I've talked about Elkhart, Indiana before, the self-styled RV Capital of the United States is only a couple of hours from here and President Obama made the city his showcase of what his stimulus package could do after the place fell on hard times after the Bush Bust and suffered from 15%+ unemployment.
I noted recently that Elkhart's unemployment is under 5% now and the good times are definitely back as retiring Boomers skip the hassle of home ownership and hit to road to see the country. But if you thought President Obama was ever going to get any credit at all in a state like Indiana, you haven't been paying attention to this blog for the last seven years, or to guys like Ed Neufelt, who introduced the President back in 2009.
Mr. Obama, whose four trips here during 2008 and 2009 tracked the area’s decline, is expected to return for the first time in coming weeks, both to showcase its recovery and to warn against going back to Republican economic policies. Yet where is Mr. Neufeldt leaning in this presidential election year? He may keep a photograph of himself and Mr. Obama on a desk at the medical office he cleans nightly, but he is considering Donald J. Trump.
“I like the way he just won’t take nothing off of nobody,” Mr. Neufeldt said, though days later he allowed: “He scares me sometimes.”
Billboards proclaim, “Hiring: Welders. Up to $23/hour,” but for all the progress, many people here — like Americans elsewhere — harbor unshakable anxiety about stagnant wages, their economic future and the erosion of the middle class generally. Antigovernment resentments over past bank bailouts linger, stoked by candidates in both parties (though taxpayers got their money back, with dividends). And social issues such as abortion, gun rights, same-sex marriage, the Affordable Care Act and immigration loom larger than any other for some voters.
The enduring wounds of the Great Recession, together with discouraging economic trends that long predated it, have fueled anger on the left but especially on the right, thanks to Mr. Trump, the maverick Republican front-runner. Mr. Obama is not getting the recognition historically accorded a president who presides over economic revival, but then again, neither are divided Republicans seen as offering a positive alternative.
“Whether he gets the credit or not, people’s home equity has gone back up, fuel prices are the best we’ve had in a long time, there’s a lot of things that make this all go,” Larry Thompson, a former longtime mayor of nearby Nappanee and a Republican, said as he showed off an expanding cabinetry factory, Kountry Wood Products.
“But I think that maybe it’s just some of the other things he’s been involved with that people in our area” — Mr. Thompson stopped, shaking his head in unspoken reference to various social issues.
President Obama got a lot of stuff done despite Republican sabotage in Congress, but that sabotage has worked for the GOP. Bush certainly destroyed the economy, but it's allowed the GOP to say "Hey, has Obama really fixed it in eight years?"
For a lot of people in places like Elkhart, the answer is absolutely not. And they think Trump will get the job done.
In 2008 Mr. Obama won Indiana, the first Democratic presidential candidate to do so since 1964. In 2012 he did not even contest the state. Among those who opposed him was Mr. Neufeldt. Now 69, he holds four part-time jobs, but boasts that a daughter and three sons-in-law again have good jobs in Elkhart’s boom-and-bust recreational vehicle industry where he worked 32 years. His problem with the president is over abortion.
Brian A. Howey, publisher of the Howey Politics Indiana newsletter and once a reporter in Elkhart, sounded stumped, even allowing for the state’s conservatism: “I’m a lifelong Hoosier. I’m just amazed that not only do people not appreciate what happened in ’09, but there’s a lot of hostility toward Obama. I think part of it is racial and a lot of it is political.”
“This state stood to lose 150,000 auto jobs if Chrysler and G.M. had liquidated,” Mr. Howey added. “We would have had a bona fide depression here.”
But that doesn't matter to Elkhart. If the problem is abortion, but you're considering Donald Trump, whose position on abortion literally changed 5 times this week? The problem isn't abortion and it never was.
The problem is white trash who can't be grateful for a second to a black president and are looking for any other reason to come up with hating him.