Barrage of attacks against Trump not swaying his most loyal supporters – Annenberg Media

IRMO, S.C. — The South Carolina Republican primary made clear that much of the GOP voter base is not swayed by the criminal charges or any of the other issues plaguing former President Donald Trump. He’s been attacked by the Democrats and even within his own party, but his standing remained strong as former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley promised to keep up her quixotic battle to become the Republican presidential nominee.

Republicans defended Trump again and again in interviews across the state the week before Saturday’s primary, which he won with nearly 60% of the votes.

“Look, what they’re doing to Trump because he is an outsider, all these lawsuits are just crazy,” said Greg Cline, a veteran who voted a week before the election at the early voting station in Lexington, in support of Trump. “Never happened in history before that they’d attack the president.”

“They’re overplaying their hand,” Ed Cheek, attending Haley’s Feb. 17 rally at a public park here, said of the charges against the former president. “Even people who hate Trump are turning to Trump, and they say they’re gonna vote for him because they’re piling on.”

Cheek, a 78-year-old who spent time after the rally passing out small booklets lionizing former president Ronald Reagan, said he does not doubt that Trump is guilty of some wrongdoing, but what the former president currently faces, he said, is excessive. This February day, Cheek was far from the only voter skeptical of Trump’s legal troubles, which only increased the following month.

Trump’s continued perception as an outsider, even after four years as president, plays a major role in his ability to throw off attacks. Having cultivated a strong distrust of longtime politicians, Trump has set himself apart from the rest of the biggest names in politics.

“Look at the Bidens, the Nancy Pelosis, the Chuck Schumers …  Mitch McConnell. These people need to get out. These people are ruining our country,” Cline said. “There’s a deep state, there’s an underlying evil force in Washington. These people are power-hungry… and they want to control us. I’m tired of it.”

Many of these claims are directly downstream of Trump’s frequent anti-establishment rhetoric. Cline wasn’t the only voter vocally afraid of the “deep state” Trump often references. For most people, the deep state is a collection of powerful governmental actors, both elected and unelected, who run the country according to their own desires rather than the desires of the American people.

“I mean, the first time I heard that Trump was going to run, I thought ‘I am not voting for him,’”  Alexandra Dickinson, an 81-year-old Trump voter with short, white hair and a white puffer jacket, said after submitting her early ballot in Lexington. “But the more I got to know, the more I understood what was going on, I mean we’re combatting a very, very big and very, very old atheistic cabal and… they’re finally letting us know about it.”

Dickinson is one of many Republican voters who said they do not believe that Joe Biden won the 2020 election. She said she holds significant doubts about the legitimacy of early and absentee voting, noting that she used to live in Georgia’s Fulton County — one of the counties she believes had suspicious results. Nonetheless, she showed up to vote early.

Why?

“I think Trump wanted us to early vote,” she said. “Probably because so many people are going to be voting for him.”

The former president began posting videos encouraging early voting last summer.

“Commit to voting early,” Trump said in one such video. “We must defeat the far left at their own game, or our country will never recover from this disastrous, crooked Biden administration.”

Although many voters are unconcerned about Trump’s actions and rhetoric, that is not true of the whole party.

The former president’s penchant for belittling members of the military, most recently mocking Haley’s deployed husband’s absence from the campaign trail, has rubbed some Republicans the wrong way.

“As the wife of a Vietnam veteran, I am appalled that Donald Trump denigrates the military,” Katherine Frankstone, a South Carolina native, said after Haley’s Irmo rally. “I am honored to be married to a veteran and respect his and every other military serviceperson’s service and I support [Haley] particularly because of her stance on that.”

“He disrespected my grandfather in World War I, he disrespected my father, who was on the second wave at Omaha Beach,” added her husband, Manning Frankstone.

“And he disrespected you.”

“And he disrespected me,” he finished sadly.

The Frankstones’ fear of Trump was not limited to what they see as the former president’s lack of respect for the military.

“Nikki’s word ‘unhinged’ is accurate. He is out of touch with reality, he is a liar and a cheat, he is a misogynist. I can’t think of a good thing to say about him and to have him as the leader of the free world scares the sh*t out of me,” Katherine Frankstone said.

Those concerns about Trump’s character didn’t play a part in others’ decisions, however.

“None of us like his personality, but you’ve got to be able to separate the personality from the policies,” Cheek said. “Just because you hate his personality, you can’t assume everything he does is bad for the country.”

The Frankstones are in the minority of their party, but they are not alone in fearing a second Trump presidency.

“This election will determine whether or not — I’m convinced of this — whether or not we continue our pursuit of a more perfect union or whether or not we will drift into an autocracy,” said Rep. James Clyburn, the only Democratic member of the South Carolina congressional delegation. Clyburn spoke to Annenberg Media in his office the day after he stepped down from the party’s house leadership to have more time to share his fears of America’s future with voters.

“People are substituting style for substance,” he added, attributing Biden’s struggle for popularity and Trump’s devoted base to each candidate’s style.

Will Trump’s style of politics keep its hold on the party once he is no longer at the forefront? Even his supporters had doubts.

“I think he’s one of a kind and he’s the only one who’s really strong enough to deal with the foreign difficulties that we have. I don’t think Nikki could handle that,” Dickinson said. “I guess I don’t think it should be a woman considering how bad things really are.”

Stout defenses against a barrage of attacks are nothing new for the Palmetto State — in fact, such a defense contributed to that nickname for South Carolina. The week before the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, British troops attempted to take Charleston. They were held back by an incomplete fort, filled in with palmetto logs and sand which were soft enough to absorb most cannon shots’ impacts.

Now, a battle is being waged with similar results — whatever anyone throws at Trump just bounces right off — at least, that’s how his supporters see it.


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