Don Menter voted for President Donald Trump because he wanted a change, but Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin was not what he was after.
“He professes to be ‘Everything for the U.S.’ but he didn’t come across that way,” Menter, a retiree and Coon Rapids resident, said as he shopped in downtown Anoka this week. “He’s cutting off all of our allies that we’ve had since the First World War or before.”
But other Trump supporters in this Republican-leaning corner of the metro say they were not put off by Trump’s controversial trip to Europe. Don Bennington, of Blaine, is focused on domestic issues.
“Everyone’s paychecks are a little bit bigger,” said Bennington, who added that his car has been vandalized because of its “Trump Pence” sticker.
Like the vast majority of Minnesota counties, Trump carried Anoka County in 2016, on his way to nearly winning the state. Eighteen months into the Republican’s presidency, plenty of Trump voters continue to stand behind him. But as the Russia controversy roils the White House and prompts open concern from leading Republicans, it’s also not hard to find new signs of uncertainty.
In interviews Wednesday and Thursday, a range of Anoka County residents who voted for Trump reflected on his European visit, his summit with Putin and the ensuing fallout.
Appearing alongside Putin in Finland, Trump said he had no reason to believe Russia interfered in the 2016 election. He later said he misspoke, and that he accepts findings by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia launched cyberattacks to sway the election. But he created further uncertainty about where he stands by saying he does not believe Russia is still trying to influence U.S. elections, again contradicting U.S. intelligence agencies. He also criticized fellow NATO members and the European Union during the trip.
Many of the Trump voters interviewed said they had not been paying close attention to the situation, including Tim Nelson of Andover.
Nelson said he sees that Trump’s style has alienated people. But he said he’s happy with job growth and stock market gains so far. He thinks the majority of people who supported Trump will continue to do so, but added it’s yet to be seen what effect Trump’s actions and comments will have on the midterm elections.
A CBS News poll published Thursday found only a third of Americans, or 32 percent, approve of the way Trump handled the Putin summit, and that 70 percent of Americans believe U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in U.S. elections, including 51 percent of Republicans. But the poll echoed many other surveys that have found Trump continuing to do well with Republicans: 68 percent approved of his summit performance.
In a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll from January, Trump registered 45 percent approval rating, with 89 percent of Republicans approving of his performance as president.
Many Anoka County Trump voters said they gambled on the Republican in 2016, seeing him as the lesser of two evils. Margaret Tanner of Mounds View, who was running errands in Blaine on Thursday, said she now regrets her vote, calling Trump “the biggest disappointment of my life.”
Like Menter, Tanner said she is worried about frayed relationships with other countries, and the effect of Trump’s presidency on the reputation of the United States.
But Fridley resident Nick Johnson said the president’s core values continue to align with his own.
“I believe in good old American values, a hard day’s work ... a hand up rather than a hand out,” Johnson said.
Jim Fisher, who was getting his haircut at Cowboy Mel’s Barber Shop in Anoka on Wednesday, said his support for the president hasn’t been shaken, though he has a few complaints about his style.
“He’s got a mouth that runs, but he gets things done,” Fisher said.
The Russia meeting was one instance where Trump should have kept his mouth shut, Fisher said. He said Trump should own up to what he said at the meeting with Putin and acknowledge it as a mistake. But he said the Helsinki episode would not affect the midterm elections. Like Bennington, he said people are focused on their pocketbooks.
“When it comes to elections, what’s the old adage? It’s the economy, stupid,” Fisher said.
Marc Zimmerman thinks people can be too uptight. When it comes to the president, sit back and enjoy the show, the Coon Rapids resident and Trump supporter said. He said Trump’s friendship with World Wrestling Entertainment Chairman Vince McMahon gives him insight into the president.
“Where do you think he learns his tactics from? There’s always a bad guy. You’ve always got to be bold, stick it in somebody’s face. It’s a game. That’s the way a lot of people are, they stick it to you, make you all mad and riled up. ... The truth of the matter is, yeah, that’s a perfect way to be if you want to motivate people — is anger, whether you like it or not,” Zimmerman said, as he headed into Jensen’s Foods in Coon Rapids on Thursday.
Still, Zimmerman said he wouldn’t have minded someone with a level head in the room with Trump and Putin. But he thinks that Trump can get the best deal for America in such meetings.
“You get two bulls like that going — two guys with the egos they both have — I think what you’ll end up getting is more of a mutual respect,” he said.
In Anoka, a group of women sorting through items at Amore Antiques off Main Street was unfazed by the Europe trip.
Val Schmitz, who was visiting from Verndale, was one of several women in the room who said she firmly supports the president. As she sifted through jewelry, Schmitz said it was time to end special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference with the presidential election.
“I just think that if it was very blatant that it would have been found out by now, and so I believe that right now it’s just a waste of taxpayers’ money,” she said.
Dean Haseltine, a Cold War-era Army veteran who trained to fight Russians in the 1980s, said he likes that Trump is trying to work on U.S.-Russia relations. Improved relations, particularly with “dangerous players” like Russia and China, is important, he said. But he disliked that Trump seemingly said one thing with Putin and another thing the next day. He also thought another recent controversy under Trump’s watch — the separation of immigrant children and their parents at the border — was “ridiculous.”
Haseltine was grabbing lunch at Ham Lake Lanes and Lounge before heading back to work at O’Reilly Auto Parts. He watched people bowl a few frames as he reflected on the president he voted for but no longer supports.
“He’s turning into a politician, apparently,” Haseltine said. “We wanted a businessman, he’s turned into a politician.”
Star Tribune staff writer Judy Keen contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org 651-925-5044