a 61-year-old insurance broker in Spokane, said 100 days is a fair benchmark to judge what he called Trump’s “great deal” of accomplishments.
“There’s a learning curve. He has to negotiate the territory,” said Buck, who contributed to the Republican’s campaign, one of 215 local donors in ZIP codes in Spokane and Kootenai counties who gave $120,759 to the Trump team during the 2016 contest, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Buck described himself as an independent voter who’s broken with the Republican Party in the past. He said Trump’s “overall view of America” most closely hued to his and criticized the media for being quick to point out the president’s foibles rather than his accomplishments.
“I think they’re very quick to pick up on everything negative, and very unlikely to accentuate the positives,” Buck said.
Among those positives, Buck counted Gorsuch’s nomination and creating a “pro-business” mentality in the White House.
“I think Donald Trump certainly has his own management style. There are times he may handle a situation differently than his predecessor,” Buck said.
Rebecca Hatton, 57, who’s operated an adult family home in Spokane for 34 years and whose support for Trump began “the moment he threw his hat in the ring,” said media coverage of the campaign changed her news consumption. She’s shifted from watching CNN and MSNBC to Fox News.
“I’d look at my husband and I’d go, ‘My God, they’ve twisted his words so bad.’ That was kind of spooky to me,” Hatton said.
Hatton contributed to Trump’s campaign last summer although she, like Erhart, was an Obama voter in 2008. She took exception with the polls showing a historically low approval rating for Trump at this point in his presidency, saying she only knows two people who voted for Clinton – her niece, and her dental hygienist.
“Who are these people talking to?” she said.
In addition to Gorsuch and border security, Hatton said she was heartened by Trump’s military action in Syria and the sanctions imposed on Iran. She doesn’t believe 100 days is enough time to judge Trump’s performance.
“He was elected to a four-year term, not a 100-day term. It isn’t very long,” she said.
Trump’s presidency has been more closely scrutinized than any other in history, said Linda Casimir, past president of the Ponderosa Republican Women group in Spokane.
“I don’t believe there has ever been a presidency that has been so microscopically emblazoned in the news, every word he says, every comment spoken about a topic, and everything that doesn’t meet what he says he wants to accomplish,” said Casimir, 67.
As a result of media coverage and rallies like the one Trump plans to hold in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, Casimir said she feels the president has been one of the most accessible and transparent in history.
“He is accessible to me. You get to see his personality, and you get to hear his conversation,” she said.
Opponents have criticized Trump’s early administration for its lack of transparency in communicating with the public, citing scrubbed information from official White House websites and the refusal to turn over visitor logs.
At a weekly gathering of local Republicans over coffee and donuts Friday morning, Trump supporters said they believed the president’s nontraditional method of leadership defied evaluation so early in his term.
“I think it takes a goofball like him, but I think the country needs somebody like that if they’re going to turn anything around,” said Dan Jacobson, 87. Jacobson said he was concerned about what he saw as rampant government spending that could bankrupt the country, and that the president was working to stop that.
Both Jacobson and George McGrath, 80, a frequent voice of dissent at Spokane City Council meetings, lauded Trump’s positions on spurring the economy and reducing government spending. They also weren’t concerned about Trump’s travel, and the security-related expenses incurred by first lady Melania Trump, who has remained in New York City with the couple’s child, Barron, during the first few months of the presidency.
“I’m not concerned about that at all, because Obama was an expert at showing how to waste taxpayer money,” McGrath said.
Comparing Trump’s travel to his predecessor’s has been a favorite political topic in the first 100 days of the presidency, but a Washington Post truth test published earlier this month indicates true comparisons are difficult to make, based on the different purposes for the travel and the secrecy of total costs associated with the trips.
“From the people that were running, he was not my first choice,” said Dave Miller, 75. “But I believe he’s doing a better job” than my first choice would have done, he added.
“I am pleasantly surprised,” Miller said. “I kind of viewed him as someone who was all for himself. But what he’s doing is very much for the country.”
Miller said he appreciated the president’s proposals on taxes and standing up to countries like North Korea.
Trump was Spokane County Treasurer Rob Chase’s first choice, and although the president has not dissuaded the libertarian-leaning officeholder from his November selection, Chase did criticize him for the military action against Syria and his proposals for increased military spending.
“We all thought he was going to negotiate, you know, ‘Why don’t Putin and I sit down?’ ” said Chase, 63. “But now suddenly he’s bombing and blaming (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad.”
Chase said he still had concerns about the activities of former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who Trump fired in February amid allegations of Flynn’s ties to Russia, and said the president should work to restore legislation repealed during Bill Clinton’s presidency governing investment and commercial banking, an action some have blamed as the cause of the 2008 financial collapse.
Abigail Osborne, a 23-year-old student at Gonzaga University and a local precinct committee officer for the Republican Party, initially backed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the primary but pledged to support Trump if he was the party’s nominee at the Spokane County Republican Party convention a year ago. Osborne said Trump already has met her top her priorities for his presidency: Getting a new Supreme Court judge on the bench and signing legislation allowing states to limit funding to Planned Parenthood clinics that also provide abortion.
“I can’t say I’m pleased with all the executive orders, but I understand why he’s doing them,” said Osborne, addressing Trump’s criticism of Obama’s use of executive action in the place of legislative deal-making.
The money the legislation restricted, through a program called Title X, already couldn’t be used for abortions under a decades-old provision in federal law. Vice President Mike Pence was required to vote in the Senate to break a 50-50 tie on its passage.
Osborne said she didn’t hold the failure of Congress to pass a health care bill, after an ultimatum issued by Trump, against the president, saying the proposal fell short of repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act that was promised during the campaign.
“I think it’ll take the Republicans working together” to change the law, she said.
Carla Bonney, who was credited as the founding member of a tea party group in Ventura County, California, in 2010, moved to Post Falls two years ago, where she operates an online art-selling business. She also gave money to Trump’s campaign and said he’s fought an uphill battle in his early days undoing the regulatory policies of Barack Obama.
“If he does 10 percent of what he’s saying, it’s better than any percent of what Hillary (Clinton was) promising,” Bonney said.
Bonney said she backed Trump early, breaking with many of her like-minded friends who chose Cruz as their favorite for the White House. She pointed to Trump’s tough talk on border security and North Korea, the historic heights of the stock market and his pledge to dismantle the Affordable Care Act in his first 100 days as evidence the president is performing well.
“He wants states to have more control over health care and education. All that action is going to take a little bit of time,” Bonney said.