TULSA, Okla. – Rhonda McCracken is a kindergarten teacher and a Republican who voted for President Donald Trump. Now she’s wrestling with the consequences.
McCracken’s deep-rooted conservatism is matched by a passion to support Tulsa Domestic Violence Intervention Services, a nonprofit that helped her flee an ex- who she says beat and choked her, once until unconsciousness. She became teary as she described how staff members at the organization helped her and her son escape that relationship.
“They saved my life, and my son’s,” she said, her eyes liquid.
So she is aghast that one of Trump’s first proposals is to cut federal funds that sustain the organization. “My prayer is that Congress will step in” to protect domestic violence programs, she said.
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Here in Oklahoma, I’ve been interviewing many people like McCracken – fervent Trump supporters who now find that the White House is trying to ax programs they have depended on, to pay for Trump’s border wall and for increases in military spending. And they’re upset.
“Why is building a wall more important than educating people?” asked Billy Hinkle, a Trump voter who is enrolled in a program called Tulsa WorkAdvance that trains mostly unemployed workers to fill well-paying manufacturing jobs. Trump has proposed eliminating a budget pot that pays for the program.
Another Trump supporter in the program, Tarzan Vince, put it this way: “If he’s preaching jobs, why take away jobs?”
I came to Trump country to see how voters react as Trump moves from glorious campaign promises to the messier task of governing. While conservatives often decry government spending in general, red states generally receive more in federal government benefits than blue states do – and thus are often at greater risk from someone like Trump.
Ezekiel Moreno, 35, a Navy veteran, was stocking groceries in a supermarket at night – “a dead-end job,” as he describes it – when he was accepted in WorkAdvance two years ago. That training led him to a job at M&M Manufacturing, which makes aerospace parts, and to steady pay increases.
“We’ve moved out of an apartment and into a house,” Moreno told me, explaining how his new job has changed his family’s life. “My daughter is taking violin lessons, and my other daughter has a math tutor.”
Moreno was sitting at a table with his boss, Rocky Payton, the factory’s general manager, and Amy Saum, the human resources manager. All said they had voted for Trump, and all were bewildered that he wanted to cut funds that channel people into good manufacturing jobs.
“There’s a lot of wasteful spending, so cut other places,” Moreno said.
Payton suggested that if the government wants to cut budgets, it should target “Obama phones” provided to low-income Americans. (In fact, the program predates President Barack Obama and is financed by telecom companies rather than by taxpayers.)
Yet Democrats gleeful at the prospect of winning penitent voters back should take a deep breath. These voters may be irritated, but I was struck by how loyal they remain to Trump.
I talked to many Trump voters about the impact if Trump’s budget cuts go through, and none regretted their votes in November. They all said that they might vote for Trump for re-election.
“I don’t think I re-evaluate Trump,” Moreno said, adding that he just wants the president to re-evaluate his budget proposal.
Judy Banks, a 70-year-old struggling to get by, said she voted for Trump because “he was talking about getting rid of those illegals.” But Banks now finds herself shocked that he also has his sights on funds for the Labor Department’s Senior Community Service Employment Program, which is her lifeline. It pays senior citizens a minimum wage to hold public service jobs.
“This program makes sense,” said Banks, who was placed by the program into a job as a receptionist for a senior nutrition program. Banks said she depends on the job to make ends meet, and for an excuse to get out of the house.
“If I lose this job,” she said, “I'll sit home and die.”
Yet she said she might still vote for Trump in 2020. And that’s a refrain I heard over and over. Some of the loyalty seemed to be grounded in resentment at Democrats for mocking Trump voters as dumb bigots, some from a belief that budgets are complicated, and some from a sense that it’s too early to abandon their man. They did say that if jobs didn’t reappear, they would turn against him.
One recent survey found that only 3 percent of Trump voters would vote differently if the election were today (and most of those would vote for third-party candidates; only 1 percent said they would switch to voting for Hillary Clinton).
Elizabeth Hays, 27, said her life changed during her freshman year in high school, when four upperclassmen raped her. Domestic Violence Intervention Services rescued her, she said, by helping her understand that the rape wasn’t her fault.
She’s profoundly grateful to the organization – yet she stands by Trump even as she is dismayed that he wants to slash support for a group that helped her when she needed it most. “We have to look at what we spend money on,” she said, adding, “I will stand behind my president.”