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In Iowa, Many Republicans Stand By Trump Despite Recent Missteps


With Congress in recess and the president on vacation, we sent NPR's Don Gonyea out on the road to check in with voters, and he found many President Trump loyalists holding firm in their support. Others are wavering, and some folks who were once Trump supporters are disappointed. Don joins us now from Des Moines, where he's been talking to people at, yes, the opening day of the Iowa State Fair. Hey there, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hey. Greetings.

CORNISH: So national polls show disapproval of President Trump at record levels for at least this stage of a presidency, and that support comes from Republicans. So is that what you're hearing on the ground?

GONYEA: Yes. Polling in Iowa really does reflect what we've seen in those national polls as well. There's the Des Moines Register poll where there's a steep decline in support that's due in large part to a big drop among independents who once supported the president. But when you talk to Republicans who voted for him, for the most part, you hear a lot of what I heard from 53-year-old Doug Schwebke. Now, he's an IT worker who makes extra cash parking cars on his lawn during the fair. We talked in his front yard.

DOUG SCHWEBKE: I support him still. He's doing everything he says he'd do. He's definitely a common-man president.

GONYEA: And here what else Schwebke says. He supports the president's tough talk this past week on Korea. He says Korea - North Korea can't be allowed to develop nuclear capability, he said. But he also calls it a very scary situation. And then he adds that he wishes there were a lot less drama coming out of this White House on foreign policy but also on other topics. Give a listen.

SCHWEBKE: It's definitely different to what we're used to. Is it a bad thing? It stirs the pot, but I've never been a believer that drama's real constructive.

CORNISH: Don, at the fairgrounds, I know it's not election season (laughter) just yet, but what are people talking about when it comes to politics?

GONYEA: No candidates coming through this year, which is a break for people. Look; Bruce Kenny is a 66-year-old farmer I talked to. He was here with his wife. They own one of those centennial farms, farms that have been in the same family for a hundred years. He says he voted for and is still pleased with the job Trump is doing. He's a hundred percent behind him. But what frustrates him, he says, is the bickering between the president and members of his own party, like this week's dust-up with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Here's Kenny.

BRUCE KENNY: I think we've got worse problems to worry about than, you know, their bickering. But it also reflects poorly on the party. And I just wish we could get along, you know, act as human beings rather than being so worried about ourselves.

GONYEA: Again, he's talking about Republicans there, and he is a Republican. Now, his wife, Barbie Jean Kenny, was with him. She's even more positive about Trump than her husband. Here's her take.

BARBIE JEAN KENNY: It's fine. Everything is working out fine. And I'm thinking of the stock market right now (laughter). I'm really happy (laughter). And I'm thinking the confidence of the nation is behind him because the stock market is reflecting record high prices.

CORNISH: So lots of folks who still support the president. What about those who are wavering?

GONYEA: That's where 73-year-old June Williams of Winterset comes in. Winterset is in Madison County where the bridges are. It's also John Wayne's hometown. I talked to her and a friend of hers outside the Pork Producers tent. She has spent her entire life on a farm. She says she's an independent who leans Republican. I asked her if she voted for Trump, and she said - this is a quote - "yes, unfortunately." Then she continued.

JUNE WILLIAMS: Change was needed desperately, I thought. I wanted him to go in and be a businessman, not someone that's on Twitter all the time. I think we're just stirring up more trouble with all the things that are going on. He needs to back off and think. If he wants to be a businessman in there and run it like a business, then he needs to be like a boss would be and not a high school kid.

GONYEA: So your feelings about him have...

WILLIAMS: They've diminished.

GONYEA: And she says the country needs to be unified, and she isn't seeing that at all from President Trump.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Don Gonyea at the state fair in Iowa. Don, thank you.

GONYEA: My pleasure. Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.