Jamie Klein had no assumptions that President Donald Trump’s first 100 days would be easy.
“I sent him to Washington to kick over the table,” Klein said. “That’s why I sent him there.”
Klein is a 70-year-old delegate from Pennsylvania’s 5th district. He is one of the handful of voters who were crucial to Trump’s victory, pushing him over the finish line — twice.
Those voters, the Pennsylvania delegates, won seats last summer to the Republican convention in Cleveland, where they were unbound to any candidate as part of a zany state electoral system but ultimately cemented Trump’s win at a time when the GOP resistance to him was near a fever pitch.
And in November, they led the charge in the grassroots back in Pennsylvania, working to turn out and raise support for the then-GOP nominee. Perhaps no state was more pivotal to Trump’s shocking electoral victory over Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton than Pennsylvania, a 20-electoral vote state that had not gone red since 1988.
One-hundred days into his presidency, these Keystone State voters still see Trump as their guy. Lack of a big legislative achievement? That’s on House Speaker Paul Ryan. Events that reflect poorly on the president? They’re overhyped by a media that’s out to get him. The controversy involving Russia? Phony and overblown.
There’s plenty of finger pointing for what went down in the early days of the Trump administration, and almost none of it is directed at the president himself. They are thrilled with his appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, love the big show of Trump’s near-daily signing of executive orders, and looking forward to a big tax cut.
“After four years of this, there will be a lot less federal employees,” Klein said. “There will be a lot less debt. There will be a lot more tears. So, I mean, he’s in the swamp. What he needs is a good machete. And he seems to have one, and he’s whacking away at them.”
Trump will return to Pennsylvania on Saturday night for a campaign-style rally on his 100th day in office, speaking to a crowd in Harrisburg far removed from the spectacle of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington, DC, that he refused to attend.
On the Media: ‘They lie’
Klein has stopped watching the news. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing to him.
“They need problems, they are the establishment, and they lie,” he told this Business Insider reporter. “And look, I don’t make them lie. They make them lie.”
Perhaps no battle between Trump and another entity was more pronounced during the first 100 days of his administration than the war he waged against media outlets — many of which he showered with seemingly unprecedented access to the West Wing. Media outlets were “dishonest” and “failing.” At one point, he decried a number of major entities as “the enemy of the American people” and “the opposition party.”
For these Pennsylvania backers, Trump’s anti-media rhetoric hit home. Klein accused reporters of laying “traps” and being “thoroughly dishonest.”
“And I think everyone in the country more or less thinks so,” he said.
A Friday poll from Morning Consult showed he’s far from alone in his sentiment. Slightly more than half of Americans polled said the national political media “is out of touch with everyday Americans,” compared to just 28% who said it understood “the issues everyday Americans are facing.” The Trump administration is also viewed as more trustworthy than the political media by a 37% to 29%.
“Nobody can argue that the media is more of a conservative-leaning entity than a liberal entity,” said Matthew Jansen, a delegate from Pennsylvania’s 4th district.
Carolyn Bonkoski, a delegate from Pennsylvania’s 17th district, said she wishes there would be more content on the evening news that she wanted to see — like, she said, what she sees her friends posting on Facebook.
“We go on Facebook and you see all the wonderful pictures of Trump sitting with people from all around the world,” she said. “World leaders, business leaders, bikers, veterans, they’re all there at the White House. And you see all these pictures of these people and what’s going on, but you don’t see it in your nightly news. There’s just a lot of talking heads doing a lot of talking.”
A fellow delegate from the 17th district, Lynette Villano, said she is “having a hard time” trying to find coverage that she believes provides straight news. Even Fox News, she said, can be a bit much, pointing to the amount of arguing that occurs on cable.
“I am really having a hard time with it, I really am,” she said. “Even Fox News, which I watch most of the time, I get annoyed at the arguing that goes on with the guests they have on the show.”
She said she tries to tune into CNN for “a little bit, and I last about five minutes” because “they’re just so biased.” She said she tunes in to White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s daily briefing to make up her own mind about the issues.
But the biggest problem she said she faces? Following the unheralded amount of news generated by the Trump administration on a daily basis.
It’s difficult to just keep up with.
“The hardest part is knowing what’s going on every day so you know what you’re talking about,” she said. “It’s very difficult. I try to catch the news at night, I try and do it at lunch time. I try and do it when I’m in the car. It’s really hard.”
The AHCA: ‘We needed a check in the win column’
Jansen, the delegate from the 4th district, points the finger squarely at Republican leadership for the biggest failure of Trump’s first 100 days — the inability to pass the American Health Care Act to overhaul the healthcare system under Obamacare.
“Disappointing to see the Republicans not line up behind the White House,” Jansen said. “I thought it was a mistake. I thought they needed to pass it. There were pieces I didn’t care for, certainly not, but get it done. That was a mainstay campaign promise. And to not see the Republicans in Congress get behind the White House, that was a disappointment.”
“We needed a check in the win column,” he added.
The Republican bill, a highly unpopular piece of legislation, was promoted and endorsed by Trump and his White House. But it couldn’t garner enough Republican votes to pass in the House. Infighting among hardline conservatives and more moderate Republicans quashed the plan closely associated with House Speaker Paul Ryan. As a result, Republicans are still trying to get their ducks in a row on the healthcare front.
Congressional Republicans had been promising a repealing and replacement of what is known as Obamacare for virtually the entirety of Barack Obama’s presidency, and Trump had promised an immediate repeal and replace of the landmark healthcare law as soon as he took office.
Ryan, and other Republicans in Congress, were a frequent target of ire of the Trump supporters.
“He’s no help to the Trumps and the people who elected him,” said Bonkoski, of the 17th district. “He’s like working against it. And I think he was doing that while he was there with Obama, so I’m surprised he’s still there. He really has to go.”
Justin DePlato, a delegate from Pennsylvania’s 18th district, placed blame on the “RINOs [Republicans in Name Only]” in Congress, as well as the Freedom Caucus “no brigade.” He tossed in “obstructionist Democrats” for good measure. The three groups “are making governing virtually impossible.”
But Bonkoski also expressed disappointment that Trump stood for the AHCA, a bill she said she and her fellow Keystone State Trump supporters “didn’t like.” She also criticised House Republicans for keeping the legislation “secret for too long,” pointing back at Trump for letting the House leaders “keep it secret.”
“I feel like he should have let them make us know what was in their beforehand and then when we heard what was in it we thought ‘how could he want them to pass this,” she said. “We were disappointed in that.”
Bonkoski, an insurance agent who said Obamacare crushed her business with customers under the age of 65, said she still has faith in Trump’s ability to reform healthcare.
Rick Morelli, a delegate from Pennsylvania’s 11th district, also has faith. But he thinks Trump should be more proactive about working with Democrats on the legislation. And he thinks fixing the law, rather than repealing it, is a swell idea.
Polling shows that Americans overwhelmingly agree with Morelli. An April poll from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found that 62% of voters surveyed said they preferred Congress keep the Affordable Care Act and fix the problems with it. Just 30% of respondents said they would rather have Congress vote to repeal the law and start over with new legislation.
Repeal and replace “to me is just politics,” Morelli said. “‘Ours is better than yours’ and all that. Like I said, I’m not going to say everything Obama did was wrong just because he’s a Democrat. It’s not the right thing. The plan had — he put a lot of people on insurance that didn’t have it, and there are a lot of people who if they were taken off would be hurt. And so, work with it. Take what’s wrong, fix it, and keep what’s right. You know, pull the egos out of it.”
On why Trump didn’t make any effort to court Democratic support on healthcare, Morelli thought “maybe he miscalculated.”
But Morelli also bashed Ryan and the conservative Freedom Caucus for the failure.
“Trump won for a reason, he spoke on a lot of things that got people interested,” he said. “You can’t ignore that. … These guys have to open their eyes and say ‘things are changing.’ And I think the majority of people are in the middle, even though they may be registered Democrat or Republican, they really are in the middle. … Those right-side Republicans are as bad as the left-side liberals in my opinion.”
With Republicans holding majorities in the House and Senate, and controlling the White House, there are no excuses for Morelli: “You’ve got to get things done.”
Russia: ‘The biggest horse’s laugh I’ve ever heard’
Klein, of the 5th district, called the Russia-related cloud hovering over the Trump administration the “biggest horse’s laugh I’ve ever heard.”
“The Russians are trying to take, what, over our elections? Russians aren’t trying to take over our elections,” he said.
It’s been perhaps the most pervasive story throughout all of Trump’s first 100 days, grabbing headlines on an almost daily basis. The biggest casualty of the ordeal was Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, ousted after 24 days for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his communications with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak prior to Trump’s inauguration. Now, Flynn has asked for immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony.
And in early March, FBI Director James Comey made a highly unusual announcement before the House Intelligence Committee in March that the bureau was looking into possible collusion between Trump associates and Russian government officials in an attempt to swing the November election in his favour.
Trump’s supporters firmly believe the story is being perpetuated to heights that is simply not backed up by evidence. A March poll from PPP found that voters are split on whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians to swing the election.
“I absolutely, positively, do not think for one minute that Russia had anything to do with us voting for Trump,” said Villano, of the 17th district. “I don’t know of anybody that was influenced. I just think it’s, people looking for a story because they didn’t want to lose. I can’t even go there.”
She pointed to the story pushed by Trump in response to the Russia-related cloud of controversy: that the Obama administration may have nefariously surveilled him or members of his campaign. Reports showed that members of the Trump orbit were captured on legally obtained FISA warrants of foreign officials communications, and the decision to “unmask” those in Trump’s orbit set off a controversy, though it did not appear that any laws were broken.
“I’m more concerned with this, if there was, this surveillance and they picked up Americans and these people were exposed,” Villano said. “That is illegal. So I’m more upset about that.”
She said what she perceived as a partisan push behind the story has diminished its validity.
“You have to consider the source it’s coming from,” she said. “A lot of the time when this stuff is coming from the Democrats, it’s just so partisan. And even with a lot of the news media, with a lot of the stuff that would go on before the election, they would not write about anything, because they didn’t understand what the American people want, what the voters want.”
“Most people I know, they don’t talk about Russia,” she continued. “They talk about jobs, they talk about the economy, they talk about keeping their kids healthy, about getting healthcare. The main reasons we supported Trump are the main reasons we are still with him.”
Morelli, of the 11th district, expressed a similar sentiment, summing up his thoughts on the ordeal succinctly.
“I’m so sick of the Russian issue,” he said. “Not saying it shouldn’t be looked at, but I think it’s overkill.”
Advice: ‘You can’t fight every battle’
While overwhelmingly pleased with the early months of Trump’s presidency, the delegates had some pieces of advice.
Morelli said Trump “shines when he’s focusing on the issues,” so he should try to get a better handle on the “difference between campaigning and the presidency” and not “get bogged down with things that aren’t as important.
He pointed to the tweets where Trump baselessly accused Obama of wiretapping him in Trump Tower prior to inauguration. Trump did not provide any proof to back it up, and the administration spent weeks investing political capital in trying to prove Trump right.
“Whatever the case may be, those things aren’t important to the big picture, which is what I think most people are looking at,” Morelli said. “So don’t get bogged down on the tiny things, don’t get bogged down on the handful of things people say, you can’t fight every battle.”
DePlato, of the 18th district, said Trump could do a better job clarifying his foreign-policy agenda and putting more of a focus on comprehensive immigration reform. He added that he’d be pleased to see Trump spend more time outside of Washington and more time “out and about with the folks.”
“He should spend more time opening up DC to maths and science competitions and should spend time in America’s inner cities,” he said.
Jansen’s advice was simple: Focus on jobs — that’s what every president is judged on.
“If jobs, the economy strengthens, jobs come back and people are working, yes, he will bridge the gap and make friends,” he said. “Because that’s the one thing in every administration that everyone relies on as the barometer of is this a successful presidency or not. It’s ‘is there a robust economy or a weakened economy?'”
He added that if Trump decides to start doing some serious reversals on hallmark campaign promises, “those hordes of people that went to those rallies and chanted ‘lock her up’ and ‘build that wall’ and stuff are going to know about it loud and clear.”
“They’re paying attention to it,” Jansen said of Trump’s followers. “There are people who were not involved in politics before who all of a sudden are. And they’re going to be paying attention. His backers are alerted to this.”
Opposition: ‘It really upsets me’
The opposition to Trump from the left has maintained strength during his first 100 days. Starting with the massive Women’s March, sustained protests, and Trump’s low approval ratings, the backlash has provided Democrats with little reason to work with the president.
The divisiveness in the country is what Villano, of the 17th district, called her “biggest disappointment.”
“The hate that goes on,” she said. “The people who will not accept him as their president. I just can’t get past it. I grew up in a society where we had a legal election, and these people who want to deny it — I feel bad for our young people, for what they’re being taught. It really upsets me.”
Bonkoski pointed to some of the more violent protests, involving masked “anti-fascist” demonstrators. She said it causes her to be concerned for both Trump’s safety and the safety of other people.
She called the “antifa” protestors “paid mercenaries.”
“They’re being paid, many of them, to protest,” she said, making a claim that Trump and many in the conservative media have made. “To go against it and block the streets and hit people and cover their faces, that’s insane.”
She referenced the Tea Party protests of the early part of the decade, and the annual “March for Life” as examples of conservatives who protested without resorting to using physical violence.
“If you want to protest, I mean, Tea Party people didn’t cover their faces,” she said. “Protesters for pro-life, they’re peaceful, their faces are open.”
Klein said the early days of the Trump administration have been clouded by what he considers to be “Trump derangement syndrome” from the president’s opponents.
He views the situation as more of an us vs. them. The “us” being middle America, the “them” being the “Beltway.”
“I have relatives and they all live in the Beltway,” he said. “My wife’s relatives. And they think things really are great. Because for them, it is. But you know, for the country, it’s not. Business is down. Way down. And we lie about it. And it doesn’t help anybody to lie about it. What helps is, getting somebody big enough, tough enough, and dumb enough to jump into the swamp with an axe and start hitting alligators on their heads.”
“I don’t think the people in the beltway are even American,” he added. “I think they’re sort of, you know, a political complex. All sold on their humanity. We’re the humans. Or they’re the purists. They’re politicians and media people. And they feed on each other. When Donald says he’s going to drain the swamp, when the president says he’s going to drain the swamp, it doesn’t make the alligators happy.”
‘We love it that he tweets’
Without a major piece of legislation passed within the first 100 days, Trump’s supporters pointed to a other bits from his entry into Washington, DC, as the accomplishments they appreciated from the man the voted into office.
One surprising area: his Twitter account. Trump has inflicted weeks’ worth of headaches upon himself with tweets that have dominated headlines at ill-opportune times, such as when he accused Obama of wiretapping his phones. But to his supporters, it’s a direct window into the president’s thinking. No filter needed.
“We love it that he tweets, because he keeps us informed,” Bonkoski said.
DePlato went as far to say Trump’s Twitter use is “revolutionising the way presidents communicate with” constituents, calling it “very effective.”
Noting that the tweets have been a point of contention for some, Jansen said that he “loves the Twitter activity.”
And, there’s no filter needed.
“I think it’s hilarious,” he said. “I didn’t have to pick up a newspaper or turn on the television, it was right there on my nightstand.”
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