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In Ohio, Trump Loyalists Reflect On His First 100 Days


Ohio was key to President Trump's victory in November. He succeeded in flipping 10 counties that had gone for President Obama four years earlier. NPR's Don Gonyea recently went back to Ohio to check in on Trump supporters as their candidate nears his 100th day in office. They're still loyal but expect to see some results.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Two days after the election, I walked into the Top Notch Diner in Trumbull County, Ohio, and found a group of regulars talking politics, all Trump supporters - among them, 64-year-old Gary Frederick, who owns the diner. He expected the Trump victory to lead to the quick demise of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. That didn't happen, but he doesn't blame Trump.

GARY FREDERICK: Well, that...

GONYEA: What was your take on that?

FREDERICK: That's more of Congress, not Trump's doing.

GONYEA: Recently I went back to the diner where Frederick says he still sees Trump as making good progress.

FREDERICK: Trump's a businessman. He knows what has to be done to make things right, and he's already making it happen. The trade policies - bringing all them, like, China, Japan - all them people in, and he's sitting down with them.

GONYEA: But Trump has already reversed some big campaign promises on trade. This week he told Canada and Mexico he won't be tearing up NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. And he's decided not to label China a currency manipulator. Frederick's take on that...

FREDERICK: I think there's a backdoor going on there. And Trump don't lay his cards on the table for everybody to see.

GONYEA: It's breakfast time at the Top Notch Diner, and the regulars are gathering like they do most mornings.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Two eggs, toast, home fries and meat for 3.95.

GONYEA: The topic of China comes up. 79-year-old Dave Cover, a former truck driver, says it's evidence of Trump adapting to the job. Trump needs China, he says, because he needs help with North Korea.

DAVE COVER: He's come to the conclusion that he has to deal with China 'cause that's the only effective ally that's got any control over basically an uncontrollable entity over there. And he's decided, in my opinion, we've got to make hay with China because of North Korea.

GONYEA: Seated next to Cover is Doyle Smithson, a retired firefighter. He rejects the notion that it's anywhere near time to pass judgment on the president.

DOYLE SMITHSON: What does the first hundred days have to do with it? He's elected for four years.

GONYEA: Tell him the president himself has touted a successful 100 days, and Smithson says, again...

SMITHSON: He's got four years.

GONYEA: Now to another northeast Ohio town - Strongsville, a suburb of Cleveland - and to Jane Porter. She's a Tea Party member.

JANE PORTER: Well, I think that he has very good intentions, and I think that he wants to do the things that he promised.

GONYEA: If she sounds just a bit lacking in enthusiasm, she says that's not so and offers an alternative reality.

PORTER: What I would say is, I could be doing an interview with you today - you know, if Hillary were in, it would be, you know, pretty much everything that we fear upon us.

GONYEA: Porter has high expectations for what Trump and a GOP-controlled Congress should do. Trump has won praise from conservatives for naming Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. But Porter says there's no real certainty yet how he will vote on the issue most important to her, abortion. And she says a new law allowing states to withhold federal funding for Planned Parenthood is not enough.

PORTER: If he thinks that allowing the states to defund Planned Parenthood is going to, you know, appease us - no.

GONYEA: Now to a small lake not far from Akron, Ohio.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Oh, come on (laughter).

TOM ZAWISTOWSKI: Yeah, come on up the spiral staircase. This spiral staircase was made in my home town of Erie, Pa., and I...

GONYEA: Northeast Ohio Tea Party leader Tom Zawistowski lives in a house that has a lighthouse attached. He likes that Trump is a businessman and a pragmatist, but he also acknowledges that means the Tea Party needs to be vigilant.

ZAWISTOWSKI: We knew he wasn't a conservative, so we knew that once he got to Washington, we kind of had to be the guard rails on the highway, OK? He's going to be all over the road. We just need to make sure he doesn't drive off the road.

GONYEA: Here's an example of that. When Trump tweeted attacks on the Freedom Caucus after that group derailed the Obamacare replacement, Zawistowski wrote an open letter to the president, reminding him that the Tea Party helped him get elected.

ZAWISTOWSKI: We're good at keeping score, you know? We've had to do this.

GONYEA: Again, he's still a strong supporter, but it's not unconditional.

ZAWISTOWSKI: He likes to be liked. He likes to be loved, OK? Well, you know, there's a - that's a two-way street. You know, show us some love, too.

GONYEA: So close to the 100-day mark of the Trump presidency - support from his voters, but it's an ongoing relationship and one that will be tested. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Akron, Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.

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