Ryan Leenders, a member of the International Association of Machinists, grew up a Democrat and voted for Obama eight years ago. Now he’s an ardent Donald Trump supporter.
Ryan Leenders, 30, a member of the International Association of Machinists, grew up a Democrat.
“My grandma was reporting secretary for the Local 751,” he says. “I remember she brought me to the Local while strikes were going on. I was making sandwiches for the picket line. My whole family is Democrat.”
He voted for Obama eight years ago.
Now he’s an ardent Donald Trump supporter, much to his grandmother’s dismay.
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“Regardless of the picture they’re painting of him,” says Leenders about Trump, “he’d be a labor-first president.”
These days, given Bernie Sanders’ sweep in the recent Democratic caucuses, it might seem this state is all in for the Vermont senator. But people like Leenders, born and raised in Everett, will explain why Trump is their man.
These blue-collar workers are saying no more. With Washington’s GOP presidential primary next month, they’re done with the usual politics.
“Yeah, we’re angry,” says Leenders. “If you lose your job in America you have to worry about losing your house. Every American then worries about losing their assets. A good replacement job is hard to find.”
Leenders grew up in a single-parent household, his mom the sole income earner. By age 12 Leenders had set up a nice neighborhood business mowing and edging lawns at $20 a pop.
In his adult life, he figures, he’s been unemployed for only one week. He and his wife, Amber, who works at a Mukilteo restaurant, are saving their money to buy a home. Isn’t that supposed to be the American way, work hard, get ahead?
Then why does it seem so shaky?
On a recent afternoon, Leenders and one of his factory co-workers sat at the restaurant where Amber works.
He is Jack McPherson, 65, married 44 years, has done pretty well in life, owning a garage-door installation company and building six homes. He’s now a machinist because he likes to keep busy.
The only Democrat he has supported for president was the anti-Vietnam War candidate George McGovern, back in 1972.
About Trump, he says, “He’s our last hope. I don’t see anybody in the Republicans — I don’t care who it is — who I felt was honest.”
McPherson says he wishes Trump would tone down his more bombastic statements and tweets. He can live with that.
“He’s selling a brand. The Trump brand. He’s flamboyant. He’s gregarious. He’s out there every day. He likes to be in the action,” says McPherson.
Disgust with status quo
McPherson earns $28 an hour; Leenders makes $26 an hour, plus a lot of overtime.
The GOP hasn’t been exactly friendly to unions. The machinists union leadership has traditionally supported Democrats, but Leenders says Trump is appealing more and more to some members.
“Under Clinton, under Bush, under Obama, middle-class union jobs have been going down,” he says. “None have proposed a solution. Trump comes in, ‘I’ll bring those jobs back.’ ”
Leenders says about the people in his work crew, “Everybody is for Trump,” and guesses that up to half the plant is for Trump, with many of the rest for Sanders — the Democrats’ anti-establishment candidate. He can think of “maybe two people” who are for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
For Leenders, supporting Sanders is a bit too much. “You want to see how socialism works, take a look at Venezuela,” he says.
In Michigan last month, more than half of non-college graduate white men voting in the GOP primary backed Trump, according to exit polling done by Edison Research.
Leenders voted for Obama in 2008. “I was still in the mindset I was a Democrat. And I was upset with President Bush with increasing our national debt,” he said.
By 2012, he was a Ron Paul supporter, in part because he liked Paul’s position on not intervening in foreign affairs.
A spokesman for Local 751 says the union has done no polling of its members and that “the political views of our members are as diverse as the views of the communities we live in.”
But talk to Randy Hayden, an executive board member of the Snohomish County Republican Party.
“We had a fair amount of Trump supporters at our caucus,” says the state committeeman.
Again, there are no figures because the GOP did not conduct a straw poll at the Feb. 20 caucuses. Republicans will vote for a presidential nominee during the state primary May 24.
Hayden, who lives in Edmonds, is a general contractor. He talks about a commercial fisherman for whom he’s doing some work.
“He’s a Trump supporter. He’s very intelligent, has college degrees, has like three different businesses,” says Hayden.
That Trump supporter is Fred Crothamel, 56, of Mercer Island. He has a business administration degree from Western Washington University.
When he’s not fishing commercially, he also keeps up 12 rental units and installs diesel exhaust removal systems.
He’s always skewed Republican, he says.
Now, Crothamel says, “Politicians have done such a lousy job running the government that they deserve Trump.” He says that now he’s disgusted by them all.
He thinks Trump understands business.
“I catch sockeye salmon out of Alaska. Eighty percent of it is exported and we’re in direct competition with Russia. When the dollar is superstrong it costs more for Japanese customers to purchase our sockeye salmon. So they buy it from the Russians.”
TPP looms large
Three initials keep coming up in conversations with the two machinists: TPP, which stands for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
It’s doubtful many Americans could provide the barest details about the 12-country pact. These men can talk plenty about it.
“If TPP is passed it’s going to send more of our jobs to places like Thailand. Thailand uses slave labor. Thailand is part of TPP. You can’t compete,” says Leenders.
Trump has called the TPP “a mortal threat to American manufacturing.” He says the deal “should not be allowed to happen” and that instead he’d “make individual deals with individual countries.”
They talk about the infamous video in February showing the president of the Carrier air conditioner company in Indianapolis being booed and jeered when telling employees the plant would be relocated to Mexico.
They like what Trump says he’d do to companies that take manufacturing out of the country, and then send the finished products to the U.S.
“When they ship those goods, you slap trade tariffs on them, just like China does,” says McPherson.
For these blue-collar men, Donald Trump explains things quite clearly.