Wesley Easterling took him at his word. Like so many of his neighbors, Easterling relies on Medicaid and food stamps to provide for his wife and daughter. His Kentucky county is among the poorest in the country. When he cast his ballot for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, he never imagined the president would gut essential federal assistance programs.
“He had a kind of charisma about him, something different,” Easterling told CNN. “He played me for a fool.”
Fellow Trump voters, particularly those in rural counties where his proposed budget cuts would wreak the most havoc, increasingly feel the same. As of May 31, the president’s approval rating sits at 39.1 percent against a disapproval rating of 54.9 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight. If he was profoundly unpopular in March, Trump is now plumbing new depths.
More revealing is new data suggesting the president’s bedrock of support is beginning to crumble. Nate Silver argues that his base is shrinking, citing a weighted average of several polls indicating that the percentage of American voters who strongly support the president has dipped from 30 in February to 21 or 22 in late May. At this juncture in his presidency, Barack Obama had the firm backing of 45 percent of the electorate. Meanwhile, the percentage of voters who strongly disapprove of Trump’s performance has surged from the mid-30s to 44.1 percent over the same timespan. “If you look beneath the surface of Trump’s approval ratings,” Silver writes, “you find not hidden strength but greater weakness than the topline numbers imply.”
Just ask Krista Shockey of Waverly, Ohio. It wasn’t until the administration announced its latest budget plan that the Trump voter and retiree understood all she had to lose—and the magnitude of her error. Shockey receives $700 monthly in disability payments through Supplemental Security Income; it is her lone financial stream. Under Trump’s proposal, the program would be dramatically scaled back. “There’s no way I could go back to work,” she told CNN. “I’ve got a lot of problems. I’m crippled in my knees, feet, back and hands.”
Like Shockey, Trump supporter and Union County mayor Michael Williams was stunned by the president’s about-face on social services and the severity of his proposed cuts. Williams’ Tennessee constituency has a median income of $37,000 and they rely on programs like the Appalachian Regional Commission to help stay afloat. If federal dollars dry up, the state is unlikely to provide necessary grants for public works. In an interview with Politico, Williams confessed that when he first learned of the Trump team’s latest budget, “[he thought] ‘Oh my God, I don’t know if they really thought this through.’”
Yet for every Wesley Easterling, Krista Shockey and Michael Williams, there’s a Scott Seitz of McDonald, Ohio. A two-time Obama voter, he claims he switched parties because Trump spoke to the one issue that mattered most to Seitz: jobs. Seitz’s family has succumbed to the white working-class plagues of heroin addiction, unemployment and single parenthood. While he insists he would have “voted for Bernie Sanders in a heartbeat,” he’s still willing to give the country’s scandal-plagued president a chance. “We put him in, and we will hold him accountable,” he told Vanity Fair.
Until Trump proves an unequivocal liability to the Republican Party, such a promise seems unlikely to be kept any time soon.