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Why Trump fans largely shrug off president's 'authoritarian' talk

For President Trump’s supporters, what matters most is not the Mueller investigation or the president’s aggressive rhetoric countering it but how he’s handling the issues that directly affect them. 

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John Young, a retired apple grower who now runs a garden shop with his wife in New Boston, N.H., would like to see immigration reform that would alleviate the shortage of foreign migrant labor in agriculture. He voted for Trump and still supports him, and thinks it's unlikely he'll be impeached.

Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor

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Tending to his garden shop that’s brimming with bright marigolds and purple petunias, John Young has some choice words when it comes to President Trump and the ongoing Mueller investigation.

“Trump’s biggest problem is keeping his mouth shut,” he says.

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But Mr. Young and his wife Rita, former apple growers who voted for Mr. Trump back in 2016, also sympathize with the president’s efforts to push back against an investigation they see as overblown and lacking merit.

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“I really believe the Russia thing will end up being nothing,” Mrs. Young says firmly. “It’s a bunch of poppycock.”

In this picturesque southern New Hampshire town, where 53 percent cast ballots for Trump in 2016, some Republican voters express unease with the president’s brash – critics would say authoritarian – rhetoric about the unconstitutionality of the special counsel or his ability to pardon himself. But most cast it aside as bluster.

Nearly all agree there are far more important priorities than putting the Trump team’s dealings with Russia under a microscope.

There’s North Korea, and the possibility of finding a path forward on one of the most intractable international threats. There’s illegal immigration, and the red tape of legal immigration that makes it difficult to get badly needed migrant farm workers. There’s the “broken healthcare system” – some residents here say Obamacare priced them out of the market, causing them to lose their coverage – and more.

Trump supporters see their president tackling all these priorities, and they like that he’s shaking up the status quo. Indeed, for many die-hard Trump fans, the president’s aggressive claims to power are just necessary counterpunches against those who are trying to take him down. 

“I think they see this as something that needs to be done,” says Andrew Smith, director of The Survey Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, which has been tracking New Hampshire voters’ views of Trump in public opinion polls every three months. “[They] wanted one person to come in from outside and shake up the system….  If he’s got to assume some powers to do that, then so be it.”

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New Hampshire, like the nation itself, displays a stark partisan divide over the Mueller investigation, with 91 percent of Democrats seeing it as “a very serious matter that should be fully investigated,” according to an April poll conducted by The Survey Center. But two out of three Republicans in the state see it “mainly as an effort to discredit Trump’s presidency.”

At lunchtime, Dave Flynn and his window-washing crew roll into New Boston for sandwiches at Dodge’s Store – a fixture of the town of since the 1800s, with just the right kind of porch for hanging out and catching up on politics and local scuttlebutt.

Mr. Flynn says business is good – people can afford the “luxury” of having all their windows cleaned, a $250-$300 job – and he couldn’t be happier with Trump.

“LOVE HIM!” says Flynn, who is based in a nearby town.  

“I hope he doesn’t get impeached,” chimes in Matt Tierney, while fellow employee Corey Levesque crows about the extra $40 he gets every week now, thanks to Trump’s tax cuts.

Flynn calls the Mueller investigation a huge waste of taxpayer money. “I’m a businessman. If I had an opportunity to do something that would make my business bigger and better and it was in Russia, I’d do it,” he says.

Even if it turns out there was collusion, Flynn adds, there are more important issues. “There’s people who are starving and need to eat, who don’t really care if he did [collude with Russia] or not.”

New Boston is far from being deep-red Trump country. Priuses coexist with rumbling pick-ups here, and the quaint local shops in this town of 5,500 offer everything from bags of cow manure to diamond rings. The library is advertising both a GOP meet-and-great with a female Navy Reserves captain running for Congress, as well as a discussion of MSNBC host Chris Matthews’ book “Bobby Kennedy: A raging spirit.”

Across New Hampshire, Republicans are more lukewarm about Trump than elsewhere in the country. While a Gallup poll earlier this month revealed that 87 percent of Republicans approve of the job Trump is doing as president – the highest own-party approval rating for any president at the 500-day mark since President George W. Bush after 9/11 – Trump’s job approval was at 79 percent among New Hampshire Republicans in Mr. Smith’s poll. The president had an even lower net favorability rating of 60 percent, down from 73 percent in February.

“[New Hampshire] Republicans like the job he is doing – but they don’t [necessarily] like him,” says Smith. “They like him less than they like the job he is doing as president.”

That’s the case for Rod Towne, a Republican and member of the New Boston Board of Selectman who says he agreed that the status quo needed to be shaken up, but couldn’t bring himself to vote for Trump, whom he describes as arrogant.

Still, Mr. Towne isn’t overly concerned that Trump’s claim to be able to self-pardon hints at dictatorial ambitions. “He may think it inside,” he says. “[But] I have great confidence in our system.... It’s worked in some of the worst times the country has seen.”