MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. — Republicans in Michigan, where Donald Trump triumphantly stamped the election last year, are giving the president mixed reviews nine months into his term in light of the all-but-dead effort to undo the Obama-era health care law.
While Trump still remains popular with the Michigan GOP’s base, a number of state party loyalists attending a weekend conference expressed disappointment in the president’s administration and his demeanor.
Some who criticize Trump struggled to excuse his blustery comments and stalled legislative record, masking their disappointment by faulting leaders in the GOP-controlled Congress for stymieing the man they backed last year as a take-charge leader.
And while Trump’s name draws applause from large audiences, some say privately his first year isn’t what they had hoped for when he rolled to victory through their state and nearby Midwestern battlegrounds in November.
“It’s not going as well as it should,” Paul McClorey said of the Trump administration.
McClorey, a construction company owner from near Lansing, and his wife, Alison, were among about 2,000 Michigan Republicans attending the Mackinac Leadership Conference, a biennial gathering on the scenic island off the Upper Peninsula.
Though the two-day event’s public speakers have praised Trump from the podium in the Grand Hotel’s opulent dining room, in conversations next door in the windowed parlor overlooking Lake Huron a more nuanced theme has emerged: We like him, but not everything we’ve seen from him.
“There are things he says that I just don’t like,” said Linda Kolich, a nurse from Kalamazoo.
She said Trump’s vow during a speech to the United Nations this past week to “totally destroy North Korea” scared her. And his reference to North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” she found “unbecoming to the office of the president.”
Her husband, Greg, suggested that a better approach would be “to speak softly and carry a big stick.”
He said Trump is engaging in “playground B.S.,” by publicly disparaging fellow Republicans such as Arizona Sen. John McCain, who again appears to have blocked the Senate’s attempt to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
Trump “just won’t play nice with some people,” said Greg Kolich, a machinist.
To be sure, there was no love lost on McCain in this group of die-hard Republicans. “That bugger makes me so mad,” said Marilyn Mackie of Sault Ste. Marie.
But it isn’t just Trump’s words that are getting to some of his supporters.
Some, like McClorey, said it was wrong to run at health care again after it had failed during the summer. The episodes leave yet another bruise on Trump’s relationship with Congress, they said.
For others, like Mackie, it’s the overdue promise of a major federal infrastructure program, which Trump talked up earlier in the year but has mentioned less often as the summer fight over health care has dragged into the fall.
Trump promised last year in Michigan, she said, to see through the decades-old reconstruction project on a Great Lakes lock system near her town.
“We need a new lock,” she said. “He promised us a new lock.”
Specifically, the Poe Lock, the only one capable of handling standard barges, is at a critical point in an aging shipping complex that moves cargo between lakes Superior and Huron.
If the lock fails, the economic impact would be devastating, Gov. Rick Snyder said.
“They haven’t come out with their infrastructure package yet,” Snyder said Saturday, though it’s on the list of projects he submitted when Trump sought input shortly after his January inauguration.
Granted, Snyder and a number of other Republicans in the Michigan party establishment were cool to Trump as the presidential nominee. And the late-summer conference attracts those who can afford to travel to the pricey resort, not so much the blue-collar conservatives who helped Trump carry Maccomb County, a tract of suburban Detroit recovering from what was double-digit unemployment less than a decade ago.
Former Rep. Candice Miller, from Maccomb County, was unfazed by her fellow Republicans’ critiques of Trump.
“We are listening to him say ‘Rocket Man’ and want him to knock the guy’s block off,” Miller said. And Republicans who voted against the GOP health care bills? “They are going to be reminded of those votes,” Miller said.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, a former Michigan GOP chairwoman and granddaughter of a former governor, blamed Democrats for the inaction during her speech Friday evening.
“While GOPs continue to progress and work hard for results for the American people, Dems continue to resist, obstruct and divide,” she said, praising Trump twice, for executive action on business deregulation and helping the party raise money.
In Michigan, as elsewhere, some Republicans say hope for the “win” Trump needs rests in legislation to cut taxes.
“I thought they would get some things done, and I’m looking forward to them completing tax reform,” said Michigan Republican Chairman Ron Weiser. “Tax reform is front and center and I think it’s vitally important it gets completed.”