Trump voters want jobs. Not noise about Russia

The Rust Belt gave Trump his victory. Now these voters want jobs.
The Rust Belt gave Trump his victory. Now these voters want jobs.

President Trump is in danger of doing what he accused so many "career politicians" of doing: Going to Washington and forgetting what real people care about.

For months, I've traveled the country talking with dozens of Trump voters. No one has ever brought up Russia, an issue that President Trump seems obsessed with. The topic never came up in Ohio, Kentucky or Michigan. Last week, I was in Wisconsin. There too, Russia never came up, nor did the FBI, both of which are dominating news from the White House.

These states went to Trump and were critical to his election. All voters there want to talk about is how America needs more jobs. They don't mean jobs at McDonald's or an Amazon warehouse. They mean jobs that will allow them to have decent, middle class lives, that pay over $25 an hour, and come with health care and retirement benefits.

Jobs and wages are "why we voted him in" as a country, says Kenneth Olsen, a 60-year-old factory worker from Racine, Wisconsin, who has been told his job is moving to Canada soon. He's deeply concerned that he and his wife might lose their house after he's laid off.

On the campaign trail, Trump seemed to be in sync with voters like Olsen and understand their deep economic pain and fear. He excelled at rallying massive crowds with promises to be the "greatest jobs producer that God ever created" and to bring back jobs from Mexico and China. He focused on what got his base excited.

kenneth olsen waukesha
Kenneth Olsen from Racine, Wisconsin, who has been told his job is moving to Canada soon.

But just over 100 days into his presidency, he constantly sets in motion events that threaten to derail his economic agenda that would fulfill his campaign promises. Those end up dominating key TV newscasts and then he focuses on turning the news cycle in his favor.

The latest attempts, especially on Russia, have backfired spectacularly because his comments contradict what his own spokespeople are saying about why he fired FBI chief James Comey in the midst of an investigation into his campaign's Russia connection.

Related: Coal country's message to Trump: We want jobs of the future

Trump is getting sidetracked

Now sources claim Trump shared critical intelligence info with the Russians, a day after firing the FBI director. It isn't just raising many questions about Trump's handling of critical information, it's an example of Trump getting sidetracked from what his base cares about most.

The same thing happened with his claims of voter fraud. And the hugely controversial travel ban that caused even the business community to protest in his early days in office.

Olsen is a swing voter who says he has voted for candidates in both parties. He lives in the battleground state of Wisconsin, which Trump won by about 22,700 votes. I talked to Olsen a day after Comey was fired. It was barely on his radar. Olsen called it "just surprising." He wished the president would get back to his economic agenda.

"I really haven't seen him doing anything" on jobs, Olsen said. "The longer they stall around and dance around and whatever, the more people are gonna get hurt."

Researchers at Goldman Sachs, an investment bank with deep ties to the Trump White House, now predict that tax reform won't happen until 2018. And there are a lot of mixed signals coming from the White House on trade.

So far, the country has created 522,000 jobs, since Trump became president. It's early days, but it's a slower pace of hiring than what was happening under President Obama last year.

Related: School lunch shaming: Inside America's hidden debt crisis

'Why I voted for Trump'

wisconsin bret mattice
Bret Mattice voted for the first time ever for Donald Trump. He believed Trump understood how working class America was getting crushed.

Bret Mattice is 46 and works at the same engine factory in Wisconsin that Olsen does. He voted for the first time ever last year because he felt Trump really understood people like him and would fight to keep $30-an-hour jobs like his in the United States.

Trump "wasn't a career politician," Mattice told CNNMoney. "He was saying things that the average person who lost their job" wants to hear.

Mattice felt he "couldn't comment" about Comey. It wasn't an issue that got him riled up. Both Olsen and Mattice were waiting for Trump to reduce taxes and reform trade. They believe those policies could change their lives -- and is also a positive for the future of their kids and grandkids.

Early polls indicate that few Americans approve of Trump firing Comey. Only 29% of respondents to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday thought it was a good idea. But that seems like the wrong yardstick to gauge reaction.

Related: Trump's record on the middle class (so far)

Trump voters give him 'incomplete' grade

Michigan Jim Peggy Stewart
Jim and Peggy Stewart live outside Detroit, Michigan. They call themsleves 'almost' middle class.

People in the "heartland" aren't protesting this. Or dramatically changing their minds about Trump over it. Frankly, it's just not core dinner table fodder.

Most people I spoke with give Trump a "B" grade so far -- or an "incomplete." They're still hopeful, but they haven't seen a lot of action yet on the core issues that matter to them. They're willing to give Trump time, but they won't wait forever.

"I hope it's not the biggest mistake of my life," Peggy Stewart told me in February about her vote for Trump. She lives in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, a state Trump won by just 10,704 votes.

"Some of us are working too hard to fall back now," she said.

Stewart is 62. She really struggled to get a job, believing no one will hire an older worker. (It's a sentiment I've heard frequently from Americans over 50.) She finally found work as a security guard, but here's the rub: She's employed by the same company she worked at years ago, but it pays her less now.

She makes $9 an hour, barely above Michigan's minimum wage. When asked what she would tell Trump if she ever met him, the petite Midwesterner said, "Mr. Trump, please take care of us. We're looking to you."

Related: Rust Belt voters made Trump president. Now they want jobs

kentucky william owens
Rev. William Owens is director of the Kentucky Mountain Mission of Eastern Kentucky, one of America's poorest regions.

Trump, a 'man of action'

Some of the most enthusiastic Trump voters I've met are in the Appalachia region of Kentucky. It's an area that contains some of the poorest counties in the entire United States. The mountains and hiking trails are stunning, but the coal and oil jobs -- and even some private prison jobs -- are mostly gone.

People were still sporting the iconic red Trump ballcaps when I visited Beattyville, Kentucky, known as "America's poorest white town," just after Trump was inaugurated.

"I think he's best for our economy, especially here," said William Owens, a pastor who has dedicated his life to helping the kids in Kentucky's forgotten hills where far too many are addicted to drugs and government aid. "We have the same problems here that the inner cities have."

Owens runs a youth center. He started a bowling league for teens, one of the few activities in town. He has helped to finally get internet service in the community and to push more kids toward college. Owens grew up as one of 14 kids. He's about as mild mannered as they come. He was concerned about how brash Trump can be, but he voted for him because he believed he was a "man of action."

As the FBI saga continues to unfold, there's a lot of "action," but not the type Trump voters want. Trump and his team are once again fixated on something far removed from his promise of "jobs, jobs, jobs."

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