Melinda Henneberger

Trump’s Missouri supporters weigh in on Trump: It’s complicated

Stephanie Waldron, who works for a nonprofit, buys her second Trump flag and third T-shirt from Virginia vendor Whitey Taylor in Springfield, Mo.
Stephanie Waldron, who works for a nonprofit, buys her second Trump flag and third T-shirt from Virginia vendor Whitey Taylor in Springfield, Mo. The Kansas City Star

Like a lot of the strong Donald Trump supporters stocking up on MAGA T-shirts and hats ahead of the president’s Wednesday visit here, the first thing Angela Fair — “as in county fair” — says about her president is a caveat: “He’s still learning. And he does need to learn tact,” she says, laughing.

As a single mother and a caseworker, she says she wants to see Medicaid expanded rather than cut. But? “But it’s refreshing to see someone who isn’t politically correct.”

Even now, that’s the top plaudit for the president that I heard from his stalwarts here in deep red southwestern Missouri’s self-described “queen city of the Ozarks,” site of a shootout between Wild Bill Hickok and Davis Tutt, where Civil War battles were fought and most African-Americans moved away after three jailed black men were lynched by a mob at the turn of the last century.

“He doesn’t take anybody’s crap,” said Deborah Bolding, who described herself as retired and a grandma.

“First and foremost, I appreciate his bluntness,” said Janis Wren, a military mom who says Trump reminds her of “Harry Truman in the day,” even if he hasn’t in her view been able to get around those “lazy” members of Congress who are keeping him from accomplishing more “in the suckiest job on the planet.”

About half of the Trump voters I talked to said they had seen real results already: “Everywhere you go, there’s road construction and ‘help wanted’ signs,” said truck driver Roger Crawford, 41, who was wearing a shirt that said, “The 2nd amendment is my gun permit.”

Crawford, who profusely apologized to the homeless man who approached him for a handout, saying he didn’t have any change on him but could come back, was in the exterior wood refinishing business in Colorado. Until, he says, he was put out of business by those who used undocumented workers and so could do the work for less.

Several fans of the president also said they love that so many in the media seem not to feel likewise: ABC reporter “Martha Raddatz cried the night he was elected,” said Chad Morgan. “On the air!”

But if you see Trump supporters as almost uniformly uncritical or unconflicted, look again.

“I’m still 50-50 on him,” says a man looking in vain for a Trump T-shirt that mentions the NRA. That’s in part because “I know he’s a loose cannon,” and because the man doesn’t see the utility of a border wall to keep out immigrants who do work Americans won’t: “It’s not like they’re taking jobs away from people.”

But he does like the president’s full-throated support for the military. And the man, who doesn’t want his name published because he works for the federal government, says “I think he’s doing pretty good in comparison to the last president.”

In fact, one of the most common complaints from those who support Trump is that he should be doing more to see Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama prosecuted and jailed.

What exactly would Obama be prosecuted for, I asked Jeff Mason, who operates heavy equipment. “Look at his presidency!” he said. “Bottom line, the guy’s a criminal.”

Morgan, a former real estate appraiser who hates that the president isn’t shown more respect, said he’s one conservative who couldn’t bring himself to vote for either Clinton or Trump “because of all the female stuff he was going through” after his comments about grabbing women by their genitals came out.

Though he does support the president now, “I’m not both feet in,” especially because “it’s pretty obvious he doesn’t have supervisory skills. Rex Tillerson ran a major corporation and can get along with anybody, and he can’t get along with him?”

Yet Morgan, who at 61 is back in college, said he does have to give the president credit for trying to do what he said he would do. For instance? “Being a stick in everyone’s side.” Sometimes, even his.