GOP Enthusiasm Fueled By Trump Could Undercut Democrats' Midterm Hopes Interviews with more than 50 Republican voters in various states found many parts of the GOP coalition are feeling well-served and ready to defy Trump critics by showing up to vote in November.
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GOP Enthusiasm Fueled By Trump Could Undercut Democrats' Midterm Hopes

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GOP Enthusiasm Fueled By Trump Could Undercut Democrats' Midterm Hopes

GOP Enthusiasm Fueled By Trump Could Undercut Democrats' Midterm Hopes

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Time now for another Weekend Long Listen. If you've been watching what's happening in the midterm elections so far, you've been hearing a lot of this.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDING MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Last night, the big winner of all the contests was President Donald J. Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Our party is strong. It is vibrant. But it is fueled by the people who elected President Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: We are the party of President Donald J. Trump.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Usually, a president's party loses power in the midterms as enthusiasm softens. But President Trump has a near 90 percent approval rating among Republicans, and so he thinks his supporters will defy history. He's been tweeting that a red wave is coming in November. To find out just how the president has kept his base so fired up, NPR's Asma Khalid has been traveling the country talking to Republican voters.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Some of the president's strongest supporters are white, working-class men - people like James Weekley, a retired baker in Columbus. I meet him when I go knocking on doors with Working America - it's a political group affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

KHALID: And before I even get a chance to ask Weekley about the president, he begins praising Trump's hard-line immigration policies.

JAMES WEEKLEY: Well, he's sending some of the foreigners back where they belong.

KHALID: Widespread deportations may not be popular among the general public, but they are incredibly popular among a core group of Trump's supporters. Polling has shown that blue-collar voters who support Trump are anxious about cultural changes.

WEEKLEY: Pretty soon it's going to cost us more and more and more to live here in this country because we're keeping them people and feeding them.

KHALID: White, working-class men like Weekley are one of four key types of voters in the president's base. The others are veterans, evangelicals and suburban, college-educated Republicans. President Trump is more popular in his party than any president since World War II, with the exception of George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11. Between trade, taxes, immigration and Supreme Court justices, President Trump has given each of his core constituencies a reason to say thanks and come back for more this November.

And Billy Neibler is eager to thank the president. I pull into his driveway just south of Columbus. And before I even get out of my rental car, I spot a massive Confederate flag in his garage. The South will rise again, it proclaims - never mind that we're in the North. Neibler is originally from Kentucky. He's a welder who thinks the country's gotten soft.

BILLY NEIBLER: I've been called names. And, you know, and you just say something back or just - maybe you got in a fistfight. But it wasn't this - you know, college campuses - they've got safe spaces so you can go and cry.

KHALID: Neibler admires the president for his power and personality. But he also credits President Trump for the economy.

NEIBLER: I'm gonna say if he keeps doing what he's doing, he'll be the best president in my lifetime.

KHALID: My next stop is southern West Virginia - a state where nearly 10 percent of the population are veterans. I drive through Logan County to the local vet center, where all but one of the guys I meet voted for Trump. Rudy Varney's a Vietnam War vet. And he says he's impressed with the budget increases Trump has gotten for the military. And he also loves the president's idea of a military parade on Veterans Day.

RUDY VARNEY: All the other countries do that. That doesn't mean that we went plumb crazy and raided people's homes or nothing. That's just showing of - our military force and letting the public know what the military is all about and their weapons. I think it's a great thing.

KHALID: Along with venerating the military, Varney says Trump is keeping most of his campaign promises, so what's not to like?

VARNEY: I agree with most everything he says. I wish he'd stay off tweeter (ph) or something, so everybody'd quit getting mad at him.

KHALID: Across many different groups of Republican voters, the No. 1 reason people say they voted for Trump was because they were worried about the tilt of the Supreme Court. And this week, the president seems ready to satisfy their demands with another conservative justice. The balance of the Supreme Court solidified evangelical support behind Trump during the 2016 campaign. So next, I head to the campus of Cedarville University, a Christian college in Ohio.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KHALID: And there I meet Kristen Cochran, a political science major who says her faith is the most important factor in her vote.

KRISTEN COCHRAN: As an individual, I mean, there are certain things about him that I don't love. But there are things he's working towards, especially a crackdown on Planned Parenthood and to potentially revert some of the past prohibitions on abortion.

KHALID: A recent survey showed 75 percent of white evangelicals have a positive opinion of Trump. For some perspective, the president's overall approval rating with the general public is around 40 percent. My last stop is in the northern Atlanta suburbs, home to one of the most highly educated congressional districts in the country, where Trump failed to get a majority of the vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KHALID: I meet Sam Ehlers at a local festival. And like a lot of people here, he praises the president's fiscal policy.

SAM EHLERS: He's done a great job for the economy. Unemployment is low. Taxes have been reduced. Businesses are investing and hiring.

KHALID: The tax cuts are almost universally popular among Republicans here. Mike Davis is the kind of Republican who backed Ohio Governor John Kasich in the 2016 primaries.

MIKE DAVIS: The fringes of both parties scare me, so I'm not a far-right-winged nut. But I'm definitely on the conservative side on the right side.

KHALID: Davis tells me he was initially a lukewarm Trump supporter, but his support has gotten stronger over time.

DAVIS: I love what he's doing with international relations. I love what he's done with the tax code. I love what he's done with appointments of judges. And to be honest with you, those three things trump everything in my mind - no pun intended.

KHALID: Davis says the one thing he does not love is the president's tweeting, but even that he justifies.

DAVIS: I think that that is an excellent way for him to deal with a news media that is hell-bent on destroying him.

KHALID: Many voters had some iteration of this complaint - that the media is on a mission to destroy the president. And the more critics attack the president, the more fiercely his defenders protect him. In fact, in interviews with over 50 Republicans across three states, I only met one person who said she regrets voting for Trump. There is no doubt Democrats are highly engaged this year. A recent study from the Pew Research Center found they are more enthusiastic about the midterms than Republicans. But that same study also found Republicans are more enthusiastic this year than they were in the 2014 midterms. That year, they won control of the Senate and expanded their majority in the House. And so GOP enthusiasm fueled by President Trump could undercut Democrats' ambition this year and keep Republicans in power. Asma Khalid, NPR News.

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