Nationally, it’s been quite a week for the Trump administration. Coincidentally, this week marks one year since voters elected Donald Trump president.
And while there are no elections in Delaware this month, opinions abound on the president’s performance and on the Trump impact on local politics in Delaware.
In the early morning hours of Nov. 9, 2016, Donald Trump claimed victory and called for unity: “Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division … to all Republicans, and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.”
But a year later, lots of Delawareans including Newark’s Terry Babcock Lumish say they haven’t seen that “unity” effort.
“I am disappointed on what I’m seeing out of Washington … and it has a great deal to do with what we’re seeing in terms of leadership,” Lumish said.
Trump supporters, such as Sussex County Young Republicans leader Matt Revel, aren’t happy with division in D.C. either — but for different reasons.
“Everybody’s a little distraught, everybody’s a little … I mean, you wish that Congress would be more receptive and more open to his ideas and trying to work with him,” Revel said. “Given what he’s had to work with, I think he’s done a great job.
“Of course, legislatively, you want to see some more things passed,” he said. “But there are a few in both parties that are holding his agenda up.”
There’s been a trickle-down Trump effect on Delaware politics too. In early 2017, Stephanie Hansen won a special election for state Senate that drew national attention as one of the first contests in the U.S. after the presidential election. Hansen defeated Republican John Marino in the most expensive special election in state history.
The divisive nature of that contest — with lots of national groups spending big money — is a departure from traditional Delaware races, which have historically been much more civil, a style of campaigning that dovetailed with the idea of “the Delaware way.”
Wilmington’s Bill Freeborn has been involved in Delaware politics for decades. The former Republican city councilman isn’t happy to see that tradition change.
“It’s really disappointing to me personally. I am involved politically for many years here in Delaware,” Freeborn said. “The sensibility and positive temperament has disappeared, and it’s a real shame.”
Republican leaders, though, are salivating over the possibility of making gains in the General Assembly, where Republicans have been in the minority in both chambers for years. Democrats control the state Senate by just one seat, but two longtime Democratic senators — Margaret Rose Henry and Brian Bushweller — have announced plans to retire.
Trump’s Delaware campaign chief, Sussex County Councilman Rob Arlett sees last year’s election as a stepping stone for future GOP wins in Delaware. He spoke in August at a Republican rally in Sussex County, where Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 20 percentage points.
“It is time for change in Delaware, and they’re scared and they know it,” Arlett told a crowd of more than 100 Trump supporters. “All they keep doing is going back to their well, that’s about to be dried up, because we are waking up as a state, we know what’s going on, and we’re going to hold their feet accountable.”
The Trump impact is seen as more of a disaster for Democratic elected officials such as Delaware’s Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro. As the state opens enrollment for its Affordable Care Act marketplace, Navarro questioned Trump’s tactics of alternately attacking Obamacare and then negotiating changes to the law.
“He’s either an evil genius to come up with the plan to cut the payments to force both sides to work together, or he’s just evil,” Navarro said.
After February’s record-setting special election, former Delaware GOP chairman Charlie Copeland summed up what will determine Trump’s enduring legacy:
“Everybody loves a winner. If we are in 2018, and America is a winner again, nobody is going to be talking about Trump’s personality this, or Nancy Pelosi’s personality this, or crooked media. They’re going to be like, ‘America’s winning again’ — and they like that message,” Copeland said.
Next year’s statewide contests include re-election campaigns for U.S. Sen. Tom Carper and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, both Democrats.