Donald Trump lost big in Washington state, but his supporters here echoed the sentiments of Rust Belt voters who decided the 2016 election. They say Trump’s plans to halt illegal immigration and redo trade pacts struck a powerful chord.
Jason Swendt says he wouldn’t want his three daughters to date someone who has treated women like President-elect Donald Trump has.
Nevertheless, Swendt marked his ballot for Trump — and has pinned great hopes on the incoming Republican president’s plans to scuttle and reshape international trade deals and halt illegal immigration.
Swendt, 43, works at Intalco’s Ferndale aluminum smelter, in an industry buffeted by sagging aluminum prices and foreign competition.
“If he stays true to his word … I believe we’ve got a great shot here,” said Swendt, who thinks steel mills and other manufacturing jobs can come back under a Trump administration. “I truly believe that he does want the best for the American worker.”
In Washington state, where Trump took just 38 percent of the vote — and especially in King County, where he won a scant 22 percent — many found Tuesday’s election results unfathomable.
But in interviews last week, Trump supporters here echoed sentiments of swing voters in Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which flipped from Democrat to Republican this year.
They’ve been angered by immigration, cultural changes and misguided trade pacts they see as brought on by an arrogant Washington, D.C., elite that has grown out of touch with the average American.
Watching Trump’s Tuesday night acceptance speech, Cynthia Cole was struck by the magnitude of what just took place.
“He really hit a lot of people who thought the government was not listening to their needs,” said Cole, 62, of Bellevue, a retired Boeing employee who led the company’s engineering union for four years. “The people who are Trump supporters got tired of being told they were stupid and they’re racist or bigoted if they were supporting Trump.”
Now that he is headed to the White House, Trump supporters here say they expect him to follow through on his big pledges: protectionist trade policies, repeal of the Affordable Care Act, building a wall on the Mexican border, halting refugees from Syria and slashing corporate taxes.
State Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, a Trump adviser who ran his campaign in Washington, has been in touch with Trump’s family and members of the transition team since the election.
Despite whispers that Trump’s border wall with Mexico was more campaign talk than concrete proposal, Benton says it’s happening.
“Mr. Trump says he is going to build a wall and believe me, when he says something he means it,” Benton said. “He’s a man of his word.”
But there already are signs Trump may break some of his campaign promises.
On Friday, he told The Wall Street Journal he’s willing to keep part of the federal health-care law he’s spent the last year denouncing. And senior Trump adviser Newt Gingrich said Trump may not spend much time getting Mexico to pay for the border wall, calling that pledge “a great campaign device.”
In Washington, as nationally, Trump drew his strongest support from whites, especially white men without college degrees. Exit polls showed a majority of Americans believed Trump was not qualified and did not have the right temperament to be president. Some put aside those concerns and voted for him anyway — seeing bigger flaws in Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Before the election, Trump was accused by multiple women of unwanted advances and sexual assault, charges he denied. A leaked tape also emerged of Trump boasting in 2005 of groping women without permission.
Clinton won handily among all female voters nationally, according to exit polls, taking 54 percent of their votes to Trump’s 42 percent. But, among just white women, Trump won by nearly as large a margin, 53 percent to 43 percent.
Steve Altick, an ordained minister and Vietnam veteran, said he wasn’t crazy about some of Trump’s comments, but in the end he had to make a choice.
“The negative on Trump were the things he said,” Altick, 73, of Auburn, said. “The negatives on Secretary Clinton were the things she did. It was someone who was ethically not sound versus someone who talks before he thinks.”
Altick, who runs a Christian camp after 23 years in the Air Force, said the military, under Obama, has become “somewhat of a social experiment.” He cited the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the opening of all combat roles to women.
While Trump lost big in Washington state, he flipped four rural Washington counties that had a history of voting Democratic. That included Grays Harbor County, where the 8.2 percent jobless rate is double that of King County.
“This is an area that has been down for a long time,” said Jim Walsh, chairman of the Grays Harbor Republican Party.
Good-paying jobs in the timber industry and in commercial fishing have faded away in the Pacific Coast county. And Walsh said locals don’t believe the “clean-energy economy” talked up by Seattle-area Democrats will be a sufficient replacement.
“We want to see real industries that generate family-wage jobs again,” Walsh said.
University of Washington political science professor Christopher Parker rejected the idea that Trump’s soaring support among whites was based on economic populism, citing national exit polls showing Trump winning every income bracket above $50,000 annually.
Parker, who wrote a book on the tea party and who has been a Trump critic, sees racism behind the election result.
“This is not about people who are hurting economically, that is what people tell themselves, but it’s not true,” he said. “This is all about the idea that they are losing their country, that the America they’ve come to know and love is vanishing.”
Trump launched his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and last year called for ban on Muslims entering the U.S., citing terrorism concerns.
Trump supporters resent being labeled intolerant, and say it’s unfair, for example, to tie their candidate or them to white nationalist groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, that supported him.
Altick said many Trump controversies were overblown by the media. Still, he said he understands the fears some minorities have of the president-elect.
“The other side has couched what he has said to scare people,” he said. “That was all part of the campaign, but now that the campaign’s over, he’s got to try to reassure people.”
Despite the racially divisive campaign, exit polls show Trump winning the same share of the Latino vote as Mitt Romney in 2012. (As a group, Latinos still overwhelming voted Democratic.)
Trump supporter Rachelle Ramirez, of Blaine, was born in the U.S. but said her grandmother came here illegally from Mexico. She agrees with Trump that immigration laws should be enforced.
“There is a right way and a wrong way to get in here,” Ramirez said. “If you have nothing to hide, you should be fine, right? The only people who have anything to worry about are people who probably shouldn’t be here.”
Ramirez pointed to Clinton’s email controversy and the Benghazi terrorist attacks as disqualifiers for the former secretary of state.
Like Swendt, Ramirez works in a union job at the Intalco smelter, a plant that has been threatened with closure due to economic conditions in the aluminum industry. Wenatchee’s Alcoa smelter was idled in January, costing more than 400 people their jobs.
Intalco was only saved through government intervention, including a $3 million state grant and a renegotiated deal with the Bonneville Power Administration.
Washington is a major beneficiary of international trade, and some experts have warned the state will suffer dire consequences if Trump imposes protectionist policies, such as high tariffs, that ignite a trade war.
But Trump’s trade stance hit a chord with some unionized manufacturing workers who see their jobs at risk under trade deals like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a pact negotiated by the Obama administration that Trump’s election is certain to scuttle.
Ryan Leenders, of Everett, a member of the International Association of Machinists (IAM), grew up a Democrat and says he voted for Obama in 2008.
But Leenders, 31, was drawn to Trump early in the 2016 campaign when he heard the candidate denounce the 1994 NAFTA deal and other international trade agreements.
While unions including IAM formally endorsed Clinton this year, Leenders said there was plenty of support for Trump among rank and file union members.
“It’s pretty amazing how many people support him within the union. The headquarters over on the East Coast decided for us without taking a vote,” Leenders said of the Clinton endorsement.
Trump’s trade criticism was similar to that of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the runner-up to Clinton in the Democratic presidential race.
Leenders said he and other Trump supporters could maybe have gotten behind Sanders on that basis. “At least I respected him as a person,” he said.
By the time Trump’s leaked comments about women emerged last month, Leenders said he had more than enough information on the candidates, and Clinton was not an option.
“I had pretty much already made up my mind,” Leenders said. “He would have had to have done something, to use her words, pretty ‘deplorable’ to sway my opinion.”