4 things I learned by reading letters from Trump supporters in The New York Times

The New York Times did something very interesting this week: ...

Posted: Jan 19, 2018 6:18 AM
Updated: Jan 19, 2018 6:18 AM

The New York Times did something very interesting this week: The paper ran a series of letters from Trump supporters in which they explained why they still support the President.

Some liberals denounced the Times for the move: "Honestly, it's like they are trolling their liberal readers," tweeted Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress. "It's not like we can't see Trump supporters. We have Fox News for that." But for me, it was a helpful window to gain insight into how Trump backers think about his performance in the White House.

Here's what I gleaned from the letters:

1. They care about his policy accomplishments...

Time and time again in the letters, Trump backers cite the tax cuts and his work to defeat -- "crush" is the word many use -- ISIS as the main reason they are still with him.

"Some of the many positive results of his policies are a booming economy, low unemployment (record low for black Americans), soaring stock market, lower taxes, the repeal of mandatory health insurance coverage, ISIS defeated in Iraq, and much, much more," wrote Daniel Irwin of New York.

A number of people also cite a policy accomplishment that Trump has announced but has not yet achieved: Moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. (There is a six-month waiting period in effect before the embassy actually moves.)

2. ...and they don't care about his style or temperament

Trump's petulance, his scapegoating and his bullying are all a major focus for people who dislike Trump. But among those who think Trump is doing a great job, how he acts is entirely immaterial.

This, from Jason Peck (another New Yorker) hits that nail on the head:

"Yes, he is embarrassing. Yes, he picks unnecessary fights. But he also pushed tax reform through, has largely defeated ISIS in Iraq, has named a number of solid conservative judges, has prioritized American citizens over illegal immigrants, has gotten us out of several bad international agreements, has removed a number of wasteful regulations, is putting real pressure on North Korea and Iran, has reined in a number of out-of-control agencies, and so on and so on."

Ditto this from David MacNeil of New Jersey: "Opinion polls give Mr. Trump a low rating, and I would, too, for character, personality and temperament. But I would give him high marks for policies and programs that are stimulating the private sector, which, after all, pays the bills for the Democrats' extravagant welfare programs."

What matters to his supporters is not what Trump says -- it's what he does. And they believe what he has done is worthy of considerable praise.

3. They believe the media is out to get Trump

It's not clear to me whether Trump attacking the media created a sense that he was always being treated unfairly by the press or whether the people most likely to back Trump already believed reporters were out to get the politicians they tend to like.

Either way, it doesn't really matter; one of the constant strains running through all of the letters is not only a distrust of the media but a belief that the media is actively trying to embarrass and discredit Trump.

"It's been difficult to read the paper this past year," wrote Ellen Mackler of Connecticut. "It's anti-Trump in everything from the front page to fashion. It's so pervasive that I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there's not another loyal New York Times reader out there who voted for Mr. Trump and that I'm sending the only submission."

Added New Yorker Alexander Goldstein: "I think President Trump is doing just fine, particularly when one considers the sustained assault of the media, Hollywood, talk shows and, dare I say, 'the paper of record,' which has abandoned all pretense of objectivity to join, if not lead, 'the resistance.'"

4. They think he is tough -- and they like it

So much of Trump's appeal in the campaign was that he talked tough -- and people believed that he would draw brighter lines (and stick to them) than President Barack Obama: Whereas Obama's "red line" in Syria wound up being a punch line, no one would laugh when Trump laid down the law.

Trump has kept up that tough talk in the White House -- whether in dealing with Congress, talking to foreign leaders or laying out his views on everything from trade to military spending to the wall. And his supporters love it -- even though his record of following through on his tough talk is decidedly mixed.

"I thought his tough take-no-prisoners manner and, yes, even his unpredictability might be what was needed at this particular time to cause offending persons and countries to sit up, consider us seriously, and think twice about taking advantage of us financially and otherwise," wrote Anne Minich of Connecticut.

"His combative attitude with the Democrats and the media on Twitter never gets old with me either," said Joshua Dawson of Iowa.

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