By Sarah Lehr
President Donald Trump stopped by Struthers to rub shoulders with a small group of veterans before his big rally at the Covelli Centre in Youngstown.
He spoke to an audience of about 150 at Struthers AMVETS Post 44, 305 Elm St., arriving at 6:26 p.m. and accompanied by first lady Melania Trump.
The 14-minute speech lauded the Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Youngstown and highlighted the federal Accountability and Whistleblower Act. The law, signed by Trump last month, aims to protect whistle-blowers within the VA and to make it easier for the department to fire bad employees.
Trump referred to the week’s theme of a “A Salute to American Heroes” in relation to his campaign promise to reform the VA.
“We’ve begun to process ... seamlessly transferring veterans’ records,” Trump said. “Horrible situation, where you couldn’t get your medical records. And now it’s so easy and so good and the system is fixed, finally, after all of these years.”
Trump singled out a particular audience member – Robert M. Bishop of Austintown – for recognition. Bishop is a survivor of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Trump mentioned Bishop’s 74th wedding anniversary this year and said to laughs and cheers, “And, Bob, if your party gets a little bit cheap with the money, I’ll pay for it.”
Trump also got laughs when he referred to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and quipped, “Secretary of the interior controls about – what? – 22 percent of the United States, so when somebody says they’re big landlords, they’re actually very small compared to him.”
Zinke, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin all gave introductions before Trump’s remarks.
Trump took familiar swipes at the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he characterized as a “disaster for Youngstown.”
Additionally, the president recounted his victory in Ohio last November, and referred to his gains among voters in the historically Democratic Mahoning Valley. He implied – incorrectly – that he won Youngstown.
“It’s great to be back in Youngstown,” Trump said. “Democrats, they win in Youngstown – but not this time.”
Hillary Clinton beat Trump in every Youngstown precinct, though her margin of victory in Mahoning County was a narrow one of less than 3 percentage points. Barack Obama had won Mahoning County in the previous election by more than 30 percentage points.
Trump is more popular in Struthers, however, than in Youngstown. Struthers has a population of about 10,000 and is 92 percent white. Youngstown has a population of about 64,000 and is 47 percent white.
Clinton won nine out of 12 Struthers precincts, and her margin of victory throughout the suburb was a modest 6.2 percent.
That’s significant in Struthers, a Democratic stronghold, where it’s rare for Republican candidates to run for mayor or city council.
Struthers Mayor Terry Stocker, a Democrat, had a spot standing on the dais behind Trump. Stocker’s safety-service director, Ed Wildes, was in the audience, wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat.
Frank Micchia of Canfield, an Army veteran and Trump supporter, was pleased with the tone of the president’s speech.
“I think he kept it about veterans, which was what it was supposed to be,” Micchia said. “He didn’t politicize it.”
American Legion member Everett Oliver of Lowellville was more measured. Oliver said he voted for Trump in the general election, but not in the primary.
“I’d say I was moderately impressed,” Oliver said. “I believed about half of what I heard. Bottom line: He’s my president and I respect him, but he’s still a politician.”