RYEGATE — After he finished setting up his booth in the school gym for the town’s Christmas bazaar, Adrie Min on Friday night said he knew it all along.
That despite what the polls and the media said, Republican Donald J. Trump would be elected the 45th president of the United States.
Min’s booth was for the Ryegate Gun Club; he’d gotten permission from the sheriff to sell tickets for a raffle to win a handgun. He’s a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, and it’s one of the main reasons he voted for Trump, he said. But even in this county of less than 1,000 people, where 77 percent of the 471 votes cast went to Trump, he didn’t loudly broadcast his support.
“If you were a Trump supporter, and they knew it, you ran the risk of being vandalized,” said Min, a physical therapist who works in Harlowton. “Even in this part of Montana.”
Nancy Clark, chairwoman of the Golden Valley County Republican Club, agreed.
“I got the feeling that this was all over the country, that people were the silent majority, and that’s why the polls were wrong. A lot of people don’t trust polls. It’s so slanted,” she said. Clark worked as the sergeant at arms in the Montana Legislature for several sessions.
People here have always been shy about voicing their political views. Clark makes quilts and said the sewing club is one of the few places people talk freely.
“You knew who you could talk to and you knew who you couldn’t,” said Sharon Brastrup, another member of the club, who is retired and used to work at the courthouse.
Vindicated isn’t the right way to describe how Clark, Brastrup and Min, along with others in this rural region in the middle of Montana feel. Optimistic is a better word.
A vote for Trump here was for the ex-candidate, now president-elect’s pledges to roll back the Clean Power Plan, to make America energy-independent and to secure its borders. Club members want to see the Republican Party at its most conservative.
Now they’re hoping Trump will come through.
“Happy days are here again,” said Bob Clark, Nancy’s husband, who was a state representative here.
But Min, who was born in Holland, moved to the U.S. in the 1980s and became a citizen in 2007, was more subdued. “Well, I don’t know.”
Over in Roundup 40 miles east, Bill Canon said he only knows one person in Musselshell County who voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton, and it’s his wife. She was one of 331; here Clinton got just 13 percent of the vote.
“We vote for a guy like Trump because we want our America back,” Canon said. "He’s one of those individuals, and Montana likes individuals. We like people who stand alone, on their own two feet.”
In Roundup, many businesses in town are barely hanging on, Canon said. He struggles to pay rent on his shop in the winter, and his daughter just moved back from the Bakken oil fields after a slowdown there and opened a salon in the back of his motorcycle shop.
Bringing back jobs that rely on natural resource extraction is something Nancy Clark looks to Trump to accomplish. The president-elect needs to follow through on his promise to limit the power of the Environmental Protection Agency, she said.
“We’re dependent on the coal mines around here. They employ a lot of people. … We’ve lost the logging, we’re losing the coal, the things Montana was founded on. … The EPA needs to be reined in so we can use those resources. You can use your resources responsibly. We've come a long ways since the turn of the century.”
Min wants the EPA eliminated. “The federal overreach in anything they do, any branch, all this licensing stuff, it’s just to control you. The only thing they don’t need licenses for is when they run for office. And they’re more dangerous than anybody that has a license.”
Min said he believes many trade agreements are unconstitutional and wants to see Trump deliver on a pledge to crush the North American Free Trade Agreement.
During the campaign there was much speculation on what kind of president Trump would be. His stance on many issues was inconsistent. He touted his status an outsider but picked a long-term politician as his vice president. Even his supporters aren’t sure what he'll do next.
On the trail, Trump said he’d eliminate the Affordable Care Act, what he called a “failed” law. But by Friday he told reporters he was open to keeping parts of it after a meeting with President Barack Obama.
“I think we need to wait and see,” Brastrup said. “My husband, he come home last night, since the election, he’s very afraid because of the Affordable Care Act, which is not affordable. But he’s got a sister who had tongue cancer and her husband has colon cancer and then he’s got a nephew that nearly died of cancer, and he is afraid of going back to something they can’t afford. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. The way I’m hearing the report today is he said he will keep those things.”
The club members want to see Trump crack down on illegal immigration, though at this point even they conceded his hallmark wall between the U.S. and Mexico may be unrealistic.
“That open borders thing, that’s got to stop,” Bob Clark said. “Building a wall, it’s possible, but I don’t think that’s the only answer. There’s got to be something else out there, some other way."
Brastrup said there needs to be enforcement. “My son was down on the border with the National Guard and they could do nothing but tell the officers if they see somebody. They have absolutely no authority.”
In addition to increased border security, Nancy Clark wants a stronger vetting program for refugees.
“There’s got to be, before we start letting the Syrians in here, some of the refugees, there has got to be a system that they can be well-vetted so that ISIS supporters are not coming in with them.”
Things will become more clear as Trump makes picks for key jobs within his cabinet.
Bob Clark wants to see Ben Carson as surgeon general and U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-N.C., a Tea Party member, as attorney general or a Supreme Court justice or Ted Cruz as a justice.
Not everyone in the club who voted for Trump backed him initially. In the primary they supported everyone from Rand Paul to Carson and then Cruz after Carson dropped out.
Brastrup said there wasn’t a perfect candidate. “I felt like we didn’t have a whole lot to choose from either way. But by the same token I think Trump was the one that had the intestinal fortitude to take on the system, and I’m glad to see that dynasty broken.”
When asked what Trump has said or done that they disagree with, the club didn’t come up with much, though Min said he's not OK with Trump’s support of stop-and-frisk policies.
When asked about some of the less-than-savory things that came out about Trump during the election, including a tape that came out with Trump discussing groping women, Canon, who supported Trump from the start, chalks it all up to politics.
“A lot of it was paid-for trash,” he said. “But the politics part of it did sway a lot of people. It swayed my wife hard-core. She thinks he’s the most bullying, womanizing piece of bullcrap. But she does have a point.”
Min said none of the things he heard from Trump made him reconsider voting for the candidate.
“You know from what side it comes,” Min said. “They’ll say anything to win. We call them liars. They’re just born liars almost.”
Nancy Clark said even with his faults, Trump is "refreshing."
"He doesn’t weigh it to see who’s going to like me and who’s not going to like me. It’s just ‘This is the way I feel and take me how I am,’ and most of it I agree with.’”
At Brastrup’s house at dinner Friday night, the discussion centered on two factions within the Republican Party. She hopes Trump helps the more conservative wing rise to the top.
“We’ve got Republicans in Name Only, and then we have the true Republicans. But you can count them on one hand almost,” Min said. “I’m hoping that he’s going to be a leader enough that we’ll be able to, I hope that’s going to change. But I don’t know that it will. You’ve got the old establishment and I don’t know that they will come around, but you have the conservative Republicans, and I’m hoping that’s going to be the prominent leg of the party.”
Bob Clark said he is anticipating good things. “I think him being in there is going to force Congress to make some uncomfortable changes."
Min was more tempered. “Well, it’s a start."