For Jason Swendt, the downside of globalization is not hypothetical.
Swendt, 42, went to Donald Trump’s recent Whatcom County rally with co-workers from Alcoa’s nearby Intalco aluminum smelter, where Swendt builds carbon-lined steel pots in which ore is heated and zapped with electricity to extract metal.
Swendt says he was a Bill Clinton supporter in the 1990s because he believed Clinton was on the side of the average worker. His union, the International Association of Machinists, has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. But Swendt said he’s heard “a lot of support” for Trump at the smelter.
“China is killing us in trade. It’s killing the aluminum work, and we just can’t compete,” he said. “We need Trump’s help if he gets elected.”
As Republican voters cast their ballots in Washington’s presidential primary, The Seattle Times interviewed some supporters of Trump, the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee. From a manufacturing worker like Swendt to a Realtor to a religious conservative, these voters said they see a troubled America ready for a political reset.
They’re not going to be swayed by media reports on Trump’s controversial statements about Muslims and Mexicans, past behavior with women, or experts dismissing his policies as potentially disastrous. In Trump they trust, no matter what.
Swendt has plenty of company from Trump backers who dislike global free-trade pacts and say immigration has been a burden for the U.S., according to recent polling by the Pew Research Center. Their intensity about such issues sets them apart from other Republican voters, the polling shows.
Sixty-seven percent of Trump supporters said free trade has been bad for the country, compared with 43 percent for non-Trump supporters, according to Pew’s national surveys of registered voters who identify themselves as Republican or Republican-leaning, conducted in March and April this year.
Behind those statistics is the job insecurity some voters face.
The Intalco plant where Swendt works was on the verge of shutting down due to sagging aluminum prices and foreign competition. Only an infusion of $3 million in state job-training grants and a renegotiated deal with the Bonneville Power Administration halted the closure — for now. Alcoa’s Wenatchee aluminum smelter was idled in January, costing more than 400 jobs.
While economists warn that Trump’s promised high tariffs on China and Mexico would set off a disastrous trade war, his tough talk sounds good to people like Swendt.
“You know, the unions typically follow the Democrats because they are supposed to be pro-worker. But the way I see it anymore, it’s shifting back to the Republicans,” Swendt said. “We’ve got guys in the lunchroom, 18-, 19-year-old kids, that are asking questions and talking about Trump. They’re only talking about Trump.”
Brad Howard, 52, a Bellingham Realtor, said he thinks Trump’s unconventional candidacy fits the times.
“Liberal, conservative, that is outdated,” Howard said. “It’s globalists versus nationalists now, and we need to put the interests of our country first.”
He also finds Trump refreshingly direct: “Trump calls it as he sees it and he is not afraid.”
Howard is not bothered by Trump’s lack of political experience — quite the contrary. The so-called experts have failed people like him, he said.
“I believe the system is rigged, and many of my friends feel the same way, Howard said. “The decisions are made behind closed doors, then dressed up and presented to the electorate. The electorate doesn’t count.”
Asked for specifics, he says no one thing has soured his view on politics as usual. His is a more general feeling, Howard said, that much of what’s in the media, mainstream politics and even academia is just politically correct blather.
“It’s lost all credibility,” he said.
Weary of politicians
Cathy Pelland, 66, a lifelong Republican who lives in the Echo Lake area of Snohomish County, said she’s been for Trump from the start.
“I feel like this country is going to pot and we need somebody in there that is going to change it. We’ve had all these politicians in there and all their special interests, and all their crazy ideas about things. We need somebody that has a level head,” she said.
She likes Trump’s talk of booting out immigrants who entered the country illegally and building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We can’t even take care of the people that are here,” Pelland said.
“How many kids in downtown Seattle have no place to go, no place to stay at night?” she said, adding that her own granddaughter was on the streets for a few months.
For some, Trump is their answer to visceral fear in an uncertain world. Brina Sanft, 51, the King County and Seattle chair for the Trump campaign, said that as a Jewish woman with a deep-seated concern about terrorism, Trump is the right choice.
“It’s going to be a matter of time before they get here,” Sanft said of terrorists. “I don’t even take public transportation, I am so afraid they are going to blow it up. This is what it is about: the borders, illegal immigration, my safety and security.”
Even religious conservatives say they are willing to look the other way to vote for Trump, a thrice-married man who has publicly used off-color language and boasted of his sexual endowment.
“He was not my first choice. I really wanted a religious person who had the same beliefs and morals I did,” said Melanie Bosman, 45, pausing from packing her husband’s lunch and dinner. His job is driving a truck, hauling shingles to Spokane and hay back to the westside of the state.
Bosman works in a public-school cafeteria and enjoys life with their four children on a 33-acre farm near Lynden, Whatcom County.
At first she favored Marco Rubio for president, but then lost interest. “I just don’t want another politician,” she said of the U.S. senator from Florida. What really helped her decide on Trump was the endorsement by Ben Carson, the religious conservative and former surgeon who backed the billionaire after dropping out of the primary race in March.
“That was huge for me,” Bosman said.
Not that she agrees with everything about Trump.
“Honestly, I’m gambling with him,” she said. “His off-the-wall comments rub me the wrong way, how strong he has talked about banning Muslims and all that.”
But Bosman said that as a conservative, she never considered Clinton, and Sen. Bernie Sanders leaves her cold. “We work hard for our money and don’t want it taken away,” she said.
That leaves Trump. “We seriously have no other option,” Bosman said.
As for Trump’s character, she said, “I can pray for him.”
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