Three months into the administration of President Donald Trump, the polls tell the story.
The majority of Republicans approve of his performance, consistently. The majority of Democrats and independents disapprove, consistently.
Somewhere in the middle, between his ardent fans and his entrenched opponents, lies the slice of voters on Long Island and elsewhere whose opinion of him shifts with events. At least some of them helped put Trump in the White House. And if they are happy with the country’s direction over the next four years, they could help keep him there for another four.
For now, Trump’s approval ratings are historically low for the first months of a new president’s administration, reflecting the contentious presidential campaign with Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump’s unconventional presidency and a deeply divided electorate.
Trump’s approval rating dropped to as low as 36 percent in late March after the failure to pass health care legislation and climbed back to 40 percent and more in early April when he launched missiles at Syria after reports of a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian military. Some polls show him dipping once again in May.
For now, many Long Islanders who voted for Trump say they are pleased with him, and are willing to give him more time to get his initiatives through Congress. They approve his appointment of conservative jurist Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, and see many of his executive orders as promises fulfilled, even if some of them are tied up in court.
But some of Trump’s moves have prompted complaints among his supporters of campaign promises betrayed, such as his promised opposition to intervening militarily in Syria or his health care legislation.
Also, the debate over Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey and the investigations into possible Trump campaign links to Russia have raised some questions in the minds of otherwise staunch Trump supporters.
“I’m very ambivalent to the way things went down,” said Luis Lopez of Levittown, a retired New York City police sergeant who now owns a security firm. “I don’t have a problem with Comey being fired but the way he was fired, the timing and circumstances behind it, to me they are questionable.”
Until now, the issues that have driven much of the cable news coverage in Washington, D.C. — such as the Trump family’s potential conflicts of interest, his refusal to release his tax returns and the alleged Russian links — haven’t gained traction with his voters. Some say they are annoyed at the behavior of those who fervently oppose the Trump administration.
“All the Clinton supporters were up in arms when he said he wouldn’t accept the election results, and they are definitely not accepting the results that elected him,” said one Republican voter, Stacey Bishop of Southold. “Give him a year: Are we going to be better off or worse off. . . . We as a nation need to chill out and give him a chance.”
Trump voters from Nassau and Suffolk, most of them Republicans but some who are independents, agreed to discuss Trump’s performance after his first 100 days in office.
Their views, while mostly supportive of Trump’s major initiatives, appear to show more room for negotiation and compromise — particularly on the health care and immigration issues — than the positions of hard-liners in Congress might suggest. Newsday will reach out to them and others in the coming months to see how events, and Trump’s successes and failures, affect their opinions.
Eltringham is an insurance broker in his 60s who lives in Garden City and is active in civic affairs. Before the election, he saw in Trump an unorthodox, rough-edged candidate who struck a nerve with voters on issues they felt strongly about. As Trump moves into his fifth month in office, Eltringham says his performance so far is “pretty much as I expected.”
Trump “puts his tweet in his mouth pretty regularly but on the other hand, I think he’s doing all right,” Eltringham said. “He admitted it is a lot harder than he thought it would be. At least he’s man enough to say that.”
Eltringham said Trump has learned hard lessons on the limits of what a president can do.
“He’s a work in progress and I think it’s amazing how little slack he’s getting from the media,” he said. “They can’t wait for him to stumble and then they let him have it. The jury is out on Donald Trump, but he is not getting a fair shake as far as I’m concerned.”
Eltringham attributes some of Trump’s problems to his “own bombast. Some of that is his own fault because he antagonizes the media.”
In the days after Trump fired Comey, however, Eltringham said he was trying to sort through the “hysteria,” and said that while Trump had a right to fire him, the way he did it was “a little ham-handed.”
He said a special investigation wasn’t yet warranted into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. But Eltringham said he’d like to see the congressional investigations move more quickly.
“Let’s get to the bottom of this,” he said. “I’m not prepared to say Donald Trump is involved with the Russians or not involved. We have to get it addressed and resolved one way or another without a doubt. It’s distracting.”
As for Trump’s policies, Eltringham said he approves and is reassured by the administration’s more aggressive tone in foreign policy. “What he has done is so different from the last eight years and it’s been successful,” said Eltringham, citing the Syrian missile attack on April 6 in particular. “I think it’s refreshing for someone to get more decisive on this.”
For now, he gives Trump a “B or B plus.”
Lopez, 68, of Levittown, is a retired New York City police sergeant who owns Alante Security Group, a Westbury security firm with 250 employees. He’s an independent who voted for Trump, in part because he didn’t like Hillary Clinton and considers the Democratic Party too far to the left.
“I was once a Democrat, my parents were Democrats,” said Lopez, who came to New York from Puerto Rico when he was 10 years old. “What they espouse [now] is not what I believe in.”
Until the “disrespectful” firing on Tuesday of Comey, Lopez would have given Trump a grade of “B plus.” Now, he said, “I’m taking back the B plus. It’s on hold. I’m holding my grades back in lieu of a final.”
His concern, he said, “is that the Russian investigation be concluded so the facts come out one way or another.”
Lopez said some of Comey’s actions in the FBI probe of Clinton’s use a private email server while she was secretary of state “were not within his purview.” But “Why wait and do it now?” Lopez said of Comey’s firing. “It makes it seem questionable because of the timing. It’s given people food for thought. To me, it’s not fully making sense.”
While Lopez said he finds Trump’s lack of political experience refreshing, he has been frustrated by the president’s slowness in getting legislative results. The confirmation of Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, however, satisfied one of his main concerns, he said.
Lopez said he’s eagerly awaiting tax reform legislation to lower his tax rates, and for health care legislation to lower his business health insurance plan’s rates, which he said rose by 30.6 percent this year. Lower rates “would be very, very helpful for business. . . . Hopefully, we’ll see some results soon.”
Lopez likes Trump’s stance on national security and thinks “the world is beginning to see we’re a world power as we have always been,” he said. “Maybe it’s time to get peace within the world by letting these countries know we are back in business and we will protect the world. I am OK with that.”
But on the issue of immigrants living here without documentation, Lopez, like other Trump voters interviewed on Long Island, was more open to policies that are less polarized than the rhetoric in Congress might suggest.
“I think there’s a place for them,” he said of the estimated 11 million immigrants living without permission in the United States. “There should be a mechanism for them to work themselves into citizenship and not be railroaded out of here.”
Bishop, 50, a contractor and voice-over actor from Southold, says she’s “a registered Republican but I vote my conscience. I voted for Obama the first time.”
She wants her liberal friends on social media to calm down about Trump. “Everyone is so up in arms, they were blowing up my feed,” Bishop said. “They’re taking these sound bites and running off with them and they don’t understand the thing they’re upset about.”
Bishop noted proposed budget cuts that would affect the federal agencies that provide some funds to local Meals on Wheels programs. She complained that liberal Trump opponents reacted to the cuts as if they eliminated the entire program.
“It’s inflammatory; they’re running with it and crucifying someone who stepped up into the circus that is American politics,” Bishop said.
For Bishop, the flaws that so distress Trump detractors could be among his strengths as a leader. She considers him a “narcissist” and “uncouth in many ways, but the reason I voted for him is because I think his narcissism will prevent him from failing. He has a lot of good ideas. How many he’ll be able to implement I don’t know.”
For now, she is giving him a chance. “I like him but, I’m not hard core,” Bishop said. “Give him a year — are we going to be better off or worse off?”
Bishop says she feels strongly about ending illegal immigration and supports Trump’s deportation policies. She says she resents paying taxes for services and benefits used by the undocumented and their children. “People are frustrated,” about the issue, she said.
Bishop isn’t on board with all of Trump’s decisions.
She didn’t like his appointment of Betsy DeVos, an advocate of school vouchers, to head the Department of Education. And she says she will judge Trump harshly if he breaks his promise to improve health care insurance for everyone.
A daughter has medical conditions, including cystic fibrosis, that require costly treatments and drugs. Bishop’s insurance stopped paying the $2,700 a U.S. pharmaceutical company charged each month, and she was angry that she earned too much to get government help paying for it.
She now gets the drug for $200 from Canada, which she said tells her “something’s wrong with our health care system.” If good health insurance becomes more costly or inaccessible, she said, her support for Trump would erode “because I took him at his word that he had a better solution.”
Bishop gives Trump an A for effort, and a B for results.
“It’s early,” she said. “Ask me again in a year.”
Bitakos, 52, has driven a taxi on Long Island for 15 years. He is an independent who “goes with the flow” politically, and has become almost a one-man predictor of success in the past seven presidential elections. He voted for Democrat Bill Clinton, Republican George W. Bush, Democrat Barack Obama, and most recently, Republican Donald Trump.
Bitakos said he was drawn to some of Trump’s stances, even though he’d initially liked Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who lost the Democratic primary race to Clinton.
Not long after the collapse of the first legislative effort in late March to repeal and replace Obama’s signature health care achievement, the Affordable Care Act, Bitakos gave his verdict: “He failed. They don’t have anything to replace it with so what are they going to do?”
Bitakos gets his health insurance through the expanded Medicaid program put in place under the ACA. “I need it . . . I’m diabetic, I get my blood pressure pills. If he throws everybody off and starts doing his own thing, we’re dead.”
For now, Bitakos is sorry he went with Trump. “I should never have voted for him,” he said. “I regret voting for him, honest to God.”
Trump had promised jobs and a stronger military and, “I like respect for the military and law enforcement,” said Bitakos, who hangs an American flag outside his home. “There were a lot of things I liked about him: I liked the patriotism about him, I liked the America thing, the America first.”
But he has quickly become anxious and frustrated. His complaints range from Trump’s frequent trips to his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, to his possible connections with Russia.
“I don’t see anything happening with anything he’s doing,” Bitakos said of Trump.
“I just hope he doesn’t cause any serious problems with the Middle East,” Bitakos said. “I hope he doesn’t open up a big war because guys are going to get killed. And who knows what is going on with him and Russia. That’s the big question. But it’s too soon yet.”
Brooks is a part-time real estate broker in her 70s who lives in Glen Cove and typically votes for Republicans.
She considers herself a moderate and disagrees with Trump’s opposition to gun control and to a woman’s right to choose abortion. Yet Brooks eventually decided she couldn’t support Clinton, “as much as I’d have liked to see a woman president.”
She is relatively comfortable with her decision to vote for Trump.
“I think initially I just wanted him to, quite frankly, be quiet,” Brooks said. “A lot of what he said was totally inappropriate for a president to say. Slowly he’s learning to do that. There’s a learning curve.”
Brooks said Trump is “smart, savvy and knows how to negotiate and that’s a lot of the job. I thought for the most part he’s put good people around him.”
Brooks agrees with Trump about the need for a more secure border between the United States and Mexico, although she said it doesn’t have to be a solid wall from end to end.
But she is open to a path to citizenship for undocumented people: “People have been here years and years and are good people. Someone has to figure this out.”
Health care is “the biggest thing sitting on the table,” for Trump, Brooks said. “I thought from day one that people with pre-existing conditions and young people [until age 26] would be covered. . . . My cousin who is very Republican keeps saying it should go back to the free market, but that didn’t work.”
She said if improvements were made to Obamacare, “eventually it will be good health care.”
What would be a deal breaker for her, she said, is if Trump sent more troops to the Middle East, or took the country to war. “I’d be very against him for that.”
At this point, she said, she’d give Trump a B. If he improves health care, and gets something done on the southern border, she said, “I think he has the potential to be an A.”
Ekstrom, 61, a cabinetmaker from Rocky Point, considers himself “an enlightenment guy,” with faith in the ability of people to hammer out reasonable compromises.
So he couldn’t understand the Democrats’ opposition to Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court. “Where is the general feeling of, an election takes place, and you know what, our candidate lost but we wish this guy well,” Ekstrom. “Everything is a dogfight.”
Ekstrom said he voted for Trump as an anti-status-quo candidate. Trump is “clearly not a polished, vetted, cover-my-tail lawyerly politician type,” he said.
Unlike more careful politicians who can make listeners feel they are not getting “the full story,” there is no “obfuscation with Trump; he blurts out what’s on his mind,” Ekstrom said.
Even Trump’s unsupported allegations that former President Barack Obama tapped his phones at Trump Tower had what Ekstrom considered a core of truth about the scale of surveillance. “It’s one of the things that scares me, the sweeping up of information,” Ekstrom said. But “do I think President Obama picked up the phone and said we have to drag this guy down, hook up wires in the basement and tap Trump’s phone? I don’t think that.”
Ekstrom approves of Trump’s proposed repeal of environmental regulations, including those aimed at climate change, and supports a more secure border.
Yet Ekstrom is open to immigration reform, and would like to see undocumented workers given legal status.
A worker with a green card “has no fear of deportation. He doesn’t lay awake thinking he has to stay out of sight,” Ekstrom said. “So why can’t there be an orange card for people who are working here? . . . I can tell you off the bat, if you had a big roundup and just shipped them out, the construction industry would collapse. People saying they are a drag to our economy don’t see what is going on at the granular level: They make great contributions,” he said.