- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 24, 2016

HARRINGTON, Del. — Donald Trump’s waffling on transgender bathroom use and his somewhat moderate stance on abortion hasn’t fazed his supporters, who say they are hanging tough with the Republican presidential front-runner because social issues take a back seat this year to the country’s economic and security crises.

Voters at a rally in this small state, which usually gets short shrift in presidential races, insisted that Mr. Trump’s propensity to break with conservative orthodoxy was a plus.

They said Mr. Trump’s views won’t cost him support as he closes in on the Republican nomination and will help expand his appeal to swing voters in a general election race against likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who has moved dramatically left in her primary race.

“We’ve got too big other issues to worry about that,” said Suzanne Keeler, 59, a lifelong Democrat who joined thousands of others for a Trump rally Friday in a livestock arena at Delaware State Fairgrounds.

Mr. Trump is expected to sweep primaries Tuesday in Delaware and four other Northeastern states: Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

The race then heads to Indiana, which likely is the last best chance for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and the #NeverTrump movement to block the billionaire businessman from securing the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in July.

Mr. Cruz has signaled that he is determined to keep attacking Mr. Trump over the bathroom and abortion issues to force a contested convention in Cleveland.

Ms. Keeler said she can’t cast a ballot for Mr. Trump in Delaware’s closed Republican primary but would be eager to vote for the real estate mogul in November.

“Other Democrats are going to switch over. He tells the truth,” Ms. Keeler said, citing mistrust of Mrs. Clinton as a major factor. “As a woman, I don’t want the first woman president to be Hillary Clinton.”

The Trump campaign has touted the billionaire businessman as someone who can expand the Republican vote, attracting independents, blue-collar Democrats and voters who have stayed on the sidelines for years because politicians in both parties fail to inspire them.

Despite Mr. Trump’s dominance of the Republican race and his proven ability to turn out new voters, polls show him to be unpopular in the general public.

His national unfavorability ratings top 60 percent. He also faces overwhelming opposition from Hispanics and women in a general election race, according to polls.

Mr. Trump’s supporters are not impressed by such polls.

“I don’t buy it,” said Susan Roth, 60, a housewife and conservative Republican who scoffed at the polls. She also scoffed at the transgender bathroom issue.

“That’s not important. I’m worried about jobs, the economy, Syrian refugees. I could care less about transgender bathrooms,” said Mrs. Roth.

Many voters said their top issue was illegal immigration, which Mr. Trump has made the centerpiece of his campaign with a pledge to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.

“Immigration — that is key, not whether a man wants to dress as a woman and use the woman’s restroom,” said Bob Crawford, 57, a registered Republican who works for the U.S. Postal Service.

Still, Mr. Trump invited criticism from conservatives last week when he came out in opposition to laws that require public facilities to segregate according to biological sex, not preferred gender identity. He also voiced support for adding exemptions for rape and incest to the pro-life plank in the Republican platform.

He later retreated from his stance on transgender bathroom use, saying it was an issue that local communities and states should decide. He has held firm on exemptions for abortion laws.

Mr. Cruz seized on Mr. Trump’s initial remark about transgender bathroom laws as fresh evidence that the New York real estate mogul is not conservative and can’t be trusted to protect religious freedom, gun rights and other right-wing ideals.

“Donald Trump is no different from politically correct leftist elites,” Mr. Cruz said. “He joined them in calling for grown men to be allowed to use little girls’ public restrooms.”

Delaware state Sen. Brian G. Pettyjohn said Mr. Trump’s abortion comment gave him “a little heartburn.” But the Republican lawmaker, who has not endorsed any candidate in the presidential primary race, said he was willing to give Mr. Trump a pass.

“I tend to look at the entire candidate, the entire message,” he said.

Mr. Pettyjohn also said Mr. Trump would appeal to swing voters, especially in the rural communities and seaside resort towns in southern Delaware.

“There’s a lot of pent-up frustration, not just with Republicans but with independents and Democrats,” he said. “They want to see something different.”

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