WASHINGTON (Indiana) — This city of 11,000, nestled among a handful of low hills rising from table-flat Hoosier farm fields, is 680 miles from the other Washington, but the cultural and political divide may be even greater than the geographical distance.
Solidly red Indiana backed Donald Trump by 57% to Hillary Clinton's 37%. Voters here in Daviess County went for Trump over Clinton by 79% to 16%, more than the 74 % who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and the 67% who supported John McCain in 2008. Indeed, Daviess, tucked into the state's southwestern toe between Illinois and Kentucky, was the Trumpiest county in the state.
So listening to the crowd at Rep. Larry Bucshon's town hall here the other night, it was both unsurprising that Trump's support appeared solid despite what some in the other Washington might consider a rocky start, and notable that some of those assembled were less than full-throated in their backing.
There was no fist-shaking at the North Elementary School auditorium - these folks tend to save their shouting for basketball sectional time, and that ended last month. Bucshon, a fourth-term former heart surgeon whose original candidate was Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, encountered none of the anger that has greeted other Republicans at town halls this year, although the temperature might have been controlled by his decision to accept only written questions.
Several questioners reflected impatience with the slow or nonexistent progress of health insurance reform. One asked Bucshon if he thought the president should release his tax returns.
"Yes, he should," Bucshon said, to applause.
And about a third of the room clapped for a question calling for more investigation of the Trump administration's ties to Russia — even if the loudest applause came when Bucshon defended his willingness to defund Planned Parenthood, citing the organization's abortion services.
Still, no one took the opportunity to lambaste Trump for failure to launch.
"I think he's doing all right, with all the opposition he's getting," Gene Perkins, 77, wearing an NRA T-shirt and red Trump baseball cap bearing an American flag on the sides and "USA" proudly lettered on the front, told me. "He's trying to do what regular people want done out here in flyover country." Perkins laughed. "That's what they call us."
Perkins, who runs a trucking firm he built from the pavement up after having to leave Purdue University when his father died, thought that, until Trump came along, "this country was on the way down the tubes, as far as I'm concerned. I've said for many years that the government ought to be run like a business, and now we've finally got a businessman in there."
Supporters like his combative tone.
More guarded, and perhaps even more reflective of the general attitude, was David Stowers, a local businessman who brought along his three school-age children and was reluctant even to say if he supported Trump. "There's a need definitely for some changes, and he's making them," he said. "You have to give somebody the time to do the things that you elected them for."
This exactly reflects the mood one encounters often here. At family Easter get-togethers, chatting in grocery store checkout lines, or overheard at nearby restaurant tables, Trump gets credit for pushing for change, even if his efforts seem unfocused and even inept. It's a steep learning curve.
Trump cruised with 57% of the vote in this Midwest state — Photo: Ken Lund
Politics watchers point to signs of progress — easing of strict environmental oversight, greenlighting coal exploration and fuel pipeline work stalled under the Obama administration, withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, punishing Syria's chemical attack, dropping a massive non-nuclear explosive on the Islamic State and drawing a hard line with North Korea.
Less detail-oriented Trump supporters like his combative tone, finding in it a reflection of their own sense of being under attack by opposing culture warriors.
Three days after the town hall, Perkins returned my call from somewhere in the Southwest, where he was hauling a load into Los Angeles, still wearing the Trump hat from the other night, as always. "I have driven from one side of America to another," he said, "and all over the country I've had people say, "Hey, I like that hat." I expected to get some gassing about it, but I never have."
Trump is on the right track, Perkins said, but as an outsider the president faces opposition from every direction. Washington political professionals of both parties often seem more committed to the D.C. establishment than to the people who sent them there. "They may be Republicans or Democrats," he said, "but they're all politicians, and they don't want their apple cart turned over." Which is exactly what Trump has done - or at least started to do - in his first 100 days.
*Lee is a writer who lives in Indiana.