The virtual Republican National Convention is showcasing support for President Donald Trump from across the country.
He has an 87% approval rating among Republicans, according to the latest PEW data (and a 38% approval rating among overall Americans). But in the traditionally conservative region of Northwest Florida, his support is unwavering.
Along U.S. 98 in Navarre is the not-so-nondescript display of Donald Trump merchandise featuring flags, T-shirts, stickers — and the Make America Great Again hats — from a large state fair concession trailer. On Friday afternoon, it was steady business as cars pulled over to purchase items and show support for the president ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
Anna and Gary Best of Georgia were there, along with their daughter, Missy Davis, who was purchasing a hat for her husband. The three of them say they support the president and will vote for him.
“What he says he’s going to do he tries to do and before the COVID came along, the economy was good — certainly the stock market was doing well,” said Anna. “Once we get through this COVID thing I’m hoping that he’ll be around to do good work.”
Anna mentioned that Trump may not always be “popular,” but she says he gets the job done.
“He might be his own worst enemy but I think when he settles in to what he needs to do, he’s good at it,” she said.
“OK, Donald Trump — he’s not everybody’s cup of tea,” added her daughter. “But I would much rather have my president be a jerk and get the job done instead of (holding) my hand, pet me on the head and then destroy all my hopes and dreams, and I feel like that’s what the Democrats do.”
The roadside store is an extension of The Trump Store in Fort Walton Beach at the Beal Parkway and Mary Esther cutoff. Tampa businessman — and Trump supporter — Luis Rucobo works in the state fair business renting out concession trailers. With festivals and fairs being canceled during the pandemic, Rucubo hired his crew to start selling merchandise around the state.
And business has been so good, he doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
“People go crazy for it,” he said. “We plan to continue selling even after his victory on November 3. There will be the inauguration … we’ll probably stay open six months (after the election).”
In Navarre, Cynthia Swanson and her husband run the merchandise stand where a handful of customers came and went. Every now and then you can hear a honk of appreciation, but Swanson said she’s heard from opponents, too.
“They yell out ‘Trump’s a Nazi’ and I should burn in hell because I like Trump,” she said. “It’s mostly 16-, 17- , 18-year-old kids that don’t even know politics. It makes me laugh more than anything.”
Swanson is a Trump supporter and says she likes the president because of his honesty.
“He’s been the most honest one (president) as far as I can remember,” she said. “(He) said what he was going to do and actually accomplished it.”
The merchandise for sale runs the gamut from bumper stickers that read “President Trump: Deal With it,” talking Trump pens and the most popular item — a flag that reads “Trump 2020: No Bull----.” The most expensive item is a $185 framed print of conservative artist Jon McNaughton’s “Crossing the Swamp” which pays homage to the 1851 painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware River.
Local Brandon Riley purchased a $50 cardboard cutout of Trump he plans to put in the back of his truck.
“Just so he’s looking at everyone while I’m driving down the road,” he said with a smile.
To him, Trump is an underdog. And he says he likes how the president is undeterred by obstacles.
“(Democrats) have been doing as much as they can to get him out and he’s still in office,” he said. “After impeachment, after them threatening Russian collusion and after the pandemic and the rioting, he’s been still keeping the economy steady.”
Another customer, Edward Brandstadter, says Democrats only destroys things, while Republicans build up.
“All I see them doing is breaking down stuff, I don’t see them doing anything, I don’t see them making our country great,” he said. “I don’t see them doing anything to make our country better except complain about victimology. That’s all I’m seeing from them.”
Brandstadter laments that his grown children don’t view things as he does. He said they all are “close to or teetering to Marxism and socialism.” Which makes family gatherings awkward.
“Everybody ‘s walking on eggshells, everybody has to be sensitive to each other,” he said. “I’m not a sensitive guy. I try to put some guidance on them, but they reject the guidance.”
Trump also has lamented political correctness. During the Republican primary debate in 2015 he said flatly “I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness.” And supporters either embrace that or forgive him.
“Trump might be an a--hole, but he’s an a--hole in a good way because he’s honest,” said Swanson. “He doesn’t lie. He’s straight to the point.”
Customer Phil Cooper, wearing the trademark Make America Great Again red hat, said the president can get a little “antsy” sometimes. But to him, Trump’s actions are stronger than words.
“He did what he said he was going to do and when he gets through cleaning the swamp, we’ll be a whole lot better off,” said the 82-year-old.
Cooper said he’s not only ready to re-elect Trump, but he’s looking forward to seeing Vice President Mike Pence run in 2024.
“Get rid of the deadweight, the so-called Republicans that don’t know how to be Republicans and the Democrats that lie like a bear rug.”