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In Iowa, Trump Voters Evaluate The President's Performance


Over the first six months of his presidency, public opinion polls show a steady decline in President Trump's approval ratings. Much of that has been independent voters who once supported him but are changing their minds. There's even a slight softening of support among Republicans. National political correspondent Don Gonyea is in Iowa right now, where he's been talking to people who voted for Trump. And he's on the line right now. Good morning, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

CHANG: So I know you've been looking specifically for Trump voters in Iowa to see how the president has met or not met their expectations. Who have you found?

GONYEA: Well, the first couple of voices you'll hear are actually activists, people who spend a lot of time working to get Republicans elected.

Ailsa, let's start - where else? - at a bowling alley in Ames, Iowa.

CHANG: (Laughter).


GONYEA: That's where I met Jeff Ortiz. He's the local county GOP co-chair. We didn't bowl. We talked politics. He's a supporter of the president.

JEFF ORTIZ: It's only six months into this thing. And I'm pretty sure it's not as easy as he thought it was going to be.

GONYEA: Ortiz is frustrated with the GOP-controlled Congress. He also offers some suggestions to the White House - be less impulsive, especially on Twitter.

ORTIZ: I do think he has to bring some of those independent voters back to the fold. How he does that - I think at this point, a lot of it hinges on getting some legislation passed.

CHANG: OK. So that local Republican official, Jeff Ortiz, is still on board, it sounds like. But he has some advice. Who else did you go see?

GONYEA: I spoke to the prominent, politically powerful evangelical leader in Iowa, Bob Vander Plaats. He calls Trump a friend. But - this is a big but - he says friends will also tell you when you're messing up. So I asked him what he would tell a pollster who called him today asking how Trump is doing.

BOB VANDER PLAATS: It just depends on the day. We're thrilled that he's in there and Hillary is not in there. But I remind people all the time, our bar is not Hillary Clinton. I mean, we have to expect more now that we have three branches of government.

GONYEA: He says, one day you're thrilled with Justice Neil Gorsuch joining the Supreme Court. Next day, you're shaking your head over something. Then there are the days that seem great, but...

VANDER PLAATS: One was when he announced his support for religious liberty, religious freedom in the Rose Garden with a lot of faith leaders, which - I'm really glad for the words.

I'm really glad for the statement. But the fact was, there was no policy to follow up on it.

CHANG: All right. Well, I also know it's Iowa State Fair time, which is always a good place to see candidates and talk to voters. So of course, you were there. And knowing you, Don, you were probably eating all kinds of local delicacies.


CHANG: So who did you find at the Iowa State Fair?

GONYEA: So I met Bruce Kenny. He's a retired farmer. He is happy with how Trump is doing his job, but he wanted to talk also about Trump's very tough words for North Korea.

BRUCE KENNY: I think it was pretty strong language, but maybe that's what it takes to get through to that character. I think he's just sitting back laughing and seeing how far he can go before we do retaliate in a serious way.

GONYEA: Now, one more voice from the fair - June Williams lives in Madison County. She's 73. She's an independent. I asked if she voted for Trump. And she said quote, "unfortunately, yes." So Trump has lost her.

JUNE WILLIAMS: Change was needed desperately, I thought. I just - I wanted him to go in and be a businessman, not someone that's on tweet - Twitter all the time.

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: So one state, a state Trump carried and where his popularity has fallen - most of his voters hanging in there, some not but lots of them with advice on what he needs to do better.

CHANG: All right, that's NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea speaking to us from Iowa. Thank you, Don.

GONYEA: All right, we'll do it again. 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.