Are Trump’s Controversies Raising Doubts Among His Ardent Supporters? Not Really

(Los Angeles Times/TNS) -

Donald Trump has dominated the airwaves for much of the 2016 presidential campaign, but the Republican presidential nominee has faltered in recent polls.

His campaign has been dogged by a series of controversies, including Trump’s sparring with the family of a Muslim soldier killed in Iraq, his invitation to Russian hackers to look into Hillary Clinton’s emails, and his initial hesitancy in endorsing House Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

Are those issues causing second thoughts among his most ardent supporters? Earlier this year, we profiled several voters around the country — a personal trainer in Virginia, a retired car salesman in Las Vegas and a Latina immigrant in Texas, among others. Each had become, each for their own reasons, enthusiastic citizens of Trump Nation.

What’s behind Trump’s slipping poll numbers? Have the latest controversies caused these voters to reconsider? We checked back with some of them, and the answer is: not really. The things that made Trump appealing to them to begin with — his willingness to take on the status quo, his calls for building American strength and clamping down on immigration — still hold true, they said.

Joe Cervantes, Las Vegas

Cervantes, a retired car salesman, says he wishes Trump would just keep his mouth shut. He wants the real estate magnate to win, but doesn’t think he’s helping himself by getting in spats with anyone who is not Hillary Clinton.

“He should have been quiet on a lot of this stuff,” said Cervantes. He says Trump should not have challenged the federal judge overseeing a civil fraud lawsuit against Trump University with an argument that the judge was of “Mexican heritage” — he is an American citizen born in Indiana. Cervantes is also a Mexican American born in the Midwest, and said that if Trump had a problem with a ruling, he should have left it at that.

He does think Trump is erratic.

“He’s a little wacky, but he does it on purpose,” Cervantes said. “So maybe he goes in there and [messes] everything up for four years; it’ll jolt the Republicans to get things right.”

And he thinks Trump’s clashes with Khizr and Ghazala Kahn, the parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq, have been misguided — the dispute took the spotlight off Clinton’s emails and revelations about Democratic National Committee favoritism toward Clinton’s campaign.

Cervantes doesn’t think Trump will start deporting or monitoring law-abiding Muslims. He’s close friends with a Syrian American family and would never want to see them harmed. “I just think the ones coming in should be screened extremely well,” he said. “He should definitely not made fun of that disabled person with the arm,” Cervantes said, referring to a reporter whose disability Trump appeared to mock.

But the thought of a Clinton presidency overshadows any of Trump’s flaws in his mind — that he sees as the worst possible outcome.

—Joe Mozingo

Peggy Hayes, Fredericksburg, Va.

Hayes says the presidential campaign’s rapid pace, with news and information changing hourly and each candidate’s momentum bouncing back and forth, is overwhelming.

“It’s like watching an ever-changing tennis match,” Hayes said. “The ball gets hit in one direction and then it gets hit in another — it never stops.”

Hayes says she is trying nonetheless to follow all the news; she watched as much of the party conventions as she could, despite a busy work schedule and home life. And she is still committed to her candidate.

“It’s an ever-changing landscape, but I’m still in the Trump train,” Hayes said.

She thinks the media overdid the controversy surrounding Trump’s comments that Russia should find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails and release them. “That was ridiculous,” she said. “If you think the Russians aren’t already paying attention to everything we do, you’re out of your mind.”

That does not mean she has been happy with everything coming from Trump, whom she called “caustic.” She thought the GOP nominee was in the wrong when he responded aggressively to the Khan family’s criticism of him.

“That was horrible,” Hayes said of Trump’s comments. “That should not have been said. Regardless of how anything goes down, they lost their son.”

Still, like others interviewed about Trump’s recent bad headlines, Hayes thinks Clinton has benefited from the media’s focus on Trump. She brought up Clinton’s latest problems, including her false statement on “Fox News Sunday” that FBI Director James B. Comey had called Clinton’s public statements about her private email server “truthful.”

Watching both of the conventions, Hayes found each party’s presentation “dark.” Democrats presented mothers who had lost their sons in police shootings, for instance.

“The DNC was dark, too — they had the mothers of the (men shot by police officers), a police officer’s mother — people screaming, ‘Black lives matter,’” Hayes said. “Everyone’s got their own level of darkness; it depends on what you want to project.”

She is confident that Clinton will not win in November.

“I find it very hard to believe, and I may be delusional, that Hillary can win this,” Hayes said.

—Noah Bierman

Patti Magnon, Laredo, Texas

Like Trump himself, Magnon says she wondered why Khan’s wife wasn’t speaking during the Democratic National Convention.

“Then I saw her face and I thought, ‘Well, she seems really sad.’ That’s the kind of thing you kind of see and don’t say anything.

“But not Trump!”

The mother of three felt torn about how Trump should have responded.

“In any other time, in any other point in our political system before everything was so politically correct — you have to be presidential and act like this or that — I would never say act that way,” said Magnon, 44. “But politics has gotten so dirty. The people get frustrated. When Trump goes and says things, it’s letting out that frustration.”

She follows Trump on Twitter, and wasn’t surprised to see him counterattack.

“I wouldn’t say any of those things or even imply it, talking to that family who lost their son. That is inconceivable,” she said. “I do feel that sometimes Trump kind of steps on it, because he’s reactive that way.”

Magnon compared Trump to her husband: “He’s a nice person, but don’t go after him.”

“His style is not to apologize,” she said. “If he was my husband, I would tell him, ‘You give [Khan] a call. Don’t let the press know; just talk to him.’”

But Magnon said those who focused on Trump’s treatment of the military family should also consider Clinton’s treatment of Patricia Smith, who spoke out against the Democrat after her son, a State Department official, was killed in the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

“[President] Obama created the atmosphere that we have in this country, that everybody is so fed up with him and the system, and their way of lashing out is Trump. Trump is our voice,” she said. “Why are the people still behind him? It’s that he has our voice. He is the perfect anti-Obama. At any other point in our history, Trump wouldn’t have gotten to 1 percent. It is our atmosphere in this country.”

Magnon agrees with Trump’s arguments about banning Muslim immigrants.

“ISIS is such a reality these days,” she said, referring to the terrorist group Islamic State, “that they can just radicalize anyone — especially someone who is borderline with mental problems.”

“The way we let them come in, we should be a little more careful,” Magnon added.

She said Republicans who have endorsed Clinton in recent days “are not thinking of the Supreme Court justices” she would appoint.

“Trump at some point should just stop tweeting and not get in more trouble. But I don’t think that’s him. He’s just not going to stop,” Magnon said. “I’m just thinking, ‘Don’t [mess up] enough that it will cost you the election. Just focus on the goal. You can do that if you just focus on the states you need to turn Republican to win: Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. If you can do that, you can win,’” she said.

—Molly Hennessy-Fiske