In 95% white Elliott County, Kentucky, in what used to be deep blue union territory, they voted for the Republican for the first time in over a century. Now the people who voted for the regime are wondering if they got taken to the cleaners by a con man.
As the lunch crowd began trickling into the Frosty Freeze restaurant Friday, owner Judy Pennington stood in front of a television and eagerly awaited the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump.
“Even though he’s a billionaire — and that don’t cut no ice with me — he’s for the little people,” she said. “The veterans. The coal miners. The forgotten people.”
Trump’s connection with those “forgotten” working-class white voters put him in the White House and shocked the political establishment. Nowhere was it more shocking than in Elliott County, a place Barack Obama carried twice and one of the last Democratic strongholds in rural Kentucky. No Republican presidential candidate had ever carried this 148-year-old county until Trump got 70 percent of the vote.
With that sort of victory margin, you might have expected a lot of excitement here about Trump’s inauguration. But, aside from Pennington, none of the customers in her restaurant seemed enthusiastic.
It was the same down the road at the Penny Mart, where several people were enjoying the taco salad special and ignoring Trump’s inaugural speech on television.
“It’s just what’s on TV,” said Matt Farley, who was working the cash register and said he wasn’t a Trump fan. “I just try to stay out of it.”
Several people at both restaurants who said they voted for Trump didn’t want to talk about it — or didn’t want to give their name if they did. Most said it wasn’t so much that they voted for Trump as against Hillary Clinton.
“A lot of people didn’t like her because she was a woman,” Pennington said. More than that, though, she just didn’t connect with people here.
“I honestly believe that if (Trump) and Hillary Clinton were out there in the parking lot, he would be the one to come in and talk to people,” Pennington said.
“You never saw any Hillary signs,” said Travis Jones, 28, a construction worker who voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary but couldn’t vote for Clinton in November because of “all of her lies and scams and schemes.” Her pro-choice stand on abortion and her comments critical of the coal industry hurt her, too, he and several others said.
“Honestly, I thought Hillary beat herself,” Jones said.
Although he didn’t vote for Trump, Jones said he is hopeful the new president will turn out to be a champion for working people. But he is suspicious of all the rich business executives Trump has named to his cabinet.
“I’m not sure what to expect,” Jones said. “I think he’s going to fight for some of his promises, but he’s going to have some trouble because there are a lot of people who want him to fail.”
Democrats won overwhelmingly in the county in other races, Jim Gray beat Rand Paul here and Rocky Adkins remains the state's most powerful Democrat in the General Assembly, winning by nearly 60 points. But Clinton was destroyed. The union boys voted Trump.
They're going to wonder why the jobs don't come back too.