Many Trump backers say it’s time for him to put down his phone

'I wish he'd quit tweeting'
People watch a NASCAR race at the bar in the Oliver D. Nichelson American Legion Post 221 in Niceville, Fla.
People watch a NASCAR race at the bar in the Oliver D. Nichelson American Legion Post 221 in Niceville, Fla.

NICEVILLE, Fla. — On any given day, President Donald Trump is known to fire off tweets that grab the attention of those inside the Beltway. On Wednesday, for example, he singled out a senator from Connecticut who “cried like a baby” and called Democrats “phony hypocrites.” The day before, he defended his decision to fire the FBI director and attacked “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer.” Last week he praised Australia’s socialized health-care system, declared that the “fake news media is officially out of control” and congratulated a morning talk show for “its unbelievable ratings hike.”

But nearly 1,000 miles south of Washington, in the bar of American Legion Post 221 in the Florida Panhandle, no one seems to notice his Twitter habits.

Instead, the regulars talk about their grandkids, home-improvement projects, politics and the way things used to be in conversations peppered with curse words and crude jokes. The jukebox blares country, with some classic rock mixed in, as the bartender pours $1 draft beers and $2 mixed drinks.

No one has a Twitter account – frankly, many aren’t even sure how Twitter works – although they do know it keeps getting the president into trouble.

“I wish he’d quit tweeting,” Becky Corcoran, 62, a Trump-supporting retired school custodian, said last week. “Keep your mouth shut, quit tweeting. . . You’re not just a businessman any more. Now you’re president of the United States.”

Niceville, Fla., is home to about 12,000 people, many of whom work at Eglin Air Force Base. (Meggan Haller/Keyhole Photo)

Although the president pledged to let go of his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account if elected, he has continued to tweet, insisting that it’s the only way he can bypass the media and directly connect with his supporters.

A Quinnipiac University poll last month found that 68 percent of registered voters said the president should stop tweeting from his personal account. Among Republicans, opinions were split, with 47 percent saying he should continue, 47 percent saying he should stop and 6 percent not caring. A Fox News poll of Trump voters in March found that 35 percent approved of his tweets – while 51 percent wished he would be more cautious and 12 percent disapproved.

And for those who are active on Twitter, interest in Trump’s tweeting is fading. The president’s tweets earn far fewer likes than they did during the election – or even when he first took office, according to a Bloomberg News analysis. Those who engage with Trump are more likely to be left-leaners leveling criticism than right-leaners lavishing love, according to an analysis by the Associated Press and Cortico, a media analytics nonprofit group.

Many of those at the American Legion bar one night last week said they can’t keep straight which of the president’s comments were delivered in a tweet and which came in an interview, speech or formal statement. Everything melds together as they watch the news, listen to their favorite talk-radio shows or read articles posted on Facebook.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the president’s supporters don’t have to read his tweets on Twitter for them to be powerful modes of communication.

“When he tweets . . . it gets picked up by everybody, it gets read live on the news, you guys will cover it in the paper,” Spicer said. “We put out a press release and it gets covered much less than when he sends a single tweet.”

The Oliver D. Nichelson American Legion Post 221 in Niceville, Fla., has a signed letter from Charles E. Schmidt, National Commander of The American Legion, as well as portraits of past post commanders. (Meggan Haller/Keyhole Photo)

Here in Niceville – which replaced the town name Boggy in 1910 – questions about the president’s tweets were often met with shrugs. Many said they care more about some congressional Republicans not supporting the president’s full agenda, about liberals not giving Trump a fair chance and about the media seeming to ignore the victories that they see.

“I’d rather hear honest and crude than unhonest and sanitized,” said Scottie Gontarek, 60, who retired after 20 years in the Air Force and is one of a handful of widows who often hang out together at the Legion post. “You might not like what he says, but he’s honest.”

Trump won overwhelmingly in the Panhandle, which culturally has much more in common with the southern states it borders – Alabama and Georgia – than with Miami.

Niceville is home to about 12,000 people, and is known for its annual Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival (named for a fish, not the hairstyle). Last week, fighter jets practiced overhead as students at Northwest Florida State College took finals, tourists posed for photos at an armaments museum and families gathered at a local playground.

No one could name a tweet that the president had sent recently.

Among those shopping at a local Walmart was a 56-year-old Republican who refused to vote for Trump and called his tweets “childish,” along with a 29-year-old whose husband is based in South Korea and who wishes the president would be more careful with his comments, especially those about North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. At a water park, a 69-year-old grandfather who voted for Trump said he had to cut back on cable news late last year for fear that the stress was hurting his health – so he’s unsure what the president has been tweeting.

Scottie Gontarek of Niceville, Fla., at the bar of the American Legion post. (Meggan Haller/Keyhole Photo)

During a lunch rush at the chain restaurant PoFolks – “be sho’ to tell yore friends how much ya enjoyed yore visit,” the menu says – a 57-year-old white grandmother raising her 14-year-old grandson said she loves the president’s tweets and said that the occasional typo or poor choice of words shows he’s down-to-earth and not trying to “be some bigwig that thinks he’s above all of us.” At a nearby booth, a 56-year-old African American grandmother who is helping to raise her three grandchildren and didn’t vote in November said that Trump “shouldn’t even be tweeting at all.”

As the night wore on at the American Legion, a light rain began to fall. Rob Orr, a 48-year-old electrician, ordered a round of Tequila Rose shots for several of the women in the bar, most of whom were old enough to be his mother.

“Tastes like a strawberry milkshake,” said Lenora Ellison, 77, a retired Air Force mechanic who loves telling stories about being one of few women in the service.

Ellison thinks a lot of the nation’s problems could be solved with more birth control – “and that’s a position I even made on Facebook,” she said – and she voted for Trump.

“He says what he thinks and doesn’t flower things up,” she said.

Sitting to her right is Corcoran and her husband, Kim Jones, who said he worked for General Motors in Michigan until his job was shipped overseas.

Around the corner is Jeff Gipson, a dump truck driver with triplet grandsons who said he has been mad at the government since 1978 when he graduated from high school in Michigan, volunteered for the Army and was given a date to report – only to show up and learn that doctors wouldn’t allow him to go.

Lenora Ellison, 77, at her home in Niceville, Fla., voted for Trump. She’s skeptical of information and doesn’t know how Twitter works. (Meggan Haller/Keyhole Photo)

“We had a goodbye party with my family and friends. . . I said goodbye to my family, my friends,” he said. “I think the damn government owes me a paycheck for about 40 years.”

Gipson said that he’s fine with Trump “speaking his mind” and doesn’t think his tweets are terrible, although he doesn’t follow them closely.

To Ellison’s left is a 38-year-old who grew up in the Midwest and specializes in defusing bombs for the Air Force. He voted for Barack Obama in 2008, felt let down, and voted for Trump, noting the charismatic similarities between the two. He asked that his name not be published, as he’s active duty and not allowed to speak to the media without permission.

Like many in the bar, he was glad to see Trump finally take action against the Syrian regime, although he thinks the president went a little light. And it was “awesome” that the military used the “mother of all bombs” against the Islamic State in Afghanistan.

“But, if I was in charge of him. . . I would be like: Kill your Twitter. Turn it off, shut it down, block, whatever,” he said.

“But that’s just Trump,” Ellison said.

“I mean, it’s a good tool to be able to mass communicate quickly,” he said. “But I think knowing Trump – and this is just the way he is – he gets all ‘grrrr.’ He gets all hot under the collar. . . I think they’re hurting him more than helping him. But it’s him. I mean, at the end of the day, no one’s going to tell him: ‘You can’t do it.’ “

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