- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2017

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Big-rig mechanic Salvatore Pirozzi hadn’t cast a ballot in a presidential election for most of his life until he got excited about voting for Donald Trump, and his support isn’t wavering.

Like many other blue-collar voters across the Rust Belt who confounded pollsters and pundits to deliver Mr. Trump an upset win in November, Mr. Pirozzi isn’t feeling buyer’s remorse as the president hits the six-month mark this week.

“He could be doing better, but he’s up against a lot of opposition,” said Mr. Pirozzi, 48. “I don’t regret it as far as voting is concerned. He’s our last hope.”

For now, he will overlook the president’s failure to score a major legislative win and the unrelenting stream of negative news stories to focus instead on Mr. Trump’s success in dramatically altering the direction of the country.

After putting Pennsylvania in the Republican column for the first time in nearly three decades, working-class voters said they are still happy that they took a gamble in sending a celebrity New York billionaire to shake up Washington.

“He is a d—- and he doesn’t go by everybody’s social norms, but he wants to help the economy. He wants to make America great again,” said Eric Walz, 47, a self-employed information technology and maintenance specialist.

One of the so-called invisible Americans whom Mr. Trump connected with in the Rust Belt, Mr. Walz skipped other presidential elections. He said he was excited as he was on Election Day about casting his ballot for Mr. Trump.

“There’s always going to be negative things,” he said, “but the economy is booming.”

He didn’t blame Mr. Trump for the stalemate in Congress, which he said would continue regardless of who lives in the White House.

Bethlehem and surrounding Northampton County were key to Mr. Trump’s upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton. The county in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley sided with President Obama in 2012 by 4 percentage points and 6,000 votes. Mr. Trump took the county by 5 points and just over 6,000 votes.

Big swings in the vote in places such as Northampton County were partly a result of Mr. Trump’s ability to tap into the frustration felt by working-class Americans.

The region struggled for more than two decades to recover from the closing of Bethlehem Steel but has experienced a revival in recent years with a conversion of the mill into a SteelStacks arts campus and a Sands Casino Resort.

Despite the promise of economic expansion from a succession of presidents from both parties, they have struggled with stagnant wages and dwindling job opportunities.

Those angry blue-collar voters across longtime Democratic strongholds such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are now firmly behind Mr. Trump and his Republican Party, said G. Terry Madonna, director of the polling program at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

“These are voters who think the Democratic Party no longer represents them,” he said. “We could go through the issues, whether it is climate change, whether it is immigration — you can pick the issue.”

While denied major legislative wins, including failing to repeal and replace Obamacare, Mr. Trump has kept several top campaign promises. He rolled back federal regulations, cracked down on illegal immigration and ripped up or opened renegotiations of trade deals.

Many of these voters shrug off the allegations of Trump campaign collusion as a partisan hatchet job.

“Remember, they also have become much more anti-establishment and the Trump appeal was very big,” said Mr. Madonna. “He wasn’t a politician. He was sticking his finger in the eye of the establishment. That’s all part of the mix.”

Beyond the loyalty of his base, however, Mr. Trump has not expanded his appeal. Bethlehem residents who didn’t vote for Mr. Trump remained staunchly opposed to him and were eager to share their dismay and disgust with his presidency.

“I got what I expected. He’s socially inept,” said Democrat Scott Wertz, 50, a bartender at Joe’s Tavern.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll this week showed a slip in support for Mr. Trump in the counties he flipped from blue to red in November. His job approval rating now stands at 44 percent.

The poll also found a drop in support in “surge counties,” where Mr. Trump beat Mrs. Clinton with overwhelming majorities. The president’s support in those counties settled to 56 percent.

Despite a series of polls showing historically low job approval ratings after six months in office, as low as 36 percent in a Washington Post/ABC News survey, Mr. Trump remains popular with his base.

The Washington Post/ABC News poll found 82 percent approval among Republican voters nationwide.

Independent voter Jack Murray, a 20-year-old barber in Bethlehem, cast his first vote in a presidential election for Mr. Trump and said he was happy overall with what he got.

The economy is good and the U.S. has a leader who is taking charge, he said.

“He’s very blunt, which I think can sometimes be a bad thing, but it’s good that we have a president who is strong now,” said Mr. Murray.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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