Welcome to Grant County Nebraska - where people love Donald Trump more than ever

'Damn right he is shaking it up. He’s not Democrat, he’s not Republican. That is why people voted for him'

Andrew Buncombe
Hyannis, Nebraska
Sunday 19 February 2017 19:59 GMT
How do the town where 93 per cent voted for Trump think he's doing after one month?

“Yes, I voted for Trump. Only 31 people [here] voted for Hillary Clinton,” said Bernie Spencer, peering from beneath the brim of his Stetson.

“He told people what he was going to do, and what would happen. Hillary Clinton never said anything, other than how unfit he was to be president.”

The 91-year-old retired rancher may actually have been too kind to Ms Clinton. Official tallies suggest that in Nebraska’s Grant County, just 20 people voted for the Democratic candidate, compared to 367 – 93 per cent of the total – for Mr Trump. Of all the 3,142 counties and county equivalents in the US, only two came out more strongly for the New York tycoon.

The 91-year-old dismissed attacks on Mr Trump as ‘baloney’ (Andrew Buncombe ) (Andrew Buncombe)

And a month after Mr Trump’s inauguration, amid what from Washington, or New York, or the other side of the world, can seem like chaos and confusion – sackings of senior staff and allegations of double-dealings with Russia – voters in Grant County have very few regrets. It’s only been a month, say some, give him a chance.

Others suggest that with his flurry of executive orders, and his undoubted willingness to overturn the apple cart, Mr Trump has done more in a month than Barack Obama achieved in eight years.

“I’m very pleased with what he is doing. I think he’s a true American. He has shown he can make money, I hope he can make peace,” said Joyce Boyner, 75, who was taking an evening walk.

“And I am very angry at the media. They are so rude, they are so ignorant. They way they argue with him, and think they know better than him.”

Grant County sits in the Sandhills of western Nebraska, 350 miles from Omaha. The 2010 census put the population at 614, spread out over 783 square miles. Ranching, and the railways, are the most important industries.

A cup of coffee costs 50 cents. People who wear Carhartt-branded clothes invariably do manual work, unlike those Brooklyn hipsters who have made it trendy.

The county seat, Hyannis, which was established in 1888, sits alongside the rail tracks and the freight trains of the BNSF Railway, its engines sounding like the Memphis Horns as they scream through town.

Nicole White scored Mr Trump’s first month 8.5 out of 10 (Andrew Buncombe ) (Andrew Buncombe)

Nicole White, 26, who has four children and whose husband works for the railway, said she thought the President was doing “pretty good”. She said she supported his tightening of immigration laws, as she believed it would make the country safer.

Asked about the series of scandals that have dominated political and journalistic circles since Mr Trump took office, she said she believed it had been created by his opponents.

“I think it’s more noise than anything else,” she said. “And that women’s march after his inauguration, that was bogus. I think I already have the same rights as any man, and the way some of those people were dressed – some of them were half naked – did not make me respect them.”

Asked to score Mr Trump’s performance, she said she would give him an impressive 8.5 as there was “room for improvement in everything”.

Indeed, there were very few people in the town willing to give Mr Trump anything lower than an eight. Similarly, there were few who believed the issues that have dominated the US and international media in the 30 days or so Mr Trump has occupied the Oval Office were genuine problems.

In contrast, many said they thought much of it was “fake news”, created by Mr Trump’s critics, and the political establishment in Washington that he has vowed to take on.

Only 20 people in Grant County voted for Ms Clinton (Andrew Buncombe ) (Andrew Buncombe)

Troy Lyon, a truck driver who once worked with young offenders, said he believed the political elites in Congress – people from both parties – had for too long run things their way.

“Damn right he is shaking it up. He’s not Democrat, he’s not Republican,” he said. “That is why people voted for him.”

Mr Lyon said he believed the intelligence agencies and others were trying to “sabotage” Mr Trump. He said he believed Michael Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversation with a Russian envoy.

“But how this came out was like a coup,” he said. “It was the intelligence agencies leaking it.”

Nebraska, overwhelming white and rural, located close to the geographic centre of the contiguous 48 states, went 58-33 in Mr Trump’s favour last November, and he collected its five electoral votes. In many places, the scale of his victory was more impressive; the Omaha World-Herald said that Mr Trump secured 85 per cent of the vote in 19 of the state’s 93 counties.

In truth, Democrats have never fared well here. When Obama won one electoral vote in Nebraska in 2008 – the state splits its five votes – he was the first Democrat to do so since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Meanwhile, in Grant County, voters have not elected a Democratic presidential candidate since 1936, when Franklin D Roosevelt took his second of four presidential victories.

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Reports suggest that just 40 out of the 600 or so residents are registered as Democrats. Tellingly, Grant County is one of ten counties in Nebraska where the Democrats do not have a county chair.

Ginger Fosse, who is retired and works part-time as curator of the Grant County Museum, did not vote for Mr Trump. “I didn’t like his attitude, and I didn’t like the things he said,” said Ms Fosse, who said she had worked outside the state and then returned. She added that she tended to keep her views on Mr Trump to herself.

Life on the ranches was tough, a constant struggle, she said, as she led The Independent through a collection of old photographs, newspaper clippings, and outfits from 100 years ago. Fewer people these days wanted to take it up.

She said she believed the same things that made people in Grant County independent had led them to vote for Mr Trump. “They are very independent people and they don’t like the government in their business,” she said. “And he said he’d put an end to that.”

Mr Trump never visited Hyannis. But Theodore Roosevelt did, and his campaign appearance here in 1900 is among Ms Fosse’s photographs. A number of people, former House Speaker John Boehner among them, have said that Mr Trump’s outspokenness and willingness to upset people reminds them of Mr Roosevelt.

Nebraska voted 58-33 in favour of Mr Trump (Andrew Buncombe ) (Andrew Buncombe)

Ms Fosse also had a series of images of the late Chuck Hayward, a cowboy who was born in the city of Alliance, 60 miles away, and who became famous as a Hollywood stuntman, working with the likes of John Wayne, Marlon Brando, Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen. Mr Hayward died in 1998, ruling out the chance of asking his opinion of Mr Trump, a showman who does all his own stunts.

In Grant County, the median age is 40, and many of those who said they voted for Mr Trump were of retirement age. Gordon Juzenas, 69, whose family originally came from Lithuania and who works for the postal service, said he was attracted by what he said was Mr Trump’s promise of quick action.

“I think he is doing ok. Better than the last one,” said Mr Juzenas. “It’s only been 30 days and he’s done more than Obama. He is trying to do something, bringing jobs back to the US.”

Dutch and Gisela Grathwahl, who are retired, said they were particularly supportive of Mr Trump’s stance on immigration. While his Muslim travel ban, blocking entry to the US for people from seven Muslim-majority countries, has sparked outcry in many parts of the US, the couple said they supported it.

“You can’t just let anyone in,” said Mr Grathwahl. When it was pointed out their families had emigrated to the US from Germany, Ms Grathwahl, said: “That was legal. There was vetting.” She said they had previously lived in Florida, where too many people spoke Spanish rather than English. “You should have to learn English,” she said.

Yet younger people in Grant County also said they supported Mr Trump. Ryley Johnson, 17, was filling up the family truck with fuel, having driven into town from their ranch 17 miles away. Ms Johnson, who said she was planning to study agricultural science at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, said she was too young to vote, but would have cast her ballot for Mr Trump.

“We’re feeling very happy right now,” she said. “It feels like he is looking at the economy from our point of view.”

Asked to score Mr Trump’s performance in his first month in office, she paused only briefly. “I’d say 9.5.”

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