How A Divided Upstate New York Views Trump Amid His Sliding Approval Ratings "Not my president." "Give him time." "Focus on the governance." These are the reactions from voters in the western edge of New York state, a region that reflects polarization found across the country.
NPR logo

How A Divided Upstate New York Views Trump Amid His Sliding Approval Ratings

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/522232674/522232675" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
How A Divided Upstate New York Views Trump Amid His Sliding Approval Ratings

How A Divided Upstate New York Views Trump Amid His Sliding Approval Ratings

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/522232674/522232675" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

After a defeat on health care, President Trump has said he may try to get Democrats to help his agenda forward. But Democrats may be wary, especially as the president attacks them at big campaign-style rallies around the country. NPR's Don Gonyea has been in Buffalo, N.Y., this week talking with Democrats and Republicans, Trump critics and supporters, about the way forward for the White House.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Let's start in a small but busy Italian restaurant in downtown Buffalo.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Just for a change of pace, how about ravioli with a meatball and a sausage?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh, nice.

GONYEA: Over near the window, George DeTitta is ordering his usual. He's a retired biomedical researcher with strong feelings about Donald Trump.

GEORGE DETITTA: Well, the day he got inaugurated, I put up on my Facebook page - not my president.

GONYEA: He says he took the post down the next day but has been watching the Trump White House with alarm ever since, even when the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act failed.

DETITTA: So this didn't go down because the good folks won. It went down because people want to absolutely gut health care in this country won. They won, not the people. Tea Party won.

GONYEA: A friend of DeTitta's sits down.

JENNIFER ULRICH: We don't know what's coming next.

GONYEA: Joining in mid-conversation is 38-year-old Jennifer Ulrich.

ULRICH: The immediate reaction was a relief that it didn't get passed. But what's on the horizon...

DETITTA: Yeah.

ULRICH: ...Is probably much scarier than what we were already looking at as being terrified.

GONYEA: As for Trump now possibly working with Democrats on some issues, DeTitta says the big obstacle will be trusting Trump. Here's Ulrich, who works as a translator for refugees relocating to Buffalo.

ULRICH: If he could give up all the travel ban stuff, that would be wonderful. But I don't think he's even remotely interested in doing that. I think he's stuck on his plan. So I don't see anything he can do that would make me feel differently.

GONYEA: Now let's move outside of Buffalo, where the politics start to change. Sixty-two-year-old truck driver Scott Spencer sits at the counter at a diner in the town of Blasdell. He says he's not following every piece of news out of Washington but says Trump is doing just fine - great, in fact.

SCOTT SPENCER: He's the first guy that I feel like I can really stand behind and say every election has been I don't like this guy or this guy. Now Trump is saying yeah, OK, I want to do things this way.

GONYEA: Spencer is part of that surge of white working class voters who went for Trump. Farther out in the suburbs, in the city of East Amhurst, Brian Rusk is very much an establishment Republican who also remains firmly in Trump's camp. In his living room, he's showing me photos of himself with past Republican presidents.

BRIAN RUSK: Well, you got a nice picture of me with Ronald Reagan in the White House.

GONYEA: Rusk has long been active in New York Republican politics. He backed Jeb Bush last year but was happy to get onboard with Trump. He blames the health care defeat on what he calls the radical right in the GOP. But he says it's not the end of the world.

RUSK: And the man's only been in office 70 days. I mean, it's a process. It's like making sausage.

GONYEA: He also says it's an opportunity for the president to reach out to Democrats in Congress, citing Joe Manchin of West Virginia as a prime example.

RUSK: There've got to be 30 in the House who are like Senator Manchin, who you can work with together. So where you might lose the freedom coalition, he should pick up Catholic, union, blue collar, conservative Democrats.

GONYEA: As for those big campaign-style rallies President Trump has been hosting, where the crowd still chants lock her up, Rusk says that's just rallying the base. But that's exactly the kind of thing that troubles another Buffalo area Republican, 51-year-old high school teacher Brett Sommer.

BRETT SOMMER: I think the rally is what he enjoys. I don't think he really enjoys the governing and the managing. I think he likes the rally. He's on stage.

GONYEA: Should he stop the rallies?

SOMMER: I think he should focus on the governance of this country.

GONYEA: Sommer is a Republican who did not vote for Trump. In protest, he went for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. But he says once Trump won, he was ready to give him a chance.

SOMMER: Some of the policy that he talks about I can support.

GONYEA: But Sommer is frustrated that Trump hasn't himself shown what might be described as a basic respect for the presidency.

SOMMER: I'm a teacher. I can't show up at my job in shorts and swear at the kids. I have to respect the position of authority I have.

GONYEA: And he says so far, that's something President Trump doesn't seem to understand. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Buffalo.

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.