By Hastings Wyman –
In the face of an unprecedented onslaught of negative publicity, President Donald Trump is still in good shape in the South, due primarily to the loyalty of those who put him in office. Indeed, it is the news media that is taking the brunt of criticism from Trump supporters. Interviews with political observers in three key Southern states – Florida, Georgia and North Carolina – indicate that although Trump has not improved his support among voters at large, his supporters from last year are still committed to him.
Longtime Florida pollster Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research says Trump’s “numbers in Florida weren’t that good before the election. His favorable rating was in the low to mid 40s, good enough to get elected. They are the same now as before the election.”
Dick Williams, host of the Georgia Gang weekly television show, says “Some polling showed that 94% of Trump voters said they wouldn’t change their vote. I guess that is even stronger in the South… I don’t think Trump admirers have changed much. They are still on board.”
Jason Husser, director of the Elon University Poll, says, “Our poll in late April showed Trump with a 42% approval rating to 42% disapproval. That’s not good for so early in his presidency, but his base core of supporters remains very loyal to him.” He notes that Trump’s approval rating among North Carolina Republicans is 88%, to only 6% who disapprove. A Tar Heel reporter says Trump “still has a pretty strong base around here, which I see in emails and letters to the editor, etc.”
In response to the continual negative stories about Trump in such media outlets as CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times, Republicans in the South, who have never much liked the media anyway, are now vehement in their distrust of national news sources. “Conservatives have always distrusted the media,” says Williams; “Now it’s turned into blind hatred.” Says Barney Bishop, Tallahassee-based political analyst, “The media tries to make something out of nothing, which reinforces their belief that [Trump] is doing what they elected him to do.” He notes a recent Harvard poll that found that – nationwide – 65% said the media makes fake news; 80% of Republicans felt that way. “It’s got to be stronger in the South.” Chuck Clay, former state GOP chairman, now with Nelson Mullins law firm, says “There’s intensified opposition to the media. They are single-handedly giving Trump the lifeline he needs. His media critics are so over the top they’re helping him.”
Would these three Southern states, so crucial to Trump’s election last, support him again?
Florida: “He’s still very strong in Florida. People who voted for him because they wanted him to shake things up in Washington believe that’s what he’s doing,” says Bishop. “I haven’t met anyone who said, ‘Boy, I wish I’d voted for Hillary,” says pollster Coker.
“People are probably not happy because they want more accomplished, which hurts him more than anything, that nothing’s getting done.” Coker adds, “They support his Supreme Court pick.” Noting that Trump’s Southern White House is in Palm Beach helps him in South Florida, a GOP operative says, “I haven’t seen any evidence he’s slipping any with his supporters. People who were with him are still with him.”
Georgia: “I don’t think Trump’s support in the South has lessened,” says Georgia Gang host Williams. Former GOP chair Clay says, “Russia probably hurts, but there’s no substantive erosion that would put Trump’s reelection in jeopardy at this point. Among blue collar and Tea Party folks, I haven’t seen any movement against Trump”
When it comes to the June 20 special election in the 6th District, however, observers are more doubtful of post-Trump Republican strength. “Georgia 6 is a mother lode of Republicans, one of the most Republican districts in the nation, with a high percentage of college graduates,” says Williams. “Trump only carried it by one point. It’s the kind of district where traditional Republicans kind of held their nose and averted their gaze and voted for Trump.” Williams adds, “Republican women are moderate and affluent. They didn’t like the sex tape and suggestive ‘guy talk’… I’ve heard men say, ‘I stuck with Trump, but my wife didn’t.’”
And even in Georgia, Trump has his detractors. Clay notes that Democrats and others “who hated Trump still hate him… Five to eight percent, the kind of swing moderate Republican types, especially in the 6th District, are put off by Trump’s behavior.” Clay adds, “The problem in the 6th District, if there’s a 4% or 5% erosion [of Republican support] in this election, there could be a swing.” (Note that the latest polls in the district show Democrat Jon Ossoff leading Republican Karen Handel, if only by a few points.) Concludes GOPer Clay, Trump needs to “come back from his trip and maybe get some discipline among his staff, and get to the bottom of the leaks and fire some people.”
North Carolina: Although Trump’s base continues to be loyal to him, the President is not out of the woods in the Tar Heel State. Elon pollster Husser says that 39% say President Trump is performing better than President Obama, but 49% say worse. “That’s not terrible, but it should be better in a state like North Carolina, which is pretty favorable to Republicans.” He also notes that Trump “is down 16 points among independents. Says the reporter, Trump’s “popularity is down in North Carolina… People are tired of the drama, for sure.” He adds, “He did well in the Republican suburbs, but those are the folks he may be losing.”
The bottom line, Trump is still strong with the folks who elected him, which means he would carry, or at least be competitive, in these key states in 2020 – and may not be a significant drag on Republican congressional candidates in 2018. Georgia 6 may be an exception. In addition, the folks who voted for Hillary Clinton hate Trump as much or more than they did. And Trump’s supporters hate the media big time. Stay tuned.