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World & Nation

This New York cow town loves Trump, but talking politics can get you tossed from the only bar

Vanessa McCormick are happy that President Donald Trump is getting to fulfill his campaign promises.
Vanessa McCormick, with son Jacob, 10, is happy with the job President Trump has been doing so far.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

They were not exactly a rowdy bunch. The youngest at the table was a 47-year-old town supervisor, seated with her 10-year-old son; the others were retirees. 

They had just ordered a round of drinks, and were in the process of telling a reporter and videographer how much they loved Donald Trump when the manager of the bar came up and requested in not-exactly printable terms that they leave immediately.

“Get your show out of here,’’ is the expurgated version of what he said to a local Republican politician who had organized the gathering at this town’s only bar.

“I guess he’s not on the Trump train,” Suzanne Aldinger, a retired county employee and Republican committee member, said with a sigh after the group shuffled out of the bar and settled into a barbecue restaurant a few doors down.

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She said she was angry at first but then slightly thrilled.  “I have to wait until I’m almost 70 years old to get kicked out of a bar,” she added with a grin.

The quick exit is an example of how President Trump, in towns large and small, has both energized and disrupted. Warsaw is a village of 5,000. Politics is highly personal. Feuds date back to high school.

And Warsaw is, for the most part, gaga about Trump. “Trump-Pence” yard signs still poke out of melting snow: Enthusiasts put up fresh signs after Nov. 8 to flaunt their victory and even enclosed them in wooden frames to make them permanent fixtures. Wyoming County, as a whole, was the most pro-Trump county in all of New York, handing the Republican 73% of its votes.

The Trump supporters are angry and a little mystified, watching as big-city dwellers down in New York City — and some of their town’s minority of Democrats — have taken to the streets over Trump’s early pronouncements on immigration, security and healthcare.

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“I think he has done more out of the gate than any other president,’’ said Vanessa McCormick, who runs a family-owned furniture store and serves as town supervisor of neighboring Java. Although the county is traditionally Republican, McCormick, who organized the aborted gathering at the bar last weekend,  says that many independent and even Democratic voters turned to Trump this year.

The district’s Republican congressman, Chris Collins, who has acted as an unofficial liaison for Trump in Congress, assured reporters recently that, "in our district, his approval rating is through the roof. His supporters know that he’s delivering.”

“I was with him from the beginning,’’ said 50-year-old Bill Cummins, a bearded former corrections officer. He sports a tattoo of the heavy metal band Metallica and loves the president so much that friends joke they expect him to get a Trump tattoo.

Bill Cummins, a former corrections officer, is an ardent Trump supporter. “I was with him from the beginning,” he says.
Bill Cummins, a former corrections officer, is an ardent Trump supporter. “I was with him from the beginning,” he says.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The plans to deport immigrants in the country illegally, the wall on the Mexican border, the ban on travelers from some Muslim countries, the promised repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the sparring with the media — check – Cummins approves of it all. “He is doing exactly what he said he would do. That’s what I like.’’

To the extent that he has reservations, Cummins said he is uncomfortable with the emotions engendered by Trump —a phenomenon borne out by polls that show people either love or hate the president.

“Around here you either like Trump or you’re out protesting. People won’t accept that Trump won. We didn’t go out and protest when Obama won,’’ said Cummins. “I don’t like it that people are so divided.’’

Warsaw is not exactly a bastion of ultraconservatism. In the 19th century, the town was a stronghold of abolitionism; the historical society boasts that a former congressman who lived here, Seth Gates, turned his home into a safe house for escaped slaves.  Another illustrious former resident, Ella Hawley Crossett, was a leader of the New York suffragette movement.

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Chatting over drinks, Trump supporters here did not voice any antipathy to immigrants or any other minorities. They praised the industriousness of Mexicans employed at the nearby dairy farms, in contrast to what they said were a large number of unemployed, white residents living on social benefits.

Everybody who supports Trump has their own reason, but their explanations revolve around common themes: too much government regulation, too many taxes, too few jobs. So many employers have vanished — the knitting mills, the pottery factories, the retailers — that residents can barely remember their names.

 “We used to have a five-and-dime store in Warsaw, men’s clothing shops, women’s clothing shops, a grocery store … and from what I’ve seen at the historical society, there were big hotels and stagecoaches coming down the road,’’ said Aldinger.

“I liked the way it was back in the ’70s and ’80s,’’ said Cummins.

Many of the gripes expressed here have to do with state, not federal government, but the discontent has turned voters away from the Democratic Party.  Even more numerous than “Trump-Pence” signs are other signs calling for the repeal of a 2013 gun law championed by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo that, among other provisions, restricted assault weapons.

Many voters simply wanted change.

Dan Bass, owner of the barbecue restaurant and an attached tattoo parlor, and the drummer in a band called the Ball Cheeze Psychotics, says he usually voted Democratic, until the last election.

“If you’re eating the same hot dog for 200 years, you want to try something different,’’ said Bass. “Trump struck a chord. I figured, let’s try him. How much damage could this one guy do?’’

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Other swing voters who made the switch included Walter McCormick, a 55-year-old farmer, and Vanessa’s husband.

At the farm that his been in his family since the 1800s, McCormick reeled off a list of federal and state regulations that he blames on Democrats. Farmers can’t drain wet spots in their fields without approvals. As of Jan. 1, they can no longer shorten the tails of dairy cattle, a once-common practice that farmers say is more hygienic.

Swing voter Walter McCormick, 55, who raises cows and makes maple syrup, says, “People work really hard to make a living as a farmer. There are so many rules. We don’t want people from California telling us that we shouldn’t dock the tails of our cows.”
Swing voter Walter McCormick, 55, who raises cows and makes maple syrup, says, “People work really hard to make a living as a farmer. There are so many rules. We don’t want people from California telling us that we shouldn’t dock the tails of our cows.”
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

“People work really hard to make a living as a farmer. There are so many rules. We don’t want people from California telling us that we shouldn’t dock the tails of our cows,’’ said McCormick, speaking over the din of a reverse-osmosis machine used to make maple syrup. “Trump is what we needed. He won’t put up with any bull. He won’t let people walk all over him or us.’’

Yet fault lines run through many families. Walt’s brother, 63-year-old Charles McCormick, is active in Democratic Party politics, and in fact ran against Vanessa, his sister-in-law, in 2013 for the position of town supervisor.

He believes that Trump’s policies are going to hurt the farmers by cutting off their supply of immigrant labor and limiting the overseas markets for dairy goods. During a meeting at the local firehouse last week of several hundred farmers attending a training session about pesticides, arguments broke out about Trump.

“It didn’t get to the brawling point, but there were a lot of bad words back and forth and about Trump,’’ he said.

“We are extremely divided now, just like the rest of the country,’’ said Cindy Appleton, chairwoman of the Wyoming County Democratic Party and deputy mayor of Warsaw. She said many older, traditional Republicans are discreetly expressing concern. “These people are conservative, but they still watch CNN and read the New York Times, and they know what is going on. They wanted change, but not this much change.’’

Her Republican counterpart, James Schlick, doesn’t dispute that some are concerned.  “I think I’m still Trump’s core supporter, but I got a little nervous when I saw that yesterday,’’ said Schlick, speaking the day after Trump’s freewheeling, rambunctious, 77-minute news conference on Feb. 16.

The bar Aldinger and her friends got kicked out of is owned by a former Republican town official, and used to be the gathering place for party meetings. It is run nowadays by his daughter and son-in-law, who are both registered Republicans. But they’ve stopped allowing political events, especially not events covered by the media — not with this much discord in town.

“It was going to look like a little Trump nest, like we support his views. And we definitely don’t support his views,’’ said manager Tom Streamer, apologizing for booting the group out earlier.

He asked that the name of the bar not be published, but admitted it might be too late. “Everybody in town now knows who we are.’’      

barbara.demick@latimes.com

Twitter: @BarbaraDemick

 

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