They wash their hands of neo-Nazis and wag their fingers at leftists. They denounce a press corps they see as biased and controversies they view as manufactured. But in the frenzied blame game over the deadly violence at a rally of white supremacists, Donald Trump’s loyal base is happy to absolve the president himself.
Even as Trump’s zig-zag response to the weekend bloodshed in Charlottesville, Virginia, has brought criticism from some Republican lawmakers, many men and women who helped put him in office remain unmoved by the latest uproar.
“He has done nothing to turn me away from him,” said Patricia Aleeyah Robinson, of Toledo, Ohio.
Robinson is black and her support of Trump has put her at odds with many in her life, costing her friendships and straining family relationships.
But the 63-year-old retired truck driver sees the controversy over Trump’s response to Charlottesville as being driven by those seeking to disrupt his agenda and push backers like her away. She said she knows he pays no deference to racists and feels he is the only president who has ever spoken directly to blacks. She admires his refusal to sugarcoat his beliefs.
Three hundred miles south in a Charleston, West Virginia, shopping mall, Joyce Ash took a moment to ponder Trump after buying a dress Wednesday to wear to the funeral for her husband of 33 years, who died of pancreatic cancer.
The 71-year-old woman summoned nothing but support for the political novice who led her to ditch her lifelong support of Democrats. She recalled sitting up all Election Night to watch Trump clinch the win, and said nothing since made her reconsider her vote.
“Let the president do his job instead of trying to take him out every time you turn around,” Ash implored. She didn’t follow the back-and-forth over Trump’s statements on Charlottesville but saw no reason to question him: “I believe in Donald Trump, I really do. I believe that if they would just give this man a chance, the economy, everything will start going better.”
Though images of Nazi flags and men in white hoods sickened many Americans, the president’s most ardent champions saw no reason any of that should change their feelings for Trump.
“You know why it doesn’t bother me? Because he is everybody’s president whether you like him or don’t like him. Everything he does, he’s doing it for our country,” said Patsy Jarman, a 70-year-old retired factory worker in New Bern, North Carolina. “And if you don’t like being here, you need to leave.”
Such enthusiasm may be unsurprising in some ways. Trump himself boasted last year he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
Polls showed his approval ratings dipping even before this flare-up, and now some commentators are proclaiming a historic low point and late-night comedians have turned serious. But many Trump voters interviewed Wednesday showed no sign of moving away from him.
In Florida, 50-year-old Steven Damron of Spring Hill said the president handled the Charlottesville situation well, and he agreed with Trump that “both sides” were to blame.
In Iowa, Branden Nong, 35, of Waukee said that while he wished the president was more careful with his tweets or in his criticism of fellow Republicans, his vote was driven by economic issues, and he has been happy with Trump’s performance.
And in Pennsylvania, 46-year-old substitute teacher Julie Horrell of Mohrsville said: “I am sticking by the president. It’s early in his term yet. He needs to get the time to dig in his feet.”
Julie Brown, a 42-year-old real estate agent in Gilbert, Arizona, accused the media of twisting Trump’s statements on Charlottesville and said local officials did a bad job preparing for the protests. But she remains fully behind a president she sees as exactly the unpolished, authentic leader that the U.S. needs right now, and thinks of how her 4-year-old son will someday learn of this time.
“He’s going to be reading in a textbook one day about the good and the bad that this president is going to do,” she said, “but I hope and I believe it’s going to be more good.”
Contributing to this report were Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina; Tamara Lush in Tampa, Florida; Barbara Rodriguez in Des Moines, Iowa; John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio; John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; Bob Christie and Clarice Silber in Phoenix; Rick Callahan in Indianapolis; and Michael Rubinkam in Hamburg, Pennsylvania.