Donald Trump may face a skeptical public as he prepares to take office, but his staunch supporters seem ready to back him regardless of what he does as president.
And they have a message for those upset with his victory: get over it.
“Everybody’s protesting that Trump got in,” said Deborah LaGrange, a dental assistant from Des Moines, Iowa, who attended a Trump thank-you tour rally Thursday. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t whine and cry when Obama got in for the last eight. I mean, pull up your panties, and let’s deal with it. Let’s all unify; let’s get on board; let’s stand behind him; and let’s make a change for the United States.”
Trump’s team, feeling vindicated after many months of being written off as the underdogs, has echoed a similar tone.
“Hey guys, we won,” said Kellyanne Conway, who managed Trump’s campaign, in a contentious session between the Trump team and top Clinton staffers at the usually staid campaign post-mortem at the Harvard Institute of Politics earlier this month. “I mean, seriously, hold on — why is there no mandate? You’ve lost 60 congressional seats since President Obama got there.”
At rallies on Trump’s campaign-funded victory lap of Iowa and other battleground states that voted for him, supporters have been telling NPR they’re excited to see what the president-elect will do, even if they’re not exactly sure what that will be — and that’s OK with them.
At a rally in Fayetteville, N.C. on Tuesday, for example, Trump supporter Dave Dixon told NPR’s Don Gonyea that he doesn’t expect Trump to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, as he promised at nearly every rally for months.
“In a campaign, people say a lot of things,” Dixon said.
David Erickson, who works in road construction, had similar thoughts at a rally in Des Moines Thursday. He thinks Trump will be able to deliver on many of his promises, though he acknowledged that Trump may face challenges for some of his more ambitious ideas.
“Oh, he’ll build a wall. I’m sure he’ll do that,” Erickson said. “But he’s gotta convince other senators and congressmen to pass it. He can’t do it himself.”
And if Trump ultimately fails to persuade Congress?
“Oh, that’d be fine,” Erickson said. “I guess that’s the way it is.”
Throughout the campaign, many Trump supporters struck a similar note, often telling reporters his inflammatory rhetoric was being misunderstood or taken out of context by the media and Trump’s critics.
His son-in-law, David Moritz, is a web developer from Norwalk, Iowa. He said his primary concern is getting conservative justices on the Supreme Court — and as long as Trump does that, he’ll be satisfied.
“I am not going to hold him to any high standard, you know, about very many specifics,” Moritz said. “I feel like the one thing I would want most is for him to appoint somebody to the Supreme Court that would be a fair fitting for Scalia,” referring to the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
But Moritz also worries that some Trump supporters’ expectations may be too high.
“A lot of people project their own ideas on to him,” he said. “They feel like whatever their highest dream is, they project on to him and say that he will make this happen. I tend to think that that’s going to create a lot of uneasiness in the people when he ends up being just a regular human.”
At least so far, though, most of Trump’s ardent fans seem ready to trust him to figure it all out.
“He’s done things; he’s been successful; he’s made a lot of money; he knows how to get things done,” said Dayton Ericson, of the Des Moines suburb of Ankeny.
Ericson, who owns used car lot, hopes Trump will cut taxes and reduce health care costs. He and his wife have a baby on the way, and he said they’ll soon pay more than $1,300 a month for the family’s health care. But he’s unsure what kind of solutions Trump should propose instead of Obamacare.
“That’s not my job to figure out,” Ericson said with a laugh, adding, “That’s above my pay grade.”
Gary Roberts of Pleasant Hill, Iowa, said he likes the way Trump, who often promised to “Drain the Swamp,” is taking on the Washington establishment.
“The best thing that could happen is all those lobbyists’ buildings would go away,” Roberts said.
“Not really, ’cause I think he’s got enough insight to pick people that are smart as he is and have been involved in business prior to this,” Roberts said, adding, “The establishment needs to go away.”
It may not matter whether Trump’s actions literally match up with his words, so long as he gets the sentiment right.
Whatever happens, Ericson is certain Trump will be a better president than President Obama.
“I just think it’s funny how the Democrats just want to cry about, they didn’t get their way,” he said. “It’s just funny.”
And Trump supporters seem convinced that Trump has a mandate and that members of Congress “can see the writing on the wall,” as Steve Kopf of Urbandale, Iowa, said.
That’s all despite the fact that Trump lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton by more than 2 million votes.
“It’s not how you win the presidency,” Kopf said. “It doesn’t count for anything. You win it with the Electoral College, and the Electoral College is here for a reason — so we don’t get overlooked here in Iowa. If California and New York were in charge of the election, this whole country would be a disaster.”