For some Trump voters in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, their new president has already done more than Obama – but others have had enough
By The Guardian / April 25, 2017
Tax reform needs to happen now.
Neil Gorsuch is gold.
Keep giving the media hell.
Keep showing evil dictators who’s boss.
Try again on healthcare.
And don’t forget the tax cuts.
Those are some of the messages Donald Trump voters had for the president as the 100-day mile marker of his presidency approached, in a politically centrist county where the Guardian has been tracking Trump support since before the inauguration.
Backing for the president in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, a former industrial juggernaut which voted for Barack Obama twice before falling for Trump in 2016, appeared to be healthy, three months in. Both Democrats and Republicans who voted for Trump gave him positive marks – a B-plus or A-minus – although many supporters said the clock is ticking for the president to deliver on tax reform and other promises.
“The people who were for Trump and who supported him and voted for him are still 100% behind him,” said John Morganelli, the Democratic county district attorney who has been re-elected six times (and who declined to say whom he voted for last November). “So I think if the election was held again today, in Northampton County there’s a good chance that Trump would carry this county again. And it might be slightly closer, but I think that he would probably do well.”
Northampton was not supposed to jump for Trump in 2016. The Hillary Clinton campaign was so confident of victory here that it moved local operatives out of state, to North Carolina and elsewhere, in the run-up to the election.
But Trump’s promise to make America great again found unexpected traction in Northampton, among Democratic voters who remembered the heyday of Bethlehem steel, once a local symbol of national strength, or who sensed, they say, that Clinton did not truly care about their lives and challenges.
Trump won here by four points. To hear many voters in Northampton tell it, he would do the same tomorrow.
“It’s only 100 days,” said Christy Facciponti, 54, a former engineer at Bethlehem Steel, who was flying a Trump flag outside her home in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, last week. “Please, give him a second. He’s already done more than Obama ever did.”
Joe D’Ambrosio, a barber in Bethlehem who changed his party registration from Democratic in 2016 to vote for Trump in the primary, praised the president’s conduct of foreign policy, especially his showdown with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
“Trump tells the strongest guys in town, if you want to mess with him, he’ll mess with you,” D’Ambrosio said. “And the little fat boy over there, I think he’s putting a set of manners on him.”
Bruce Haines, a Republican former steel executive who runs the Historic Hotel Bethlehem, praised Trump’s installation of Neil Gorsuch on the supreme court and said support for the president in the business community was robust.
“The divisions are as strong as they were on election night,” Haines said. “The Trump people are just as supportive of Trump as they were on election night, and the anti-Trump voters are probably stronger against – there isn’t anything that guy’s going to do to get the Hillary voters. They’re just not going to accept anything.”
But even Trump’s strongest supporters say the clock is ticking for the president to sign major legislation in multiple areas, no matter how out to lunch Congress may be.
“Goodness sakes alive, Republicans have run on tax reform as long as I can remember, and we don’t seem to get it,” said Lee Snover, a Republican activist who is a kind of Patient Zero for Trump support in Northampton. “I mean I’ve got a Republican House, and a Republican Senate and a Republican president, and I still don’t have lower taxes? So I’m really having a difficult time internalizing that, coming to grips with that and accepting that. I really am.
“They need to get it done.”
‘I’m not interested any more’
As the dogwoods and magnolias bloomed and lawnmowers came out across Northampton county, interviews with Trump voters did reveal some pockets of discontent with the president, especially among people who said they had backed him on an impulse, or who had expected him to do more, sooner.
Marie Claire Placide is a two-time Obama voter whose dress shop in Bangor, in the north of the county, is going out of business. She voted for Trump, she said, “because I know he’s a businessman, and, you know, he used to be a Democrat”.
“So I chose him,” Placide said. “I even had some Democrat friends angry – ‘Why were you voting for Trump?’ I said it’s a free country. I vote for who I want.”
The Guardian asked Placide, who was naturalized as an American citizen in 1990 and who works an evening shift for a nursing agency to put her two children through college, whether she thought Trump had made America great again.
“No, I don’t,” she said, with a dismissive headshake.
“I don’t watch the news any more,” Placide continued. “I’m not interested any more. After the election, I didn’t watch the news.”
Around the corner from Placide’s soon-to-be-shuttered shop sits Miller’s Paint and Wallpaper, a local mainstay since 1923. Duane Miller, the 79-year-old owner and a Democrat, was mayor of Bangor from 1974 to 1990.
“As a very last-minute voter, I voted for Trump,” Miller said. “My first reaction was that Hillary would be the president and was unbeatable, you know, and there would be no problem. Having said that, my customers here, I was extremely surprised to find how many voted for Donald Trump. And it was almost as a protest.
“It’s the disillusionment of the common man with government, because government has done nothing to help the average working man.”
Miller said that he had detected a provisional fall-off in enthusiasm for Trump around town, and he said that if the election were held in Bangor tomorrow, there was a chance Trump might lose.
“There’s been a change, but how much I’m not sure,” Miller said. “In other words, people are saying, well, ‘I don’t agree with Trump that he did this, or I don’t agree with that.’ But not to a big factor. The factor is, ‘I voted for Trump, but I’m not sure I should have,’ would be the best way to say it.”
Melissa Hough runs the Slate Belt Heritage Center in Bangor, which showcases the region’s once-thriving slate quarries and the historic immigration flows that shaped its diverse labor pool.
As the 100-day mark approached, Hough said: “I think the support remains.”
“The economy improved elsewhere,” she said. “It didn’t improve here, so I think a lot of people blamed the government, because that’s what they heard on TV, and they do not blame the factors closest to them – like the companies they worked for, the corporations.”
Miller said voters had noticed that Trump has not repealed Obama’s healthcare law, has not started construction on a border wall and has not enacted tax reform.
On health reform, Miller says, “he promised a promise he can’t keep”. “And other things he promised, he can’t keep. So how will that come out in the long run? If it continues that he can’t keep these promises, or some of them, then we won’t have a Republican president next time.
“If he can’t produce, then he’ll be as bad as Hillary.”
‘Finally someone with balls’
Back down south, in Bethlehem, D’Ambrosio, the barber, pointed out a bumper sticker someone had left on his car, which already had a Trump sticker. The anonymously gifted sticker read: “Trump 2016: Finally someone with balls!”
“I think my customers, they’re all behind him,” D’Ambrosio said.
“I knew you were coming, so I did a little survey this week. And I said to everybody, ‘This guy’s gonna come from the Guardian, and is gonna ask these questions.’ I said, ‘What do you want me to tell him?’
“Everybody said they gave him a B-plus.”
D’Ambrosio said that some customers faulted Trump for using Twitter too much, but the reception for his cabinet appointments, his leadership style and particularly for his military actions had been “very positive”.
“He jumped in polls,” the barber said. “Why did he jump in polls? Because he showed strength. And listened to the people he put in charge. ‘Cause hell, he’s no general.
“He doesn’t have to know everything about everything, because you know, he doesn’t walk on water. But as long as he’s a good administrator, and he picks good people, and he works with them, that’s what we want.”
Snover, the Republican activist, said people took confidence from what they perceived as Trump’s projection of power.
“I think the people have a lot more confidence in America,” Snover said. “They’re losing fear and they’re gaining courage, especially from the military positions he’s taken. His overall theme, that we’re powerful, has made Americans feel encouraged – they feel confident. I think he’s brought on that feeling.”
Haines, the hotel owner, said he gave Trump an A-minus on the strength of the Gorsuch appointment to the supreme court, but added that the president needed to reach across the aisle to close deals on healthcare reform and tax cuts.
“I don’t really have a strike against him,” Haines said. “I would encourage him to try and find some moderate Democrats that he can schmooze.”
Snover said that, for now, Congress was catching the blame for whatever was not getting done.
“A lot of people, people in the party, are not blaming Trump for anything that’s not been accomplished,” she said. “They’re blaming Congress, including the Republicans, because they’ve been there longer and they’ve always been the problem.”
‘The media just hates him’
Facciponti, the Nazareth resident flying a Trump flag, sat down for a chat on her porch swing.
“We put it back up for the inauguration and kept it up,” she said of the flag. If the election were held again today, she said, “I think he’d win by more.”
A conversation about possible areas where Trump had fallen short quickly turned to what Facciponti said were the media’s efforts to tear down the president.
“The media just hates him,” she said. “It’s really sad. If the mainstream media would give him one-tenth of the chance they gave Obama, he would be so loved. It’s just sad that people – the Never Trumpers – that people are that stubborn.”
Larry Hallett, the owner of a restaurant and paving company outside Bangor, also thought that Trump’s good intentions and efforts to compromise had been undercut by antagonists in the media and the Washington establishment.
“I think he’s trying actually, I think he’s sincerely trying to get everybody together and try to use them all, but they’re making it very difficult for him. I really do,” said Hallett.
“I think if the Democrats came up with something that was a very good decision, I think he would try everything, no matter how much it takes. The man I seem to know there would cherish all of them.”
Morganelli, the district attorney, said “a lot of people” agreed with that assessment.
“Everywhere I go, restaurants, I bump into folks, sometimes just in casual conversation,” he said. “It’s anecdotal evidence, but, ‘What do you think of Trump?’
“And over and over again, the people who voted for him say ‘Hey, I voted for him, I’m still thinking what he’s doing is right.’
“There are a lot of people who agree that the media overall has been tough on him, maybe perhaps tougher than they have on other presidents.”
D’Ambrosio saw Trump’s clashes with the media as a sign of his tactical canniness.
“I think his big thing is unpredictability, and that’s the best thing that you could do. And that comes from negotiating,” D’Ambrosio said.
“He throws the bait out with these tweets, and lets people chew on it. He knows what he’s going to do, he wasn’t born yesterday. He actually plays the game, and I think the press doesn’t know it, and they take the bait all the time.
“They really take the bait.”
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