Talk to voters across the country about President Trump’s first 100 days in office and a few things become abundantly clear:
His supporters — those who turned out in force and voted for him — still overwhelmingly love him.
His detractors — and they are many, given that Trump failed to win the popular vote — are still shocked by his election and appalled by his behavior.
He has lost support, particularly among moderates and independent voters. That’s a big reason that polls give him the lowest approval rating of any modern president this soon after taking office.
And, at times, Trump angered even his staunchest supporters, particularly the Tea Party, because of what they see as a tendency to rely on advice from top advisers they view as not conservative enough.
Still firmly in Trump’s camp is 64-year-old Garry Frederick, who is about to turn ownership of the Top Notch Diner in Cortland, Ohio, over to his children. He dismissed the idea that the first 100 days is an important milestone for a presidency. Frederick says, “He’s got four years,” and he’ll judge Trump when he seeks re-election. Still, Frederick says Trump is doing a great job. “I give him an A+.”
Most days, Frederick joins a group of regulars for breakfast at the diner. Around the table, they see Trump’s biggest enemies as the media and Congress, including Democrats and Republicans. During the campaign, Frederick liked Trump’s promise to immediately repeal the Affordable Care Act, as well as his tough talk on trade. But the repeal effort failed, the law known as Obamacare survives, and Trump has softened some positions on trade, including a decision not to label China a currency manipulator.
Frederick says he’s not worried, “I think he’s working some back channels there.”
Seventy-nine-year-old retired truck driver Dave Cover chimes in with, “There’s several things in my judgment that play into that.” First, Cover says, is that Trump needs China’s help to deal with a nuclear-armed North Korea. “He’s come to the conclusion that he has to deal with China because that’s the only effective ally that’s got any control over basically an uncontrollable entity over there.”
As for the Trump opposition, it has not softened even an inch. They’ll tell you his presidency has been exactly what they expected. “Chaos” is a word that’s used a lot. Democrats found some hope when efforts to kill Obamacare fizzled. They’ve also been energized to march — in support of women’s rights, to protest Trump’s executive orders seeking to limit immigration from some majority-Muslim countries, and in support of science and protecting the climate.
But there’s also the recognition that every day — sometimes with Congress and sometimes through presidential decrees — the president is rolling back regulations covering schools, businesses, fuel economy, clean air and protection of federal lands — just to list a few.
Barbara Babcock, a retired school teacher, attended a recent town hall in Flanders, N.J. She has her own short and to-the-point description of Trump’s first 100 days: “The man is a disaster.” Her complaints about Trump include what she sees as a refusal to deal with global warming or to take it seriously. She adds that “He has ties to Russia. He won’t show us his tax returns. Every time I hear anything that comes out of his mouth I’m horrified. It’s horrifying.”
And her feelings extend to those advising the president. “What concerns me is how he listens to the radical right,” she says, referring specifically to former Breitbart News editor and now presidential strategist Steve Bannon. She’s also got problems with Cabinet secretaries — like charter schools champion Betsy DeVos who is now atop the Education Department and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma attorney general was famous for suing the EPA and rejecting scientific claims about humans’ role in climate change.
“He has put in place people who will dismantle the very agencies they are supposed to be supporting,” Babcock says of Trump.
Another anti-Trump voice, computer consultant Mark Zucker, was at that same New Jersey town hall meeting. He says it goes beyond his disagreements with the president over policy. “I have a real problem with a leader that outwardly lies, that does not concede the facts. Whether it’s good or bad, we’re adults in this country and we just want the truth, and I don’t think we’re hearing the truth.”
Polls show a deep partisan divide in how the public views Trump.
In Amherst, N.Y., a suburb of Buffalo, Brett Sommer voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson for president. Sommer, who teaches AP-level history at the local high school, is an independent-minded, moderate Republican.
He says he actually likes that Trump does not seem to have a hard-and-fast ideology when it comes to the issues. And even though he didn’t vote for the president, Sommer says he got on board after the election and was ready to give Trump a chance.
That didn’t last.
First, there was Trump’s habit of picking fights, and obsessing over the size of the crowds that attended his inauguration. Then, the personal attacks on opponents via Twitter continued after Trump moved into the White House. After that, Trump continued to hold big campaign-style rallies, where crowds would reprise a favorite campaign chant about Hillary Clinton — “Lock her up!!! Lock her up!!!”
Sommer said the rallies are clearly something Trump enjoys, but “I think he should focus on the governance of this country.”
As for Trump’s tone and unapologetic in-your-face manner, Sommer says there are boundaries involving simple decorum and human decency that Trump flouts. “I’m a teacher. I can’t show up at my job in shorts and swear at the kids. I have to respect the position of authority I have,” he says. That’s how you earn respect, he adds, even if you’re president.
“If you can’t discipline what comes out of your mouth or, in that case, what comes out of your thumbs, to me that’s a very strong indication of how disciplined your mind is,” Sommer says.
Then there’s the Tea Party, another category of Trump supporter. They are loyal. They are committed. But they are also watching the president’s actions closely.
Tom Zawistowski heads a Tea Party group in northeast Ohio, an important corner of an important battleground state. Trump carried Ohio, in large part because he did well in some counties where Democrats typically dominate. Zawistowski lives on a small inland lake in a house that has an actual lighthouse built into the roof. He is a classic Tea Party conservative, but says he actually loves that Trump is not a conservative ideologue. “We know he’s a businessman. We know he’s a pragmatist,” the 61-year-old small business owner says. “That’s actually refreshing to us.”
But voters like Zawistowski also have expectations — that Trump will pursue an agenda to the Tea Party’s liking. That requires vigilance, Zawistowski says. It also means reminding Trump who helped him win.
“We knew he wasn’t a conservative,” says Zawistowski, “so we knew that once he got to Washington we kind of had to be the guardrails on the highway. He’s going to be all over the road. We just need to make sure he doesn’t drive off the road.”
Zawistowski does express some dismay at the way the president attacked the congressional Freedom Caucus on Twitter after that group — unofficially known as the Tea Party caucus — derailed the Obamacare replacement bill backed by House Republican leadership and the White House. Zawistowski says it was a bad bill that was almost as bad as what it was replacing. He and other Ohio activists released an open letter to the president urging that Trump support — not fight — the Tea Party.
“We elected Donald Trump. When I say ‘we,’ I mean the grass-roots, core Tea Party, you know, -type people. We carried the flag. And we believe that earns us a certain amount of import.”
That goes for White House staff as well. When Zawistowski hears that presidential adviser Steve Bannon may be losing out to more moderate voices in the White House — including presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and top economic adviser Gary Cohn, a Democrat who worked on Wall Street — he says that would be a problem.
Tea Party support for the president is strong, he says, but not unconditional.