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On the Trail, an occasional column by St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jason Rosenbaum, takes an analytical look at politics and policy across Missouri.

On the Trail: Missouri’s Trump supporters reflect on president’s response to Charlottesville

Donald Trump leaves the stage after a March 2016 speech at the Peabody Opera House.
File photo I Bill Greenblatt | UPI
Donald Trump leaves the stage after a March 2016 speech at the Peabody Opera House.

Missouri residents backed President Donald Trump by overwhelming numbers in last year’s election.

But some of his backers told St. Louis Public Radio that they aren’t completely happy with how he’s reacted to last weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where one person was killed and more than a dozen people were injured when a car rammed through a crowd of anti-white supremacist protesters, and two state troopers died when their helicopter crashed.

Still, the Missouri residents said they’re not ready to abandon the president, adding politicians alone can’t eradicate racism and bigotry.

Take Chad Perkins: He’s a Pike County Republican committeeman and a sheriff’s deputy. His grandfather fought against the Nazis in World War II, and said the people that brandished swastikas in Charlottesville are “losers” that should “spend the rest of their lives in shame.”

Perkins said the president “needs to distance himself more from” white supremacists and is worried that Trump’s missteps are making it harder for him to follow through on Republican priorities.

“I don’t know why the president feels it necessary to always stand his ground on things,” Perkins said. “That’s his way of doing things. I don’t necessarily always understand it.”

Former state Rep. Carl Bearden of St. Charles supported Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in last year’s GOP presidential primary. Bearden said he doesn’t think all of the points Trump made this week were invalid — including that some of the counterprotesters were to blame for some of the violence.

Still, Bearden said, “if Trump continues to struggle with communicating … in the long term it could have some impact” on his ability to retain support in Missouri, which he won by nearly 20 percentage points in November.

“[Republicans] failed on health care,” Bearden said. “If they fail on tax reform and then you couple it with incidents like Charlottesville and failure to communicate, then I think you really are looking at some problems.”

Moberly resident Sam Richardson is a writer who has worked in the legislative and executive branches. A self-described conservative, Richardson said support for Trump in rural northern and central Missouri is strong.

Still, Richardson said people across Missouri should be worried about what happened in Charlottesville.

“This isn’t right,” Richardson said. “Folks should not have that kind of a confrontation because it leaves deep stains in the carpet that aren’t going to come out with just a little scrubbing.”

‘Hate isn’t OK’

Other Trump supporters believe a politician’s words alone can’t alter somebody’s beliefs — even if they’re distasteful.

“I think it’s good for political figures to have a stance when something happens big. But they’re not going to change the hearts of individuals,” Republican Pike County County Commissioner Justin Sheppard said. “We’re all individual human beings in what we choose to think about and who we choose to hate and why we choose to hate them.”

Pike County County Republican Committeewoman Gale Frolos said politicians can set a tone, but it’s up to individuals to come to terms with their beliefs.

“I do believe as leaders there’s a responsibility to set a tone that hate isn’t OK and it isn’t going to be tolerated,” she said. “That’s isn’t an acceptable behavior. And I think we learn that in kindergarten. I think we learned that in preschool that we respect other people’s rights and their beliefs — but never to the point of violence.”

Perkins said Charlottesville may be “a blip on the news cycle,” adding that “I can’t imagine the country is divided as we see on television.”

“I think as a country we’re much stronger than it appears on the news,” he said. “I think we have a lot more in common than the mainstream media gives us credit. I don’t think that we’re that far gone. I think we’re probably going to be OK.”

On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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