Trump supporters stand by their man despite rocky start

Reuters News
|
Posted: Feb 28, 2017 10:07 PM

By Letitia Stein

CLEARWATER, Fla. (Reuters) - While U.S. President Donald Trump tried to win over skeptics in Congress, he never had to worry about losing the faithful at the Quaker Steak and Lube.

About two dozen fans of the 45th U.S. president gathered at the bar and restaurant in Clearwater, Florida, still committed to Trump despite the tumult of his first 40 days in office.

They watched the new president's first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday under large-screen TVs that were tuned to Fox News, the president's favored cable news channel, praising both the speech's familiar content and more-deferential-than-usual tone.

"It's just what he said, fix it and fix it for good," said Dean Mears, 58, of Clearwater. "He nailed it. He knocked it out of the park."

Several women attending were pleased to hear Trump open by acknowledging Black History Month and condemn recent threats against Jewish community centers.

"He's being professional, very professional," said Marie King of St. Petersburg, Florida.

The approbation began beforehand, with a rally on the sidewalk outside, as supporters waved signs reading "America First" and "Florida for Trump."

They were mostly greeted by honking horns of approval, but also a few passing drivers who shouted expletives.

Trump, a Republican, won 46 percent of the national popular vote, two percentage points behind Democrat Hillary Clinton but good enough in the state-by-state results that determine the winner in the Electoral College.

Nationally, his approval rating has sagged to a low level for a new president, around 44 percent, according to an average of recent polls by Real Clear Politics. Trump has been shaken by investigations into his campaign's possible ties to Russia, his own misstatements about his levels of support, and a federal court's halt to his executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations.

Those setbacks had little bearing at the Quaker Steak and Lube, a motorcycle- and auto racing-themed establishment that boasts "Best Wings USA."

Clearwater, on the Gulf Coast, sits in Pinellas County in the heart of battleground Florida.

Trump, a part-time Floridian, flipped the results from the last two presidential election in Pinellas County in his favor after former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, carried the county in 2008 and 2012.

Any advantage is crucial in Florida, where the past four statewide elections have been decided by about one percentage point.

Pinellas County forms part of the Interstate 4 highway corridor linking the Tampa and Orlando media markets. Republican Mitt Romney won that corridor by one point over Obama in 2012, but Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in that same stretch by 6 points, according to a study led by Susan MacManus, a professor of government at the University of South Florida.

Known for its miles of sugar sand beaches, the county has long been a retirement destination, especially among those leaving the Midwest.

Speaking just before the address, Ron Sanders, 65, a Baptist pastor living in nearby Seminole, Florida, wanted to hear Trump tackle illegal immigration, which the president did. He also hoped Trump's speech would help to bring in line moderate Republican senators who have been critical of some of his early efforts, which is not yet certain.

"He's sticking to what he said. It's not discouraging Trump at all," said Sanders, wearing a cowboy hat colored like an American flag. "He's going full guns ahead."

Jackie Amadio, who works in healthcare administration and lives in Seminole, has been very pleased with Trump's first weeks and saw no need for him to soften his tone.

Wearing a pink polo shirt and white shorts, she held up an "America First" sign and gave thumbs up at drivers honking in support.

"I don't want sweet words anymore," she said, smacking her hands together. "Tell it like it is."

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)