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Has Trump Crossed The Line? Local Republicans Say 'Not Even Close'

Pablo Martinez Monsivais
The Associated Press
President Donald Trump speaks to the media in the lobby of Trump Tower, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017 in New York.

It’s been a tough week for President Donald Trump. But if you’re wondering if this is finally enough for his strongest allies in McLean County to abandon ship, it’s not.

GLT interviewed Republican precinct committeemen from rural McLean County last November, after Trump was elected. We revisited those Republicans this week to ask what they thought of Trump’s first 200 days in office. Were they concerned? Was Trump approaching some point-of-no-return with them?

“I can tell you right now, nothing that he’s done has come even close to turning me off to him,” said Brian Taylor from rural Cropsey Township, where Trump won 77 percent of voters. “In fact, I’m a little bit more of a supporter now than I was (back in November).”

Credit Ryan Denham / WGLT
Republican Brian Taylor.

Back in November, Taylor said he was troubled by Trump’s “very thin-skinned” tendencies and his use of Twitter. Taylor is a moderate Republican who didn’t support Trump in the Republican primary.

But now, Taylor says he’s glad to see Trump “sticking to his guns,” even if he hasn’t successfully pushed much legislation through Congress. If anything, Taylor is more distrustful of the media than ever, given their coverage of the Russia investigation.

“I’m very happy with (him). Overall I think he’s doing a very good job right now,” Taylor said.

Falling Approval Rating

While some Republicans like Taylor are still largely staying by Trump's side, recent controversies have chipped away at his support.

Trump's approval rating in Gallup Daily tracking was at an all-time low last week, at just 36 percent. Our last Republican president, George W. Bush, was at 56 percent (20 points higher) at this point in his first term.

Trump's support is even waning among Republicans. His 79 percent approval rating among Republicans is relatively high, but that's the lowest it's been since took office. And all of that was measured before his widely condemned "both sides" remarks this week on Charlottesville.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner does not often mention Trump by name, but Wednesday he used some of his strongest language yet against Trump. He was asked about Trump's remarks on Charlottesville.

“I vehemently disagree with the president’s comments about the tragedy in Charlottesville,” he said.

Republican Jim Soeldner from Ellsworth, the vice chair of the McLean County Board, was a Trump supporter initially and liked some early moves on immigration and border security. But as time goes on, Soeldner has exited the Trump train. After Charlottesville, he's out.

“I wouldn’t vote for him again. I don’t know if I’d vote for Hillary or an independent, but for what he showed me this past 200 days, I can’t support him nor would I vote for him,” Soeldner said.

Soeldner is in a bind. He's a Republican, and he's running for re-election to the McLean County Board next year. And he'll face a Democratic challenger, David Siebert from Saybrook.

Soeldner is worried about the effect Trump is having on the Republican brand, and with a recent controversial Facebook post by the McLean County Republican Party that supported Trump's remarks.

“I realize I’ll lose some votes from people who just don’t like Republicans because they associate President Trump with (us),” he said. “My concern now is that with some statements that have been made here locally, I’m afraid voters are going to associate me with what our local leaders have said.”

Nationally, Trump did better than 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney among rural voters, especially those in the smallest communities away from big cities. But that wasn’t the case in McLean County, where Romney (67 percent) actually outperformed Trump (63 percent) in precincts outside Bloomington-Normal.

In fact, Trump won a smaller percentage of overall McLean County voters (45 percent) than both Romney (54 percent) and 2008 Republican nominee John McCain (48 percent).

Credit Ryan Denham / WGLT
Republican Daryl Yoder.

Retired farmer Daryl Yoder lives near McLean, where he's the Republican precinct committeeman for Mount Hope Township. Trump won that precinct with 76 percent of the vote. Mount Hope is a heavily rural area, a bedroom community for most people who work in Springfield, Bloomington, or Lincoln.

Yoder said Trump has been controversial to say the least.

“The worst of it is, he hasn’t really accomplished a lot. He has brought up a lot of controversial things, like income tax reform, the (border) wall, this Obamacare thing. And now he’s faced with North Korea. I think he thrived as a businessman but I’m not sure he’s going to be able to handle it politically. But he keeps trying to find personnel to help him out, which is the sign of a good manager.”

Yoder has been disappointed at times, including with Trump’s strangely political remarks at a Boy Scouts event and the infamous “Access Hollywood” groping comments.

“You can tell he’s been a businessman. He expected all of the Republicans—that he had hired them, they were working for him now. And the fact that they weren’t hired by him, they were elected by their own constituents, that’s been a little bit tough for him,” Yoder said.

Brandon Hepner is still firmly on Team Trump.

Hepner lives east of Lexington in tiny Lawndale Township (population 158), where he’s the Republican precinct committeeman. Trump won big at Lawndale’s polling place at Immanuel Lutheran Church.

Hepner is also on the McLean County Republican Party's executive committee, making him one of the top leaders locally.

“I really am just very pleased. Since I’m in outside sales, I call on a lot of different types of businesses, and there’s a lot of optimism out there,” Hepner said. “It’s not so much him, but the party leadership is where the real disappointment is. The chance to overturn Obamacare in both houses (of Congress) just hasn’t come up. There’s a lot of other accomplishments that are occurring, but since those are just such big issues, it’s kind of overshadowing any other things that have happened,” Hepner said.

You can also listen to GLT's full story about local Trump supporters:

GLT's full story about local Trump voters.

You can see which presidential candidate won your McLean County neighborhood using this interactive map, created by Twin City web developer Michael Gorman, via Carto:

WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.