Trump Backers Baffled by Criticism

Trump Backers Baffled by Criticism

GREER, S.C. (AP) -- As she's working the counter at a hole-in-the-wall hot dog stand named Rosie's in upstate South Carolina, Tracy Hooker isn't interested in debating the merits of Donald Trump's proposal to temporarily block Muslims from coming into the United States.

She knows some people think it's bigoted. That others argue it's impractical, legally dubious or both. And that every other Republican running for president has, in some way or another, rejected the idea the plan is even worth talking about.

That's why she says Trump is "my guy."

He's the only one who gets it.

"Think about it. You don't know what you've got here. You've got no clue," she said of the Muslim tourists, immigrants and refugees Trump wants to temporarily bar from coming to the U.S.

"You don't know if they like us. You don't know if they hate us," said Hooker, 47, of Greer, South Carolina. "You don't know why they're here."

To Hooker and the dozens of Trump supporters interviewed in the past week by The Associated Press in the first-to-vote states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the near universal condemnation of the billionaire's plan is simply baffling.

In the wake of the attacks in Paris and shootings in San Bernardino, they say only Trump is taking on what they believe is a clear and present danger to America and its citizens.

"When you're in war, you have to take steps that are not American to protect yourself and defend the country," said Margaret Shontz, of Cedar Falls, Iowa, as she arrived at a Trump campaign stop in Des Moines on Friday.

Iowa's Dale Witmer, 90, a registered Republican and Word War II veteran who likes Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, embraced the Muslim ban as a "great idea." He said he was taken aback by the backlash: "I don't know how to comprehend that."

Dan Edwards, a 53-year-old retired banker from Van Meter, Iowa, who brought his family to Trump's town hall in Des Moines on Friday, said the real estate mogul's words were taken out of context.

"I think it's been made into something it wasn't meant to be. I think basically what he's doing is saying, 'OK, wait a minute. Refugees, we need to make sure we know what we're looking for and to make sure everything is in place,' " Edwards said.

Trump made the proposal a week ago, releasing a statement on Dec. 7 that called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on."

Trump's campaign said immediately thereafter the proposed ban would apply to "everyone," including individuals seeking to immigrate to the country as well as those looking to visit as tourists.

As the week progressed, Trump began to fill in additional details. He said American citizens, including Muslim members of the military, would be exempt, as would certain world leaders and athletes coming to the U.S. to compete.

"By the way, it's not total and complete. And it's temporary," Trump said Sunday in an interview with CNN. "You're going to have exceptions. You're going to have people coming in and you are going to get people in."

New Hampshire state Rep. Stephen Stepanek, Trump's campaign co-chairman in the state, said the reaction to Trump's proposal fit the pattern of his campaign: First outrage, then a realization Trump hit the nail on the head.

"He's always one step ahead of all the other politicians in pointing out a problem. And everybody's outraged. And then all of a sudden they start analyzing what he said and realize, 'Oh my god, he's right,' " he said.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week found that at 57 percent, a solid majority of Americans, oppose Trump's proposal. A CBS News poll also found nearly six-in-10 Americans opposed the ban, with two-thirds saying it goes against the country's founding principles.

But Republicans are far more receptive; 54 percent voiced support for the ban in the CBS poll.

While Trump has brushed back criticisms, including from some Republicans, that his idea smacks of bigotry, some of his backers take that charge personally.

At Cannon's restaurant in Greer, South Carolina, not too far from Rosie's hot dog stand, manager Tammy Holcombe argued "everybody's getting too offended by this." Another Cannon's employee, 50-year-old Wayne Weathers, chimed in: "The drive-by media says everybody's a racist who supports Trump. That's ridiculous."

Among some Trump supporters, even those who agree with his proposal, there are some concerns — usually about how the bombastic former reality TV star is selling his ideas.

"I agree with him, mostly," said Greg Spearman, 46, who owns an electrical firm in Greer. "But there's certainly a better way to say it."

Still other backers said they simply don't take Trump's plan at face value. And Trump himself has even suggested his proposed ban was intended to stir up reaction.

"Without the ban," he said Sunday, "you're not going to make the point."