Despite a steady drumbeat of negative news surrounding President Donald Trump and his policies, Republicans in Hawaii remain steadfast in their support for him.
Their support for the controversial president, in fact, has seemingly grown stronger in the face of withering criticism from Democrats in Hawaii and Washington. Many Republicans believe he is being treated unfairly.
“There was not unified support for Trump the candidate, but there is unified support for Trump the president,” said Shirlene DelaCruz Ostrov, the newly elected chairwoman of the Republican Party of Hawaii. “The party has much more unified support, absolutely.”
Ostrov said Republicans have most applauded some of the same things Democrats have criticized, including approving two major gas pipelines, exiting the Trans Pacific Partnership, freezing federal employment and establishing what she called an “America-first energy policy.” The Paris Accord on the climate, she has said, would have created “nightmarish regulations,” and Trump’s repudiation of it was in America’s best interest.
“These things are really appealing to Republicans,” she said.
The views of party leaders were echoed in a series of recent interviews with Republicans around the islands.
“The Republicans think he is doing a great job,” said Christina Cure, 66, a retired widow in Makaha. “The media is portraying it like everyone is unhappy. We’re not.”
If Trump doesn’t succeed, the cause will be Democratic obstructionism, contends Stan James, 70, a retired utility accountant who lives on Maui. “They’ve decided to do everything in their power to keep him from accomplishing anything,” he said.
Some said they have become even more enthusiastic about him than they were on Election Day, when 29 percent of Hawaii voters supported Trump.
“The more people are against him, it makes me so angry and I want to help him,” said Lynne Hansen of Laie, a retired professor of linguistics at Brigham Young University. “It’s just unbelievable that they can be so negative, not just in Hawaii.”
Bethann Keough, 42, a child development center director who lives in Ewa Beach, said she views him more favorably now than in the past because she thinks he is doing a good job and he is not receiving what she called “a fair shot.”
“I don’t hate him but there’s a lot of haters,” she said. “He’s up against a lot.”
Many of the Republicans interviewed said news reporters have been quick to criticize Trump and unwilling to acknowledge the good things he has done while in office.
“The mendacious press is trying to make a story about things where there is really nothing there,” said Kimo Sutton, a Honolulu Uber driver who was a Trump organizer last year. “People are turning off the news. It’s one attack after another.”
Sutton also criticized recent actions by Hawaii’s state officials and congressional delegation that he believes are alienating Republicans in powerful positions who decide where federal spending will go. He said he expects discretionary dollars to go to states that are less confrontational with the president, something that he thinks could prevent Hawaii from getting essential federal money for big projects such as rail.
“We’re going to get military spending, but we will lose all the aloha for spending in other ways,” Sutton said.
Even military spending is at risk, said Albert Amiot, 56, of Waipahu, who owns a small business that sells and services motorized vehicles for the handicapped.
“This’ll come back and bite the state of Hawaii in the okole,” Amiot said. “God help us if military bases end up closing because of this.”
Republicans almost universally opposed Hawaii’s lawsuit against Trump’s travel order restricting immigration by people from six majority-Muslim countries.
“You got to do for Americans, not for people here illegally,” said Michael Cantu, 59, who is Hispanic and whose wife is a Filipino immigrant who came to the United States legally. “My wife’s family has spent 20 years trying to get here legally. I don’t see the fairness.”
Cure, a lifelong Republican, said Hawaii’s lawsuit is a waste of money because she doesn’t think Muslims would like living here anyway.
“We eat nothing but pork,” she said, ticking off a long list of pork products that are island favorites. Plus, she said, women here are “all running around half naked.”
Still, some Republicans said this week they were viewing Trump more warily than they did at first.
Kay Kadooka, a flower shop owner in Chinatown, said she would like to see Trump be “a little more humble.”
Kadooka, who was born in South Korea, said she also found herself torn over Trump’s plan to restrict immigration. She supports human rights and believes that entrepreneurial people should be given a chance to succeed in the United States, but she is also loyal to the Republican Party platform.
“I’m not as sympathetic to immigration as I should be, but I’m a Republican,” she said.
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A Kailua girl, Kirstin Downey is a special correspondent for Civil Beat. A longtime reporter for The Washington Post, she is the author of "The Woman Behind the New Deal," "Isabella the Warrior Queen" and an upcoming biography of King Kaumualii of Kauai. She can be reached at email@example.com.