Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

GOP Front-Runner Trump Gains Support From Pittsburgh's Democrats


David, you are just back from your hometown.


Yeah, you know I never miss a chance to go to Pittsburgh, Renee. And this time, though, it was to talk politics with people. And I met a woman there named Tricia Cunningham. She volunteers for Donald Trump's campaign. And she says Trump is doing something familiar in western Pennsylvania. He's a Republican winning over some steelworkers, coal minors, lifelong Democrats. She remembers being a little girl watching Ronald Reagan do the same thing.

TRICIA CUNNINGHAM: He could cross party lines and really unite people. And he's been the only president up until our current presidential election right now that I've been able to see do that.

GREENE: You literally have not seen someone in Reagan's mold until Donald Trump?

CUNNINGHAM: Absolutely not. Not one Person.

GREENE: And Tricia now spends endless hours telling working families in some gritty, struggling communities that Trump is their candidate.

CUNNINGHAM: You can email me. I'm going to get that information.

GREENE: She's part of Trump's ground game in western Pennsylvania, a state holding its primary later this month. We caught up with her outside a nursing home where she comes to visit her mom. She was on her cell phone planning a local Trump rally.

CUNNINGHAM: I have women for Trump that are going to be there. I have doctors that are affected by Obamacare. There's so many stories that are going to be in that audience that we can kind of - I don't want to say control, but we have that kind of...

GREENE: Tricia is 43. She has long blonde hair. She's got this lapel pin - picture an American flag with a cross as the flagpole. She never stops working the phones, and she rarely sees her husband Sean. She says he understands.

CUNNINGHAM: He doesn't see me very often unless he comes to an Event.

GREENE: But it's guys like her husband she thinks about when she's spreading Trump's message. Sean owns a tree clearing business, and Tricia says he's been competing for work with people who are in the country illegally.

CUNNINGHAM: They would come right behind him and take his job away from him - 15 of them in a car, six of them in a car, and they would do these tree jobs for a minimum amount of money with no insurance. And the people - you can't blame them. You blame the people that allowed to happen. E-Verify's going to be something that I know that Donald Trump's going to enforce

GREENE: E-Verify, remind people what that is.

CUNNINGHAM: Employers have to verify the eligibility of every citizen that works for them. And that's the best way to combat illegal immigration.

GREENE: I did have to ask Tricia about some of the comments Trump has made about women. She said strong women, like her and her mom, should just brush it aside.

CUNNINGHAM: Strong women are not going to be offended by anything that anybody says.

GREENE: We went up the hall to meet Tricia's mom.

How are you? I'm David.

AMY DUDLEY: Oh, hi, I'm Amy.

GREENE: Amy, very nice to meet you.

DUDLEY: Nice to meet you.

GREENE: Thanks for letting us come in.

Amy Dudley was a factory worker, and she was one of those longtime Democrats drawn to Ronald Reagan. She has been so impressed with Donald Trump that she recently registered Republican. She says strength is an important characteristic in a leader.

DUDLEY: We need somebody strong right now.

GREENE: And part of what drives her to Trump is that she doesn't see Hillary Clinton as a strong woman. Mrs. Dudley says it goes back to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. She thinks Hillary Clinton was too tolerant of her husband's behavior.

DUDLEY: That kind of wasn't a good thing. And I think, maybe in a way, her stand up with your man was a bunch of bull crap, you know? That was her husband. He was the leader of the country. And she's like, it's OK. I understand. No, that's not a strong woman if you ask me.

GREENE: I asked Mrs. Dudley if she's going to be voting for Trump in the upcoming primary.

DUDLEY: Darn right I am. If I got to have them wheel me down there, I'm voting. I'll get there.

GREENE: After chatting with Mrs. Dudley, we drove to another Pittsburgh suburb to meet, well, you just got to hear it.

FRANK SINATRA JR: Frank Sinatra Jr.

GREENE: Your name is really Frank Sinatra?


GREENE: You're pulling out, like, your drivers license?

SINATRA JR: Yeah, I'll pull it out 'cause a lot of people sit there and say come on.

GREENE: I had met Frank Sinatra when he picked me up at the airport in an Uber car. He suggested I meet him the next day at a Primanti Brothers near his office. This is a Pittsburgh institution where the meat sandwiches are massive.

SINATRA JR: You know, that comes from to the steel mill area. My dad was a steelworker. And just growing up, that was that hunky food, high calorie, meat and potatoes.

GREENE: His dad's job at that steel mill supported a family of eight.

SINATRA JR: We went on vacation every year - six kids going on vacation, my mother's home, my dad's working. He wasn't a manager. He was a guy just on the line working with steel.

GREENE: Now fast forward to today. Frank and his wife have three kids of their own and everything seems harder.

SINATRA JR: For example, my wife, schoolteacher, she's a waitress on the weekends. I'm an operations manager. And then I'm driving an Uber car at night. So I think we instill in our three children that working hard and you'll get something. Well, I think that's the problem. It's the middle classes working hard. I look around this room and, you know, everybody here, middle-class. They're working hard and they're not getting any more. They're not reaping any rewards.

GREENE: And Frank has been thinking a lot about immigration. True or not, he feels like the government uses a lot of resources helping families of people who came to the U.S. illegally, while families like his are struggling. He thinks Donald Trump more than anyone could do something about this. Coming from a family of steelworkers, union Democrats, Frank knows what a big deal it would be to vote Republican. His father would never do it.

SINATRA JR: There's no way that my father would ever pull a Republican lever. I mean, you'd have to take him to the electric chair before he would pull the R lever.

GREENE: And Frank's wife, he says she likes Trump for the same reasons he does. But she told him if Trump offends women again, she's out.

SINATRA JR: I'm not even going to be able to get her back after that. She don't like Hillary at all. But she's not going to take a name-calling, male chauvinistic person over Hillary.

GREENE: But if Donald Trump is the nominee, Frank is ready to support him in November. His voice is an echo of the Reagan Democrats, many of whom didn't feel like their government was working for them. Frank is ready to be a Trump Democrat. He's not changing parties. But come fall, if Trump is on the ballot, he is getting Frank's vote.

SINATRA JR: He has something good, something different to offer us. We don't know if it's good yet.

GREENE: But you're willing to take the risk that it's good.

SINATRA JR: I'm willing to take the risk with Trump.

GREENE: Frank Sinatra, thank you.

SINATRA JR: You're welcome.

GREENE: Elsewhere in the show this morning, we're going to hear from a Democratic county chairman near Pittsburgh who argues that Trump is the last candidate working families should support. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Become a sustaining member for as low as $5/month
Make an annual or one-time donation to support MTPR
Pay an existing pledge or update your payment information