Across the massive mall parking lot from the Red Lobster, Rush Limbaugh’s radio show blared from the speakers of a silver sedan, idling near Party City with its windows down.
The nominal topic Monday was the alleged liberal assault on NFL quarterback Tom Brady, but Limbaugh had long since moved on: to a border wall, suspicions of nationwide protests and President Trump’s response to the threat posed by foreigners.
Nodding approvingly in the driver’s seat was Doyle MacCree, 84, of Goodyear, a conservative suburb west of Phoenix.
Here, more than 120 miles from the border, Arizona voters outraged with President Obama’s executive orders that welcomed the foreign-born to America are delighted with Trump’s first week in office, when his actions seemed to have done the opposite.
Trump has ordered federal funding withheld from cities that provide sanctuary to immigrants in the country illegally, demanded Congress pay for the immediate construction of a 1,900-mile border wall and banned travel to the U.S. by citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, as a way, he says, to keep terrorists at bay.
“The wall is just the start of it,” MacCree said. He’s looking ahead to the potential for violence on the border over the question of who gets in and who doesn’t.
Perhaps Trump hasn’t yet gone far enough, voters here say, but give it time. He has uncomplicated solutions to what they see as uncomplicated problems.
Arizona, with its lengthy border with Mexico, was the epicenter of a fierce debate over immigration long before the rest of the country, prodded by Trump, took up the issue.
The state’s traditional libertarian-leaning conservatism has been tempered in recent years by a rapidly growing Latino population; Trump still carried Arizona in November with nearly 50% support.
Goodyear is in Arizona’s conservative 13th legislative district, which swoops down from the western edges of Phoenix to the southwest corner of the state.
Its state senator, Steve Montenegro, poses on his campaign website with Maricopa County’s famously hard-line former Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Montenegro has previously demanded that all prayers in the Legislature ask for help and guidance from God, to avoid nontheistic invocations. His district is primarily agricultural land and Luke Air Force Base, and his voters are a mix of social conservatives, farmers and military personnel.
As she herded three tow-headed children into her minivan after a trip to Olive Garden on Monday afternoon, Tara Jenkins acknowledged her initial fear that Trump wouldn’t live up to the traditional conservative values of a politician like Montenegro.
“I was, frankly, worried about what Trump would do,” said Jenkins, 36, of Buckeye, a conservative suburb neighboring Goodyear.
She didn’t know whether he would act on his campaign promises or simply change his mind after his inauguration. She has been happy with Trump’s directives.
It’s everything he said he wanted to do, and that’s something we needed.
“It’s everything he said he wanted to do, and that’s something we needed,” Jenkins said.
She’s not sure yet whether Trump’s executive orders will immediately secure the border, she said, and she doesn’t want to see refugees in genuine need turned away from the U.S., but she wonders how it’s possible to tell which refugees are truly seeking asylum and which ones intend to do the nation harm.
“I love America, OK?” Jenkins said. “And this gives me hope. It’s the right direction.”
After eight years of a Democratic president, Trump is doing everything MacCree hoped a president would to obliterate Obama’s legacy, he said.
If there are too many people crossing into the U.S., build a barrier to stop them, MacCree said. If there are potential terrorists claiming refugee status, don’t let them in. If Obamacare threatens small businesses, shut it down any way you can.
This country’s inner cities require “cleaning out,” MacCree said, to free them from the grip of gangs. The border needs more men and more guns. People fleeing Arabic-speaking countries shouldn’t run, but should stay where they are and fight Islamic extremism — unless they’re the extremists themselves. Either way, they should not be afforded entry to the U.S.
As Trump takes step after step to fix what MacCree sees as America’s ills, MacCree can only shake his head at the alternative. After all, it was only three short months ago that Hillary Clinton was seen as a sure bet for the presidency.
With Trump’s victory, the whole country won, MacCree said. “The people spoke out and said enough was enough.”
From the safety of his onetime home in Arkansas, MacCree watched northern Texas towns’ populations change from white to primarily Hispanic. Then a few years spent in San Diego convinced him that any city along the border was in danger of shifting in population just as dramatically, and that a fairly open transnational policy with a Mexican city like Tijuana spelled doom for cities on the U.S. side of the border.
Now in Arizona, he’s far from Mexico, but he still defines his safety by the degree of security at the border.
“Nothing will stop them,” MacCree said. “You build a fence and they’ll jump it. You make the wall [taller] and they dig under it. Puts us all at risk.”
MacCree doesn’t believe Trump will stop at a wall. Such a promise was only the beginning of a new era in U.S. policy, he said, a projection of strength to countries that had begun to take America’s openness for granted.
“It’s his law now,” MacCree said about Trump. “A wall will just stop [border crossers] a little, get in the way.
“We’ll see what the next step is. I know he’s got one.”