Pennsylvania Supporters Stand By Donald Trump After Fiery Debate

Oct 10, 2016
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Donald Trump's hard-core supporters saw last night's debate as a solid performance by their candidate. They hope it will stop his slide in the polls. NPR's Don Gonyea watched the debate with some Trump backers in western Pennsylvania.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: The lawn signs and banners flying from porches along U.S. 30 heading into Latrobe, Pa., tell you two things about this rural section of the state. They love the Pittsburgh Steelers and Donald Trump.

Hey, how are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How are you?

GONYEA: Good, good. Thanks for letting me just kind of eavesdrop and...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, not at all.

GONYEA: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I hope we don't burn your ears (ph).

GONYEA: Nope (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, have a seat.

GONYEA: All right.

I found one group of Trump supporters at the Black and Gold Grill - those are Steelers colors - in Westmoreland County.

MICHAEL VANDYKE: This is a District 12 Republican Committee of the Westmoreland County Republican Party.

GONYEA: That's Michael Vandyke, one of the organizers. The debate begins, and everyone settles in to watch on the big screen. When questions immediately went to Trump's vulgar comments about women in a leaked audiotape from 11 years ago, everyone sat and watched quietly. Then Vandyke, who works as a clergyman, said this.

VANDYKE: He has to take these lashes because that was dumb. OK, but he's got to let this go. Get on with the other stuff.

GONYEA: But moments later, he was pleased when Trump brought up Bill Clinton's past infidelities and accused Hillary Clinton of enabling her husband.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: There's never been anybody in the history of politics in this nation that's been so abusive to women.

VANDYKE: That's what she gets for trying to claim some moral superiority.

TRUMP: The most crowd-pleasing line of the debate for this group - when Trump said Clinton would be in jail if he were president.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Because you'd be in jail.

MICHELLE TEAGUE: Yes (laughter).

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: Forty-eight-year-old Michelle Teague is a corporate trainer.

TEAGUE: He's doing much better in this debate than he did in the last because obviously he prepared more for this one.

GONYEA: Again this is Trump's base, people who've been with him from the beginning. He's not an altar boy, one of them said. He's a leader who will stand up to terrorism and fix the economy. Twenty-three-year-old Michael Geiselhart works in construction and is also a candidate for the Pennsylvania Legislature. He says it was a positive night for a struggling campaign.

MICHAEL GEISELHART: I definitely think he didn't move backwards in any way just 'cause it seemed that he was more direct in showing why she was unfit. He definitely won that battle, and I - like I said, I think it's a step in the right direction. I don't think it's going to be anything huge, but it will definitely be positive after the last two weeks.

TRUMP: Everyone here downplayed the impact of high-profile GOP desertions in recent days. They say Trump still has a month to make his case to the American people. Last night, though, Michelle Teague did offer one bit of caution. She said Trump won the debate, but what if he lets loose again on Twitter?

TEAGUE: We'll see what he does over the next 24 to 48 hours. But if he can control himself there like he did in this debate, I think you'll see it tightened up.

GONYEA: Trump supporters keeping the faith in Latrobe, Pa. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.