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SLO County Republican leaders knock Trump’s flaws. But they’re still rooting for him

President Donald Trump speaks during a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, at the Pentagon.
President Donald Trump speaks during a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, at the Pentagon. AP

In a sharp but balanced critique of President Donald Trump’s first eight months in office, local Republican leaders interviewed by The Tribune say he has fallen short in key areas such as leadership style, use of Twitter, ability to work with Congress and handling a steep learning curve without political experience.

The former chair of the county’s Republican Party even gave Trump a grade of a “C+ or B-.”

But the group that included current and former elected officials such as Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham and former Assemblyman and state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, as well as likely 2018 congressional candidate Michael Erin Woody, are reserving judgment, and expressing hope, for what Trump can accomplish during his first term.

Jordan Cunningham

“So far, I think he is struggling to communicate a vision that is shared by the entire country,” Cunningham said in an email. “He also struggled with his early staffing of the White House. However, his administration seems to have done a pretty good job in response to the natural disasters in Texas, so that gives me some hope that he may have found the right team.”

Cunningham said that Trump’s leadership approach “is not my style, but it has worked for him in the business sector.”

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Jordan Cunningham, state Assemblyman, said, “So far, I think he is struggling to communicate a vision that is shared by the entire country.”

“We need presidential leadership to get things done like tax reform and infrastructure investment,” Cunningham said.

Among the shortcomings they noted are Trump’s inclination to insult political opponents, including those within his own party. They believe it’s getting in the way of accomplishing policy goals — notably on health care.

Trump’s frosty relationship with Arizona Sen. John McCain, for example, started with his ridicule of McCain’s Vietnam “war hero” status in 2015 and Trump since has criticized McCain’s “no” vote of the proposed July repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

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“I think someone needs to take away his cell phone and put it in a 50-gallon jug so he will never touch it again,” said Al Fonzi, former county Republican Party chair. The Tribune

Al Fonzi

“(Trump) was kicking sand in the face of someone whose vote he needs,” said Al Fonzi, the former chair of the county’s Republican Party. “He needs Congress. He doesn’t need to marry them or invite them to dinner, but they don’t forget when he makes personal insults, and that’s not helping him.”

Fonzi said that Trump — whom he gave a C+ or B- grade — at times is “inarticulate to the point of being tone deaf” and said his tweets “hurt the confidence of what he’s doing.”

“The East Coast media is obviously biased, and they’re using those tweets to portray him as incompetent and mentally deranged,” Fonzi said. “... I think someone needs to take away his cellphone and put it in a 50-gallon jug so he will never touch it again.”

Still, Fonzi said he supports Trump. He said the president has tapped into the sentiments of large swaths of the country, outside California especially, and that Democrats offer no reasonable alternative.

Sam Blakeslee

Blakeslee said that Trump deserves credit for trying to fulfill his campaign promises, which “often doesn’t happen once a politician gets in to office.” Blakeslee said the Bernie Sanders and Trump campaigns showed large segments of the public were “deeply disaffected and were more open to a disruptor rather than another establishment candidate.

“However, an outsider who was a businessman and a reality TV personality, President Trump is quickly discovering that it is much easier to promise sweeping change that it is to accomplish it,” Blakeslee said. “I suspect Sen. Sanders would be facing similar impediments in his first year if he had been elected.”

Blakeslee said that when he served in office, he learned the public wants to see results and not excuses that the system is “rigged” or compromise is difficult.

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Sam Blakeslee, former state senator and assemblyman, says President Trump “hasn’t yet reached a level where he is widely perceived as being both professional and presidential.” Jayson Mellom The Tribune

“Every president faces tremendous institutional and political resistance to change,” Blakeslee said. “Overcoming that resistance requires high levels of discipline, organization, delegation, coordination and cooperation. Although he is working his way up a steep learning curve, he hasn’t yet reached a level where he is widely perceived as being both professional and presidential, which is a necessary condition of effective leadership in the Oval Office.”

While Trump’s presidency has been largely perceived through “fiery speeches and acerbic tweets which have polarized the American public,” Blakeslee said Trump’s success on meaningful legislation will be the ultimate judge.

“If President Trump delivers successful legislative achievements on health care, immigration, taxes and jobs, the public will become less concerned about issues like staff infighting and his Twitter account,” Blakeslee said.

I think someone needs to take away his cellphone and put it in a 50-gallon jug so he will never touch it again.

Al Fonzi, former county Republican Party chair

Michael Erin Woody

Michael Erin Woody, a local Republican expected to challenge Democratic Congressman Salud Carbajal in 2018, said that he’ll fully assess Trump’s performance after 18 months.

“I believe he’s the first president with no political, government or military experience,” Woody said. “That being said, I think this is what potentially goes wrong when someone gets into the White House without any experience. When you’re in business, you set policy and people follow your lead. When you’re in government, you have to develop your credibility with your constituents before you implement that policy.”

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Michael Woody, who plans to run for Congress in 2018, said Trump should be more definitive in calling out white supremacists. “As the leader of the free word, it’s upon you to take that head on and to distance yourself and it call it for what it is.” Michael Woody

Woody said that Trump worked with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling for hurricane relief and he re-evaluated his position on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program after Trump said during his campaign he’d repeal DACA on “day one.”

“I do get the sense he’s evolving on all this,” Woody said. “Has has had a high volume of turnover in his cabinet. To me, it indicates a recognition that his administration was not firing on all cylinders and he’s trying to correct that. Let’s see where he is by next summer.”

Still, Woody said that Trump has to recognize the scrutiny he’s under and must be savvy in his public statements, citing the president’s comments on the recent Charlottesville protests.

“White supremacy is an appalling and disgraceful movement,” Woody said. “As the leader of the free world, it’s upon you to take that head on and to distance yourself and it call it for what it is.”

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Randall Jordan, Republican Party county chair, says Trump “represents and talks like people I know, myself included. He’s speaking like we speak.” Randall Jordan

Donald Trump is not a politician. He’s a businessman. He has never worked for anyone since he was 18 years old. He’s not a John McCain who’s rehearsed.

Randall Jordan, county Republican Party chair

Randall Jordan

Meanwhile, current county Republican Party chair Randall Jordan said believes Trump is doing a “great job,” complimenting him on the appointment of Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court and the pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt when he violated a judge’s order to stop policing practices that used racial profiling.

Jordan said Arpaio was a strong anti-immigration advocate and called him a “hero.”

“Donald Trump is not a politician,” Jordan said. “He’s a businessman. He has never worked for anyone since he was 18 years old. He’s not a John McCain who’s rehearsed. I think the man speaks his mind. He represents and talks like people I know, myself included. He’s speaking like we speak.”

President Trump outlined his new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia during remarks Monday night, August 21, 2017, at Fort Myer.

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