Many of President Donald Trump’s most dedicated supporters - the sort who waited for hours in the Florida sun this weekend for his first post-inauguration campaign rally - say their lives changed on election night. Suddenly they felt like their views were actually respected and in the majority.
But less than one month into Trump’s term, many of his supporters say they once again feel under attack - perhaps even more so than before.
Those who journeyed to Trump’s Saturday evening event on Florida’s Space Coast said that since the election, they have unfriended some of their liberal relatives or friends on Facebook. They don’t understand why major media outlets don’t see the same successful administration they have been cheering on. And they’re increasingly frustrated that Democrats - and some Republicans - are too slow to approve some of the president’s nominees and too quick to protest his every utterance.
“They’re stonewalling everything that he’s doing because they’re just being babies about it,” said Patricia Melani, 56, a Jersey native who now lives here and attended her third Trump rally on Saturday. “All the loud mouths? They need to let it go. Let it go. Shut their mouths and let the man do what he’s got to do. We all shut our mouths when Obama got in the second time around, OK? So that’s what really needs to be done.”
She blames the media for circulating “fake” stories about the president - like when she believed he was “very cool, wasn’t yelling” at a Thursday press conference, yet a CNN anchor described his behavior as “unhinged.”
“There’s such hatred for the man,” she said. “I just don’t get it.”
It was a common sentiment at the rally in an airplane hangar here, flanked by Air Force One and attended by about 9,000 people. There were chants of “CNN sucks!” and “Tell the truth!” A pre-rally speaker gleefully announced that the president had given the media “a spanking.”
There’s such hatred for the man. I just don’t get it.
Rally attendees panned coverage of the chaos within his administration, the cost of security for his family and the president’s now-halted executive order that briefly banned refugees and residents of seven Muslim-majority countries. Many acknowledged that the president’s first month could have been smoother, especially with the roll-out of the travel ban, but they said the media has overblown those hiccups - and they’re glad to see the president fight back and label the media on Twitter Friday as “the enemy of the American People!”
“It was hilarious to see him give it to the media,” said Tony Lopez, 28, a car dealer who drove to the rally from Orlando. “The media’s problem is that they keep wanting to make up stories so that he looks bad. It doesn’t work. He’s talking right through you guys.”
Several people said they would have liked to see more coverage of a measure that Trump signed on Thursday that rolled back a last-minute Obama regulation that would have restricted coal mines from dumping debris in nearby streams. At the signing, Trump was joined by coal miners in hard hats.
“If he hadn’t gotten into office, 70,000 miners would have been put out of work,” Patricia Nana, a 42-year old naturalized citizen from Cameroon. “I saw the ceremony where he signed that bill, giving them their jobs back, and he had miners with their hard hats and everything - you could see how happy they were.”
The regulation actually would have cost relatively few mining jobs and would have created nearly as many new jobs on the regulatory side, according to a government report - an example of the frequent distance between Trump’s rhetoric, which many of his supporters wholeheartedly believe, and verifiable facts.
Melani, for example, gets most of her news from talk radio - “I listen to Herman Cain on my way into work, I have Sean [Hannity] on my way home,” she says - and Fox News.
She and her husband were well-versed on hold-ups with the president’s Cabinet nominees and legal arguments for the now-frozen travel ban. But they didn’t know much about the resignation of Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn on Monday amid accusations that he improperly discussed U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador - and then withheld that information from Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials.
“See, don’t question me on that because I haven’t really been watching and listening too much on it,” Melani said. “I think he kind of did it just to step away, a trust kind of a thing. And now, of course, they want to pull a big investigation and all of this stuff. And to be honest with you, I really think it’s only because of the way the haters are out there. That’s what I really think it is.”
I think the only thing that’s going to reunite us is maybe the Lord coming back.
The division that has consumed the country was on display outside Trump’s rally.
On one side of the street: Thousands of his supporters wearing campaign gear and vendors selling anti-Hillary Clinton merchandise and T-shirts showing a map of the 2016 election by county, with most of the country colored Trump-red and the legend: “We the Deplorable.”
On the other side of the street: Hundreds of protesters gathered in a “free speech zone” behind orange mesh fencing. Several wore pink knit hats, and some carried signs that focused on Trump’s alleged connections to Russia: “Impeach that puppet” and “I can see Russia.”
Robert Welsh, a 63-year old vice mayor from Miami Beach, carried a speaker blasting the Beatles song “Back in the U.S.S.R,” and a sign that portrayed Russian President Vladimir Putin thanking Trump for his service.
Insults hurled back and forth across the street, as did accusations that the other side was fabricating information. Both sides accused the other of being hateful and of being paid to be there, which both sides denied.
On the protest side was Rosemary Menneto - a 53-year-old from Satellite Beach - who said several of her friends skipped the rally for fear there might be violence.
“There’s so much anger and hate and foulness,” she said, “and he’s encouraging it.”
On the supporter side was Tammy Mussler - a 48-year-old whose family runs a local mobile home and RV park who said one of her guests was hesitant to tell others he was coming to the rally.
“He goes: ‘Well, I’m nervous because people are so nasty about it that you’re afraid to admit that you’re doing something,’” said Mussler, who said the pushback is just nastier now.
Mussler said that the women in her family are especially divided right now. She supports Trump, while they do not. She’s opposed to abortion rights, while they support them. They attended the Women’s March, while she found it not at all representative of her way of life.
Can this nation ever be united?
“I hope so,” Mussler said with a shake of her head. “I don’t know. I don’t know. It would be nice, and I think if - I don’t know, I don’t know. I think the only thing that’s going to reunite us is maybe the Lord coming back.”
Les Neuhaus in Melbourne, Fla., contributed to this report.