NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump’s loyal backers say they don’t know, don’t believe or don’t care about the explosive revelations that forced the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate possible collusion between Russia and the Republican campaign.
From the quiet streets of New York’s working-class Staten Island to small-town Denison, Iowa, and even smaller Rutledge, Georgia, Trump may be as popular today as when he was elected. Voters are standing with a president who tweeted on Thursday that he is the target of “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”
The tumult that began last week with the firing of FBI Director James Comey has consumed Washington, roiling the White House and putting congressional Republicans on the defensive.
Not so in Trump strongholds.
“I tuned it out,” said 44-year-old Michele Velardi, a mother of three sons, during a break from her job at a Staten Island hair salon. “I didn’t want to be depressed. I don’t want to feel that he’s not doing what he said, so I just choose to not listen.”
A few blocks away, die-hard Trump supporter Joseph Amodeo, 19, incorrectly praised the president for raising New York’s minimum wage, something enacted by Democrats in the Legislature. The college student had little understanding of the Trump administration’s deepening political struggles, but he offered a stern message to Trump’s critics.
“If you’re wishing for him to fail, you’re basically wishing for the pilot of the plane to crash,” Amodeo said. “You just gotta stick by him and hopefully he does things that benefit everyone.”
Such support isn’t necessarily representative of voters nationwide.
A Quinnipiac University poll showed that 61 percent of those in the United States believe Trump is dishonest. Wall Street soured on the new administration — for a day at least — as the stock market on Wednesday had its worst day of the Trump presidency. And in Washington, some Democrats raised the prospect of impeachment amid reports that Trump asked Comey to end the investigation of Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Yet there was little evidence of significant cracks among Trump’s most passionate supporters.
In Denison, Iowa, 60-year-old Mark Feller said he would support Trump’s 2020 re-election without question, despite concerns over what Feller described as chaos in the Oval Office. The furniture dealer doesn’t believe reports that the president asked Comey to back off his investigation before firing him.
“If it were true, it would bother me. But I don’t think it’s true,” Feller said.
In a rural area outside Des Moines, Iowa, John Strathman said he would give Trump a passing, albeit unimpressive, grade at the four-month mark in his presidency. He would like see Trump become “more polished at the art of politics.” But the 65-year-old retired Defense Department employee’s decision on whether to continue supporting Trump has little to do with the Russia scandal riling Washington.
He wants to see Trump follow through on his conservative policy promises.
“If he doesn’t govern like a conservative and looks more like a Democrat, then I’ll have to re-evaluate,” Strathman said.
In Rutledge, Georgia, a town of about 800 people in a county that gave Trump nearly 70 percent of the vote, Doug Foy suggested Trump shouldn’t presume the support is unshakable, even if he’s not turning his back on the president yet. In particular, Foy, 53, who runs a tree removal service, would be concerned if Trump pressured Comey to drop the investigation.
“I’m not a politician, so I don’t know just what they should do,” he said. “I don’t know if they should pursue impeachment or anything like that.”
But his son, 27-year-old Robbie Foy, said he hasn’t paid close attention to the news in recent days. He’s not backing off his initial reasons for supporting the president. Chief among them: his sustained disdain for Trump’s opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“Trump’s not in it for the money. He’s got plenty of money,” the younger Foy said. Clinton, he added, “was in it for herself.”
For many of the Trump faithful, even six months from the 2016 election, their fierce opposition to Clinton remains fresh. Trump isn’t perfect, they say, but he’s far better than what the alternative would have been.
The attitude was prevalent on the streets of Staten Island, where Trump beat Clinton last fall by nearly 17 percentage points. That’s even as Clinton defeated Trump in the state of New York by 22 points.
State Assemblyman Ron Castorina, who represents Staten Island, refers to his community as “Trump Country.” He blamed Trump’s problems on what he calls irresponsible media coverage that’s “damaging the country as a whole.”
Trump supporters like him, he says, aren’t giving up on their president.
“Not only have I not heard of anyone turning their backs, I’ve seen people become more in solidarity with the president because they feel he’s getting a raw deal,” Castorina said.
Indeed, inside Staten Island’s Cabinet Plant, store co-owner Paul Lopa, 41, said there’s “nothing right now big enough” that could shake his support in Trump.
“I think he’s going more and more into the right direction,” Lopa said.
Down the street, Andrew Ottrando, a 56-year-old truck driver, said, “The Comey stuff is a joke.”
Could anything persuade him to abandon Trump?
“If he gases his own people, yeah I would be against him,” Ottrando said, saying afterward that he was only joking.