ORLEANS — Chet Greenwood ticks off a list Donald Trump’s successes.
Corporate earnings are up. The stock market is strong. Consumer confidence is rising. The GDP just hit 3 percent. But, he says, the new president isn’t getting the credit he is due.
“In the papers, it’s hidden on the third page or something,” Greenwood said.
When Trump went to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the media didn’t focus on the substance of what happened during the visit, Greenwood said.
“All they could talk about was Melania’s shoes,” he said.
After the election, Trump supporters told VTDigger they backed the New York businessman because they sought radical political change. About 30 percent of voters in the Northeast Kingdom, a three-county region on the Canadian border, voted for Trump.
Seven months into the real estate mogul’s first term as president, VTDigger interviewed Trump voters in the Kingdom to see if the president has lived up to their expectations.
Trump, they say, is doing a great job. The problem lies with Congress, the political left and the media.
But while Trump’s supporters have dug in, his detractors have, too.
‘He hasn’t been dealt a fair hand’
Sitting in a booth at a restaurant in Orleans, Greenwood, chair of the Orleans County Republican Committee, said interest in politics is up in the Northeast Kingdom.
“As a county chair, I’ve seen more interest in politics now than I have in the last eight or 10 years,” he said.
He recently sent an email to the approximately 400 voters on the county email list. Just one person wrote back to say “I can’t call myself a Republican anymore,” Greenwood said. Meanwhile, he had two new people he didn’t know express interest in being their town’s party chair.
Greenwood attributes the swelling interest to reaction against the previous presidential administration. Many policies under President Barack Obama’s leadership rubbed a lot of conservatives the wrong way, he said. But people were afraid to speak out against the Obama administration, he said.
“If they come out against Obama and his policies, they were labeled racist,” Greenwood said.
Greenwood, who said he voted for Trump in November, is satisfied with the president’s performance since he took office. “He’s done well. He hasn’t been given the credit for some of the things he’s been doing.”
The manager at a large factory in the Northeast Kingdom, Greenwood said he has seen indications that consumers are more confident.
There are some aspects of Trump’s leadership he doesn’t like.
The president has gotten into spats with other Republicans in Washington, like Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker or Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who in July provided a key vote that thwarted Senate passage of an Obamacare repeal measure.
Sometimes Trump tweets and speaks without filter, Greenwood said, and his off-the-cuff remarks can get him into trouble.
Greenwood said Trump could have phrased his remarks differently after the neo-Nazi march and counterprotest in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month.
“He could’ve worded it differently,” he said.
However, Greenwood critiqued the media’s handling of the situation. He argues the media failed to hold protesters on the left accountable.
“The neo-Nazis, they shouldn’t have been doing what they were doing there, but neither should antifa,” he said, using a term for far-left militant activists that have been linked to violence in some protests across the country.
Greenwood blames Democratic leaders for making “harmful” statements after Charlottesville. He cited comments by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who said on MSNBC, “If you want to vote for a racist in the White House, then you better vote for Republicans.”
“They’re not helping the situation by calling all Republicans Nazis or calling them all racist,” Greenwood said.
Other supporters share the view that Trump has done the best he can but has been challenged by circumstances beyond his control.
“He hasn’t been dealt a fair hand, on one side, and yet the other side he bent a few of his own cards,” said Bill Round, sitting on the porch of his Newport home overlooking Lake Memphremagog.
Round, a retired Navy pilot, enthusiastically supports the president. He took a break from late summer yard work splitting firewood and burning brush to reflect on the new president’s record so far.
Round believes the president has made great strides in his first months in office to cut back regulations, particularly environmental ones, that he said had become too burdensome for business.
He also likes that former military leaders are in strong positions in the administration, like Chief of Staff John Kelly. He says Trump’s approach to immigration has boosted morale within the Border Patrol.
Trump has suffered some failures in his first months in office, Round said — most notably on health care.
“He, you know, markets himself as a dealmaker, and because of the personalities in the Republican Party and the obstinance in the Democratic Party he didn’t get anything done, from a health care perspective,” Round said.
However, he lays the blame for the failure to repeal Obamacare not with the White House but on Capitol Hill.
“To me the problem is in Congress, not with President Trump,” Round said. “On both sides of the aisle.”
In Round’s view, Democrats — who are in the minority in both the House and Senate — have been an obstacle to the president’s agenda.
“What has the left done, the Democrats, whatever you want to call them? They’ve been nothing but obstructionists, have they not?” he said.
Round is also not happy with Republican leadership in Congress. “They’re crumbling as well,” he said.
Round wasn’t always a Trump supporter, but he got on board when Trump became the Republican nominee. Asked if he’d vote for Trump again based on the early months in office, Round answered enthusiastically: “Absolutely.”
“He’s there because he made a promise to a collective group of people, and he’s doing his best to try to keep it,” he said.
However, while many Trump supporters said they are pleased with his performance after half a year in office, there are tensions among Vermont Republicans.
‘He is who he is’
Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, who said he did not vote for Trump, said last week he has heard “very mixed reactions” from Northeast Kingdom voters.
“There are some people who believe he has attempted to do what they have wished to see happen, but I would say the vast majority of people that I talk to are totally frustrated,” Benning said.
Benning observed there is a division among Republicans. He hears from many who are unhappy Trump represents the party, he said. Many of those people align more closely with Gov. Phil Scott, he said.
“This neck of the woods tends to be conservative-oriented but not conservative with a capital C,” he said.
One positive aspect of the Trump presidency is that it has forced many urgent issues to the forefront, Benning said, such as the state of health care or the national deficit.
However, Benning remains staunchly opposed to the president on many fronts.
“He literally is somebody we are all supposed to be looking up to,” Benning said. “And when I can’t do that in a president, no matter what party, it troubles me and I just can’t predict what the future brings.”
The governor, who has publicly opposed the president on multiple instances before and after Trump took office, said that in his view, Trump’s term so far has been “as expected.”
“It has been very divisive, and I was looking for more opportunities for him to lead and unite,” Scott said recently.
In speaking with people across the state, Scott has observed that most of those who supported Trump in the election continue to stand behind him.
“They believe that he is the right person at the right time for this, and they think he’s been doing some amazing things for us,” he said.
Scott said he believes there are still opportunities for the president to try to unite the country. Some of the members of Trump’s team are “good people,” he said.
“I continue to hope that he’ll change his approach,” Scott said. “But he is who he is, and we have to accept that.”
Carol Dupont, chair of the Bennington County Republican Party, distributed 1,500 Trump lawn signs ahead of the election.
She recently called people she’d given signs to for an informal survey. Everyone, she said, was still with Trump.
“If they were doing one thing, they were listening to less of the news,” she said.
She believes Trump is criticized more heavily than his predecessor. Obama, she said, got a “fairly easy pass on everything.”
“How so? Because he was black. People were afraid to say anything cause they’d be called racial,” she said.
Dupont said she heard from people who told her they would like to buy a Trump cap but are too afraid to wear it in public. They are afraid to speak up about their views, she said.
Asked if she is afraid to speak up, she responded simply: “No.”