Despite the most high-minded of predictions he would lose, Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election. He defied naysayers and statisticians in no small part because of the power of a motivated and avid fanbase that stuck with him and fought for him, even through scandal and setback. Trump referred to his supporters as "the silent majority," even though during the election, that winning coalition was often anything but silent — attending rallies, tweeting, and displaying their pride in their candidate with their famous "Make America Great Again" hats.
But now that Trump has actually become president, those supporters seem, well, silent — at least in comparison to the loud opposition. This past Saturday, tens of thousands of people marched in opposition to the president in rallies across the country, demanding he release his tax returns. In contrast, pro-Trump "Spirit of America" rallies a month earlier were smaller, featured notable throngs of counter-protesters, and did not evoke nearly the kind of media coverage that the Tax Day marches did. With Trump's approval rating (and the belief that he keeps his promises) falling after notable policy failures like his travel ban being stopped in federal court, it's worth asking: has the Trump Train sputtered to a halt?
According to Debbie Dooley, a conservative activist who was one of the organizers of the "Spirit of America" rallies in March, enthusiasm isn't gone. It's just become calmer with Trump in power.
"The enthusiasm is still there," Dooley tells Bustle, even if the voluminous rallies aren't. "Does that mean they want to go out? More people show up to protest something if they're against something than will show up if they're for something. It's a whole lot easier for people to show up to protest something: 'Hey we need to stop this. We need to stop this agenda.'"
And Dooley isn't worried that Trump hasn't delivered on some of his biggest campaign promises — like repealing the Affordable Care Act or building a wall along the border with Mexico — nor that some of his fellow Republicans have opposed some of his actions and behavior, such as when he claimed Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. "Anytime you're going to change and upend the system, and do things completely different, and start stepping on toes, there's going to be resistance, even within the Republican party," Dooley says. "He's new to politics. When he said 'I'm going to get this done in the first hundred days,' I said, 'Well, maybe after that.'"
Dooley's comments echo those of House Speaker Paul Ryan, after the failure of the GOP healthcare reform bill:
We were a ten-year opposition party, when being against things was easy to do. You just had to be against it. And now in three months time we try to go to a governing party where we actually have to get 216 people to agree with each other on how we do things.
It is clear that confidence in Trump's ability to deliver on his campaign promises is falling among the population in general, as well as specifically among Republicans. According to a Gallup poll released Monday, only 45 percent of Americans think Trump keeps his promises, compared with 62 percent in February. Among Republicans, the fall has gone from 92 to 81 percent, a not-insignificant 11 point drop.
However, as the above numbers also show, compared to the overall population, Republicans still have pretty high faith in Trump. What may keep Trump's most avid supporters going is a trust that even if there are these growing pains, their guy in the White House has what it takes to get these things figured out.
"He's like a steam roller," says Dooley. "He's like a train going down the track at a hundred miles an hour."
"I think the core is still excited. I hear from them every single day," says Rob Mennes, the founder of Gator PAC, a conservative grassroots organization that supports anti-establishment candidates like the president. Mennes uses Gator PAC to interact with other supporters via social media and phone calls. "They're very pleased with what's going on with China, from a trade perspective," he says. "They're very pleased with the immigration actions that are being taken. They're pleased that the president has come back to Obamacare."
For those who fought hard for an outsider president, there is little surprise that Washington insiders have been trying to get their hands on the agenda as well. But the faith remains that Trump isn't like other politicians, and he's going to be able to cut through the weeds of Washington that might have halted a different man.
"He's like a steam roller," says Dooley. "He's like a train going down the track at a hundred miles an hour. And yeah there's been some speed bumps along the way. There is no doubt. President Trump has shown he's willing to fight to win for his agenda. He's like a juggernaut."