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There's trouble in Trumpland.
The voters who backed Donald Trump still like the disruption but are looking for more function from the outsider they helped put in the White House, members of the USA TODAY Network Trump Voter Panel say.
While they still approve of the job President Trump is doing, the collapse of the GOP's promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act has rattled some of his loyalists. So have chaos in the White House staff and the public humiliation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
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"All the bickering, fighting and firings take time away from solving all of our problems," worried Joe Canino, 62, of Hebron, Ct.
"The caveat or the pause there is, he's got to figure out a way to get more done collaboratively with Capitol Hill," Barney Carter of St. Marys, Ga., said. "The Hill to me has the most to blame for it, but he's got to figure out a way to solve that problem."
The loyalty of the president's base — voters who tend to be older, socially conservative and mostly white — has been a critical source of his political strength. Trump continues to hammer messages that appeal to them on such issues as limiting immigration and reversing Pentagon policy on transgender troops.
That said, the spiderweb of concern among his supporters in these interviews is an anecdotal finding consistent with the results of recent nationwide polls. A CNN survey at the six-month mark of Trump's presidency last week showed his approval rating among Republicans at a healthy 83%, but the percentage of Republicans who "strongly approve" had dropped by double-digits, to 59% from 73% in February.
None of the 25 voters on the USA TODAY panel express regret for casting a ballot last November for Trump instead of Democrat Hillary Clinton or someone else. They generally trust him to handle the crisis with North Korea, although there is concern about his bellicose rhetoric.
But now some couch their approval of the president with a hedge that wasn't there in three previous rounds of interviews with this group. And their disdain for congressional Republicans and the GOP establishment is rising, a troubling development for the party as it heads into the 2018 midterm elections.
"I approve, but not 100%," Monty Chandler, 46, a disabled veteran from Church Point, La., said of the president.
"I'd have to approve, but with some laughter in the background," said Duane Gray, 63, a truck driver from Boise, Idaho. Asked if Trump was doing better or worse than he expected as president, he said: "I don't know what I expected. I just didn't want Hillary in there."
There's also bit less confidence these days about how history will judge Trump. In January, 21 members of the panel predicted he ultimately would be seen as a "great" or "good" president. In February, there was even more unanimity: 23 gave that positive assessment.
Now that number has slipped to 19 — still favorable territory, but with signs of some erosion. Four predict he'll be seen as a "fair" president. Two didn't respond.
The panel of 25 Trump voters from 19 states is drawn from respondents in the USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll taken in December, just after the election. The group of 18 men and seven women, ranging in age from 31 to 88, agreed to weigh in occasionally for a look at how Trump is faring with his supporters.
'Embarrassing and disgusting'
The GOP's failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act has enraged some of these voters.
"Killing Obamacare was a key component of the Republican platform, and I believe all Republican senators campaigned on that very issue," Daniel Kohn, of Corpus Christi, Tex., said. "The inability to move forward is embarrassing and disgusting."
For Ken Cornacchione, a 65-year-old financial consultant from Venice, Fla., the issue is personal. "My premiums have doubled and my deductible has increased nearly three times under Obamacare with no claims by either my wife or me," he said.
Asked whom they blame for the failure, not one singled out Trump, although several volunteered that everyone involved owned some responsibility. Only a handful cited congressional Democrats or the news media, frequent targets of Trump.
Instead, a solid majority placed the responsibility squarely on congressional Republicans.
"There's some blame to go around with everybody, but I continue to be the most disappointed in Congress," said Carter, 50, who works for a medical device firm. "We could have had a plan for this long before Trump was elected, and you would have just had to go to the bookshelf and pull the binder off."
"Seven years: Think about it," railed JoAnne Musial, 65, of Canadenis, Penn. "Who are they kidding, too? This whole baloney with all of them any more makes me sick to my stomach."
That sentiment helps explain Trump's Twitter blasts last week at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The attacks may complicate White House efforts down the road to work with the Kentucky Republican on raising the debt ceiling, funding the government and passing a tax bill.
At the moment, though, they reinforce the sentiment that Republican senators, not the president, are to blame for the stunning setback on health care.
"They've been talking about this for seven years, show-boating for seven years passing resolutions they knew (President Barack) Obama would veto," said Rick Dammer, 45, a an IT project manager from Zephyrhills, Fla. "When the rubber needed to hit the road, they chickened out."
"I like that Trump said that," Chandler said of the president's comments welcoming Obamacare's demise. "He's not going to sugarcoat it. You made your bed, now lie in it."
North Korea showdown
On North Korea, Trump voters — like policymakers and experts and nearly everyone else around the globe — see no easy answers and worry about what's ahead. They are inclined to trust Trump to handle it, albeit not without some nervousness.
"I'm in agreement with how Trump's approached it, kind of," said Francis Smazal, 54, a registered nurse from Marshfield, Wis. "If this guy (in North Korea) is left unchecked, I believe conflict is inevitable."
Several said they hope Trump tries to build an international coalition through the United Nations, or with China and Russia. "I think we need to go through China," said Patricia Shomion, 67, of Mount Gilead, Ohio. She blames Beijing, North Korea's neighbor and ally, for not doing more to block its nuclear program. "That's our solution, because all of those nukes and missiles have 'China' written all over them, 'Made in China.'"
But Pat Jolliff, 60, of Rochester, Ind., worried that Trump's threat of "fire and fury" risked making a bad situation worse. "I think his words, once again, are some of his worst enemies," she said. "He comes across as a bully, a tyrant, somebody who always has to have his way."
The belief that Trump isn't just another politician, that he has a combative style and is comfortable breaking old norms, is his fundamental appeal for many of his supporters. "Everyone's having a hissy (fit) because a politician isn't the president," scoffed Musial. "Cut and dried: He's not a politician and doesn't fit in (your) little clique here, so they're trying to cause a ruckus for him."
"Trump is a different kind of person; he's not a politician," Shomion agreed. "They're not used to that. They don't know what to do with him."
But the continuing soap-opera drama on the White House staff is worrisome to some: Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, out. Press secretary Sean Spicer, out. ( "A sweetheart," Musial said affectionately.) Communications director Anthony Scaramucci: In, then out after 11 days. ("He was horrible," Jolliff said.)
"I am somewhat concerned with all the tension," said Wayne Moore, 60, a procurement manager from Henderson, Ky. "It looks like there are more chiefs than Indians."
Several volunteered dismay over Trump's public humiliation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
"I was very disappointed in the way he ripped up Jeff Sessions, who was basically the first one to sign up" to support Trump's candidacy, Carter said. "He's a long-tenured, respected lawmaker, and it just didn't make sense to me."
David McDonough, 55, a plumber from Brownsburg, Ind., predicted things eventually would settle down. "It's like taking over a new business and some employees don't like the way you run things," he said. "In time, once the kinks are worked out and the leakers are found, I believe the White House will run smooth."
Then there are those tweets.
Some supporters say the president's thoughts in 140-character bursts make them wince. "He comes out looking like a damn fool 60% of the time," Gray said.
But by more than 2-1, his loyalists say he should continue posting on Twitter — and acknowledge that he's not likely to stop, no matter what they think.
"I don't necessarily agree on what he's saying, but if Twitter is the only way to get the truth out and the truth only comes from him, then that's OK," Steven Spence, 70, of Mesa, Arizona, said. "He either lives or dies by the sword, and we'll find out four years from now how the American public rates him."