Listen to the demonstrators chanting in the Portland streets or the Democratic senators trying to shoot down President Donald Trump’s cabinet picks. It’s clear they fear the worst from the new president.
Republican activists in Oregon — one of the most Democratic states in the country — have not been so visible. But interviews with six of them show they are much more likely to find at least a few big things to like about Trump.
So far, hope seems to be winning over fear for these Republicans.
“I didn’t vote for him, and I didn’t support him, and I have a lot of concerns about him,” said Dan Lucas, a Salem information technology manager and longtime GOP activist and writer. “But I’ve been pleasantly surprised.”
Here are six capsule interviews with a wide variety of Republican activists.
The Tea Party Activist
Gresham resident Jeff Reynolds said he wasn’t involved in politics until 2009. That’s when Barack Obama became president and Reynolds, alarmed by Obama’s expansive view of government, joined a new conservative movement: the Tea Party.
Reynolds became chairman of the Multnomah County GOP and was deputy director of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign in Oregon during last year’s presidential primaries.
Reynolds, 45, said he had major qualms about Trump throughout the campaign. He questioned both Trump’s adherence to conservative principles and his mercurial temperament. But he voted for Trump and was pleasantly surprised when he won.
After eight years of Obama, Reynolds said he took a certain satisfaction in seeing the Democratic reaction to the election results.
“The sober, government me wants to see somebody who governs in a way that is more judge-like and deliberative,” Reynolds said. “Watching people on the left have their heads explode is also kind of fun.”
There’s plenty to like in the new administration, Reynolds said. Neil Gorsuch is a fitting replacement for conservative icon Antonin Scalia, the late Supreme Court justice. Reynolds is also thrilled with new education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ strong support for school choice.
But Reynolds is not a fan of Steven Mnuchin, the new treasury secretary. Too much of a pro-Federal Reserve globalist, he said. And he doesn’t like Trump’s plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on public works programs such as roads and bridges. That’s not small government, he said.
“More Republicans should be equally concerned about that,” Reynolds said. “But a lot of Republicans are going to the idea that ‘Our guy won, we need to support him, and it’s us versus them.’”
The True Believer
Manzanita retiree Cathy Holtz slapped a Trump bumper sticker on her car early in the presidential campaign. She volunteered at his campaign headquarters in Tigard before last year’s Oregon primary, and she told a reporter then that she looked forward to Trump’s promised wall stretching the length of the U.S. border with Mexico.
“It can be this beautiful money maker for us. We can have this beautiful rock wall; it can be really thick in places and you can go inside,” she said. “It can be a museum, it can be everything.”
Holtz, 65, remains enthusiastic about Trump, and she is angry about the demonstrations that accompanied his electoral victory. She’s especially mad at Portland protesters who damaged businesses and disrupted traffic.
“It’s been extremely difficult to see people taking freedom of speech to an extreme as to destroy it,” she said, adding that people needed to give Trump a chance.
“He is new to politics,” Holtz said, “and I just don’t think a lot of people can get over that — and I think he’ll be great.”
Jacob Vandever, a 24-year-old Republican activist from Corvallis, said he’s keeping an open mind on the president.
“I never called myself a ‘never Trump’ guy or a Trump supporter,” he said. “I call myself a Trump skeptic.”
Vandever is a recent Oregon State University graduate who works for Turning Point USA, a group that promotes conservative principles to young people. And he ran for the Oregon House in 2014, albeit as a “sacrificial lamb” in a heavily Democratic district.
“His whole candidacy and his whole presidency so far has been a pretty mixed bag. There’s things I’m excited about, such as Judge [Neil] Gorsuch getting nominated [to the Supreme Court], and things I’m not so wild about, like when we talk about 20 percent tariffs with Mexico.”
Vandever said he is a classic free-trade supporter — a traditional view among business-minded Republicans — and worried that Trump’s support for tighter trade rules could particularly hurt Oregon. The Northwest, he noted, has been successful in the international trade arena.
Julia Rabadi, 28, is a Portland auditor who left her presidential ballot blank — although she said she might have voted for Trump if she had been in a more politically competitive state.
So far, watching the new president has been dizzying, said Rabadi, who has been active in Young Republicans.
“It honestly doesn’t feel real yet,” she said. “I’m still in shock that he actually pulled it off. And he’s had some good moments. Republicans are pretty happy about his nominee for the Supreme Court, they’re pretty happy about the education secretary, so he’s had a few good moments.
“Maybe it will distract people from this immigration ban disaster,” she added, “but he’s had some extreme highs and lows.”
As the daughter of Christian immigrants from Jordan, Rabadi said she has a harsher view of Trump’s travel ban than do many of her fellow Republicans.
A blanket prohibition on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries hurts “people who really need to get out of there,” she said, “and I can’t be in favor of something like that, knowing my parents came from the region.”
If Trump can focus on growing the economy, Rabadi said, he can salvage his image and even win over many of his detractors.
“They didn’t elect him to pick fights on social media,” she said, “they didn’t elect him to act like a child. They elected him mostly for jobs.”
The Party Veteran
Marylin Shannon, 75, has been a Republican activist since Ronald Reagan was president. She’s a former state senator from Brooks and now serves as a member of the Republican National Committee. It’s her second stint on the party’s ruling body.
Shannon grew up in a Democratic, union household and became a Republican because of the abortion debate, she said. Trump, she said, is the first Republican president who mirrors her pro-life views but also has a more populist stance on such issues as trade.
Shannon said she isn’t bothered by Trump’s own shifting stance on abortion — he once called himself pro-choice — or by his “hot mic” moment from 2005 when he boasted about sexually groping women.
“I give people grace, because I think lots of people would like do-overs from 12 years ago or whatever,” she said.
Like many Republicans, Shannon said the media has been particularly unfair to Trump. It’s a good reason for him to turn to Twitter.
“I don’t blame him for wanting to get his own story out,” she said, “instead of going through the naysayers.”
The Media Skeptic
Dan Lucas, a Salem information technology manager, was long active in the Republican Party and for several years edited a conservative blog, the Oregon Catalyst. He regarded the choice of Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton as the “lesser of two evils,” and he said he ultimately didn’t vote in the presidential race.
Lucas said he would have probably voted for Trump if he was in a competitive state. And he found himself elated on election night when Trump won.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a lot of his cabinet picks and those sorts of things,” said Lucas, 59.
And this has also struck Lucas: “I see the press treating him about the way they treated George Bush. And it shows, in my opinion that conservatives do not get a fair shake.”
Lucas expanded on his views on the media in a column he wrote for the Salem Statesman-Journal — and he was pleased to see it picked up by USA Today and a number of other publications owned by the Gannett newspaper chain.
Lucas said he disagrees with Trump on some issues, such as his big infrastructure plans. But he is coming around there, too.
“Talking about another stimulus package for infrastructure stuff is definitely against conservative values,” Lucas said. “However, I respect the coalition that elected him, and he needs to do what he needs to do to be true to that coalition. And part of that coalition is people who are looking for jobs, and not in five years or 10 years, but now.”