Firefighter Sandy Perala will watch President-elect Donald Trump take office hoping that he capitalizes on the promise to shake up Washington that won her vote.
Trump, said the 43-year-old woman from the northern Twin Cities suburb of Oak Grove, “is going to make some changes because he can relate to people. I think he’s really going to keep it real.”
Out playing bingo with her family Monday night in a bar at Blaine’s Fogarty Ice Arena, Perala discussed her support for the incoming Republican president, one whose inauguration this Friday will be followed the next day by a women’s protest march — expected to draw several hundred thousand people to Washington — and to related demonstrations in cities around the country, including St. Paul.
Noting her success as a woman in a male-dominated field, Perala said she never considered Trump’s history of questionable comments and behavior toward women disqualifying. She was swayed instead by his record as a businessman and lack of conventional political background.
“First of all, half this stuff was from way back, like 20 years ago,” Perala said. Of vulgar remarks by Trump about groping women, she said it’s not unfamiliar: “I hear this stuff, but I laugh at it.”
Clinton beat Trump among women in Minnesota and nationwide. But women voters nationally did not uniformly reject Trump: He won a majority of white women voters in the country, 53 percent.
Blaine and surrounding Anoka County were friendly territory for Trump last November. Though Democrat Hillary Clinton narrowly won Minnesota, Trump racked up nearly 20,000 more votes in Anoka County.
At the Sticks and Stones restaurant inside the ice arena, as bingo calls echoed through the air, it was easy to find women who voted for Trump and are excited to see him take office. Even a few who didn’t vote for Trump said they will give his presidency a chance and hope he’s successful.
As the evening’s games got underway, sisters-in-law Debbie Dodge and Lisa Paal were debating Trump over chips and salsa, their game cards spread across a high-top table. At issue was whether the new president would unite the country or inflame its political and cultural tensions further.
Both usually vote Republican. This year, Dodge enthusiastically went for Trump while Paal opted not to vote, saying she didn’t really like Trump or Clinton.
“I want him to do well,” Dodge said of Trump. “If he doesn’t do well, things are just going to get worse as far as race relations. I want us to come together instead of being more apart than ever.”
Dodge, a 53-year-old from Blaine, owns an ultrasound imaging business. She said she’s eager to see Trump reverse the direction set by President Obama, highlighting the federal health care law she said hurt small business owners like herself and her husband. She also said Americans focus too much on policing offensive language rather than more important issues.
“The world has gotten too sensitive,” Dodge said. “Everybody’s just so put out by things, and it’s really annoying.”
But her sister-in-law said Trump should rein in a personality she called “abrasive” once he finally enters the White House.
“I want him to be careful on the way that he states things,” said Paal, 49, who lives in Ham Lake and works in special education.
Catastrophic scenarios painted by some Trump critics — of American democracy crumbling, or the sparking of international conflict — are unconvincing to Kaley Heyda, a 26-year-old education assistant from Coon Rapids.
“My thing is, the president doesn’t do much,” Heyda said. “It’s more like Congress.”
Heyda also has high hopes for the incoming vice president, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
“I think we’re fine,” Heyda said. “We’ll just see, I guess.”
Like many Trump supporters, Heyda said she thinks the criticism directed at Trump has been disproportionate and that the news media has not treated him fairly. “News always skews things the way they want to,” Heyda said.
Among Minnesota women active in state Republican politics, Trump as a candidate built up a small but intensely loyal following, including former state Sen. Julianne Ortman of Chanhassen.
Ortman was Minnesota’s first elected official to endorse Trump’s candidacy during the presidential primaries. Recently retired from the Senate, Ortman said she is excited to see the incoming president challenge the status quo.
“We wanted a totally new way of doing business in Washington and that’s what we’re getting,” Ortman said. She thinks Trump will mature into the job, and while she admitted to frustration at some of Trump’s crass comments, she believes he’ll be more respectful as president.
“He has to grow into that office and he’s very capable of it,” Ortman said.
For female Republican activists less initially warm to Trump, acceptance has grown as the shock of his unexpected success wore off.
“The next president is probably going to appoint two or three Supreme Court justices,” said Kelly Eull, 38, a Maple Grove attorney active with the state GOP. “That was my first gut reaction when I realized he won.”
Eull did not vote for Trump, but once he won she started to see silver linings like that. She has only loosely tracked news of Trump during his transition and admits she still wishes a different Republican were taking office this week. But she likes some of Trump’s Cabinet appointments and has decided to withhold judgment until his presidency more fully unfolds.
“I don’t think you can expect him to play by the normal rules,” Eull said. “He’s going to do what he wants to do. The normal rules don’t apply.”
Among the Minnesota Republican women traveling to Washington for the inauguration is Amy Koch, the former state Senate majority leader. She, too, did not vote for Trump, saying she was turned off by his comments about women. But she said he deserves a chance to prove himself as president.
“It doesn’t matter how I personally voted,” Koch said. “I don’t just get to say, ‘Well I didn’t vote for him.’ ”
Protests are not helpful, Koch said. “This movement of, ‘He’s not my president’ — I don’t like that when either side does that. I don’t think it absolves you of anything. We’re all in this together.”