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Trump supporters cheer his combative stance with the media

By: JOHN RABY, Associated Press
February 16, 2017 Updated: February 16, 2017 at 7:02 pm
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photo - President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Critics of President Donald Trump saw in his Thursday news conference a combative, thin-skinned chief executive who continues to blame the media for the controversies roiling his administration.

His supporters saw something else: A champion of Middle America who is taking on the establishment and making good on his campaign promises to put the country first.

The Associated Press contacted Trump supporters across the country to see how they viewed a news conference in which the president said his administration was running like "a fine-tuned machine" despite the resignation of his top national security adviser, a court setback on his immigration order, a defeat for his nominee as labor secretary and reports of internal divisions.

Here are views of some of those supporters:

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Richelle Kirk of Logan, West Virginia, watched some of Trump's news conference on Thursday and didn't see any head-scratching comments from the president.

"I back him 100 percent," said the 42-year-old stay-at-home mom. "You either love it or get out, is my opinion."

During Barack Obama's presidency, her husband was laid off from his coal-mining job, a loss they blamed on Obama's environmental policies. She said they lost a home and "everything we owned."

After West Virginia voters resoundingly rejected Obama during his 2012 re-election, "we didn't show our hind ends when Obama was re-elected," Kirk said. So she believes people shouldn't overreact to Trump, either.

She particularly agreed with the president when he took credit for an optimistic business climate and a rising stock market, saying Trump is beginning to fulfill his campaign promise to put people back to work.

Reporters, she said, "need to leave him alone. He's just doing what he said he's going to do."

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Kevin Felty of Norfolk, Virginia, said it was the "most impressive presidential press conference" of his life.

"Largely because it was so unorthodox," said Felty, 48, who works as a surgical assistant and sells life insurance. "It was hyper adversarial between the president and the press. And yet he was able to control the questioning and the tone and the mood in the room."

Felty said the media needs to move on regarding Russia and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

"There was nothing illegal that General Flynn had done at that time," Felty said. "What he did do is make a mistake in not being accurate with the vice president."

He also said he believes Trump is trustworthy as president.

"He doesn't need the media to chide him to make the right decisions," Felty said. "It's something he's been doing well for decades."

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Regina Lenoir of Picayune, Mississippi, enjoyed watching Trump's news conference and said the president "looked more relaxed."

Lenoir, 69, said she was most interested in the president's comments about the alleged leaks that led to the resignation of Michael Flynn as national security adviser.

"We don't know the conversation that happened between him and (Vice President Mike) Pence. Only they know. But the news media gets out there (and) says such and such with no corroboration," she said. "I'm sick of them making up stories. You know, we're intelligent people. We can make up our own mind on whether they're telling the truth."

She agreed with Trump's take on how the media has covered his administration and campaign, saying those covering his administration are good reporters but biased.

She said if people gave Trump a chance, "he might just surprise everyone.

"He wasn't my first choice, but he is my president," Lenoir said. "I think he handled the news conference very well."

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Joseph Gatlin of Virginia Beach, Virginia, said he did not watch the news conference but heard about the question a Jewish reporter asked Trump about a rise in anti-Semitic incidents around the country.

Trump told the reporter to sit down and said it was not a simple or fair question before describing himself as "the least anti-Semitic person you've ever seen in your entire life."

Gatlin, who is Jewish and who was born in Israel, said the media needs to move on from "asking the same question."

"He's not a racist. He doesn't believe in racism," said Gatlin, who owns a flooring company. "He's not anti-Semitic at all."

Gatlin pointed to the number of Jewish people in Trump's inner circle, including his son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner. He said the media instead should be asking Trump about terrorism and the economy.

"I think that it's become ridiculous," Gatlin said. "He wants the serious questions. He wants people to ask him questions that people care about. You can't mention racism in every speech. They're looking at the wrong things."

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Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin, said he was glad to see the president push back against the media. He said reporters have no proof Trump or anyone around him did anything wrong.

"They're trying to make up a story that Trump worked with the Russians to rig the election," he said. "Now they're trying to make a big deal out of (former national security adviser) Mike Flynn. He was doing what he was supposed to do. He was talking to his counterparts. He was talking to the Russians. He got fired because he lied to (Vice President Mike) Pence. There's no story there. The left media is so excited. They think they took this guy down. No, he made a mistake. He just lied."

Hiltgen said he remains squarely behind the billionaire president because he has done what he said he would do on the campaign trail.

"He's accomplished more in, whatever, three weeks, regarding the stuff he talked about," Hiltgen said. "That's what people voted for. I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do. That never happens."

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Associated Press writers Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia; Chevel Johnson in New Orleans; and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin, contributed to this report.

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