GOP Voters In Charlotte, N.C., Evaluate Trump's Time In Office So Far
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The news has been nonstop these days. Seems like every hour, there's a new development out of the White House.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
You think (laughter)?
MARTIN: Right? So I thought this was a good moment to go check in with this group of Republicans in Charlotte, N.C., that I met about a year ago.
GREENE: Yeah, I remember you coming back from a trip and telling me about a breakfast where the conversation with voters, I mean, it got real. Right?
MARTIN: It got real. It got intense. The primaries were very heated. And these are people who have felt kind of politically besieged. This is a group of Republicans in Charlotte, N.C., which, if you know Charlotte, you know that, as Republicans, this group feels like a dot of red in a city that is true blue.
GREENE: Yeah, a strong Democratic city generally.
MARTIN: Exactly. So that's why this group gets together once a week for breakfast. They do it at the Skyland Family Restaurant to talk about politics. It's in a strip mall on the southwest side of the city. It's worth pointing out Charlotte is a very diverse city. In the 1990s, the number of Hispanics in the larger Mecklenburg County increased by - get this - 400 percent. So the demographics of Charlotte have really changed over the past few decades. This group, though, is all white. Many of them have lived in Charlotte their entire lives.
Don Reid is the guy who organizes the group. He's a former Charlotte City Council member. And I first visited Don's weekly breakfast, as I said, about a year ago during the primary. The room, at that point, was divided between those who liked Donald Trump and those who did not. Take a listen to this exchange.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
DON REID: Would I - or this crowd be happy with Cruz? Yep, I think so.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Absolutely.
REID: Would we be happy with Jeb Bush? Nope. For the first time in my life, if it's Jeb Bush or Hillary, I don't vote. That's it.
ELTON SHOEMAKER: Trump is the nominee, he'll lose 35 states.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Well, if an establishment Republican...
SHOEMAKER: If Trump gets the Republican nomination, he'll lose 35 states.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: An establishment Republican will not win.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Here's the thing. That's what you and...
GREENE: God, it's like listening to historic video or something.
GREENE: It's amazing to hear that in light of how turned out.
MARTIN: Right? People were so convinced they knew how this was going to go down. So you heard the voice of Don Reid there. He voted for Trump in the primary. He was an early supporter. You also heard the voice of Elton Shoemaker. He was the one saying Trump will never be the nominee. And he wasn't alone in that room back then. At least a dozen others out of a group of about 60 didn't like Trump, didn't think he was a real conservative, didn't think he could win. Obviously, he did.
So yesterday, I went back to that weekly breakfast in Charlotte to check in with this group to see how they're feeling about President Trump's first few weeks in office. And one of the first people we saw when we walked into the restaurant was Elton Shoemaker slowly making his way through what appeared to be a bowl of grits and a cup of coffee.
Nice to see you.
SHOEMAKER: Elton Shoemaker, Rachel. How are you?
MARTIN: I'm well. Nice to see you again.
MARTIN: Elton told me that he voted for John Kasich in the primary but voted for Trump in the general election because, he said, he was better than Hillary Clinton. And Elton supports the president now, but you can hear the hesitation in his voice here.
SHOEMAKER: He's a little bit erratic and does, says things and shoots from the hip and different things. But he'll settle down, I think. Overall, you know, I think things are moving along, proposals anyway.
MARTIN: Yeah. I'll let you finish your breakfast. And...
SHOEMAKER: You talk to some of these other guys, yeah.
MARTIN: Yeah, yeah - we'll get them.
SHOEMAKER: OK. Well, good to see you...
MARTIN: Then Don Reid walks in with a big smile on his face.
How you doing?
REID: All right. Good to see you.
MARTIN: Thanks for having us back.
REID: Oh, so glad to have you.
MARTIN: Don stands up at a table in front of the room. He's got his own sound system set up. So he picks up the microphone and he welcomes everyone.
REID: Hey, Elton. Good morning, Bobby (ph), Norba (ph)...
(SOUNDBITE OF GLASS CLINKING)
REID: ...The Union County crowd.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: We're here.
REID: Anyway, we got NPR here this morning. You remember our good friend Rachel Martin.
MARTIN: The restaurant is busy with early morning customers eating eggs and bacon in the main dining room. It is a diverse crowd, like the city of Charlotte itself. Don's weekly breakfast is in the back in a separate room - about two dozen men and a few women, all white, almost all over the age of 60. Many are retired. Some owned businesses.
Could I just ask the room how many people voted for Donald Trump in the primary?
About 10 hands go up. When I ask who voted for Donald Trump in the general election, just about everyone raises their hands.
Can I ask that group how you think the president is doing in his first hundred days?
REID: Donald Trump, I believe, has done in 40 days or 50, whatever it is, than certainly any president in my lifetime. And he's done it despite an opposition from his own party. He's done it with total opposition of the media.
MARTIN: That was Don Reid. After that, a man at one of the tables in the back raises his hand. He's in jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt. His name is Ron Sheppard and he voted for Ted Cruz in the primary because Shepard thought the Texas senator was more, quote, "tactful" than the brash real estate tycoon. I asked how he feels now, especially about the president's preferred communication style.
Do you mind his tweets even when he tweets out something that is not substantiated?
RON SHEPPARD: I've got to say that it's still refreshing that he'll speak his piece. I don't necessarily agree with everything he says. But then again, I don't agree with everything but wife says either.
REID: I bet some of the rest of you feel...
MARTIN: Another man pipes up from the center. This is Mike Davis.
MIKE DAVIS: I get a little sick and tired of hearing somebody moaning and groaning about the fact he puts his thoughts on tweeting. We are dealing with 60 years of continuous, progressive liberalism in this country. In Trump, you have a leader, and he's not afraid to say what he needs to say. That has to get people's attention. We are - I'm sick and tired of the Republicans tipping around here. We're scared to say anything, afraid to do anything. Well, now you've got somebody who's doing what he said he was going to do.
MARTIN: Everyone in the room nods their head. The consensus here is that Donald Trump is making good on the promises he made during the campaign. Even people who held their nose and voted for Trump, like Elton Shoemaker, have found a way to get behind him.
SHOEMAKER: I think the biggest thing, though, as I said earlier, is his Cabinet. I think Trump has appointed some outstanding individuals - secretary of defense, Homeland Security, secretary of state, treasurer.
REID: But they're all in bed with the Russians.
SHOEMAKER: Yeah, right.
MARTIN: That was Don Reid interjecting with that quip because this group does not buy any allegations that Donald Trump has inappropriate ties to Russia. It's just not an issue they care about. Quite the contrary, they think the media is blowing it out of proportion, which, by the way, came up a lot - how the media is out to get Donald Trump, they think. I asked the group a separate question, whether they were concerned that, as U.S. intelligence agencies have said, Russia hacked the Democratic Party to benefit Donald Trump. Nick Bryant, the youngest face in this crowd, wasn't.
NICK BRYANT: Regardless of whether Russia hacked emails or anything, Russia did not make 62 million people go to the polls and vote one way or the other. They just didn't. I didn't care about Russia.
MARTIN: Nor is this crowd concerned about the executive order that drew protesters to airports in January, the ban on travelers from some majority-Muslim countries. And while President Trump might not be talking about a Muslim ban anymore, Don Reid is pretty clear about what he thinks.
REID: I'm very concerned about Muslims. I know there are many fine Muslims. I don't know many at all, but I do know this - that Sharia law is in direct contrast to everything that we believe. And if we bring those people here, then we are in fact infecting our country with a disease that will destroy us.
MARTIN: And he knows who to blame.
REID: And because of our great desire on the part of liberals to bring diversity to the country, we may have reached the point where we are never going to be united again. That's my big concern.
MARTIN: Don Reid's idea of unifying America comes down to this.
REID: Unification - so long as I got 50 percent plus one, we're unified.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: That's exactly right.
GREENE: Rachel, 50 plus one - is he basically saying that as long as the president's able to get his party to vote and get one vote more than needed in the Senate, that things are OK?
MARTIN: Yep, exactly (laughter).
GREENE: That's amazing. So what did you take away from these conversations?
MARTIN: Well, the most interesting moments actually came after the breakfast was over. One man came up to me and started talking about how he, in the past, has felt vilified in Charlotte for being a conservative - that, especially on something like illegal immigration, he's been reticent to express his views for fear of being labeled, in his words, as a hater.
GREENE: So that was in the past. I mean, are things different for him now that Donald Trump is president?
MARTIN: Yeah. He feels freer to speak his mind, and that is something new for him. But it's interesting. Another man approached me on his way out of this event, someone who had not spoken out during the breakfast. He leaned in and whispered to me, off-mic - and I'm quoting now - "there are two words you haven't heard this morning," he said, "narcissism and lies." So obviously very provocative, I wanted him to explain what he meant by that. He said he didn't want to get into it, and he just walked away. So some people at this Republican gathering clearly felt emboldened by President Trump. This man clearly did not.
GREENE: All right. Well, Rachel, thanks for this. Sounds like a really cool trip. And I know there are photos that you guys took and - of some of the people that you spoke with. And you can find...
GREENE: ...Them on social media. And you can find us on Twitter - @morningedition. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.