“We’ve been there a long time, and we lost a lot of young men and women. I’d like to see us out of there,” said Vicki Gongwer, of Sylvania, Ohio. “Still, I think [Trump] is trying to take care of this without going to war. I have to trust what he says.”
The opinions, shared in more than 20 interviews in the hours before Trump’s evening rally, are in line with a poll released this week. In the HuffPost-YouGov survey, conducted between Jan. 3 and Jan. 5, 88 percent of Trump voters approved of his handling of issues related to Iran.
But among the broader public, opinion was split largely among partisan lines, with Democrats mostly united in opposition to the president’s Iran policy.
Almost six in 10 voters believe the drone strike that killed a top Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, made military conflict more likely than before, according to the poll.
But inside the Huntington Center in Toledo, many of the president’s supporters said they trusted Trump to handle tensions with Iran without sparking a ground war with Tehran. Even Trump’s decision to send thousands of additional troops into the region raised only limited concern among the president’s strongest supporters, some of whom voted for him because he promised to extract the United States from the Middle East.
“Sending the troops, it doesn't mean starting a war,” said Kaleena Smola, who drove five hours from Illinois to attend the rally. “It means showing that we are strong and no one will push us around.”
After taking the stage, Trump told the crowd that the killing of Soleimani showed that “if you dare to threaten our citizens, you do so at your own grave peril.”
During his remarks — which were briefly interrupted by protesters, including one waving a “No War” sign — Trump boasted at length about the death of Soleimani and attacked Democrats for criticizing his decision to authorize the strike without consulting Congress.
“Soleimani spread death, destruction and mayhem across the Middle East and far beyond,” Trump said. “He was a bad guy, he was a bloodthirsty terror, and he’s no longer a terror. He’s dead.”
Support for Trump’s Iran strategy is less solid in Congress, where the Democratic-controlled House on Thursday passed a resolution ordering the president to withdraw forces engaged in hostilities with Iran. While Trump lobbied against the resolution and it passed along largely partisan lines, a few of the president’s Republican supporters backed it.
The resolution comes a day after the administration’s senior national security officials briefed Congress on the intelligence that informed Trump’s order to kill Soleimani. Two Republicans, Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), have announced their intention to back a war powers resolution in the Senate. Lee said Wednesday’s briefing — which he described as “insulting” and “lame” — convinced him to support the resolution limiting Trump’s ability to carry out a military campaign against Iran.
Trump used his speech to ridicule the idea that he should have informed Congress before carrying out the strike against Soleimani, specifically mocking Democratic leaders.
“Now they want us to call — can you imagine, calling crooked Adam Schiff?” Trump said. “We have the world’s number one terrorist, killed thousands and thousands of people. We’d like to set up a meeting so we can discuss his execution.”
Trump argued that Democratic leaders in the Gang of Eight — the bipartisan group that traditionally is read in on classified intelligence and military maters — would leak secure information to the media if he notified them.
His attacks on Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, were greeted with applause, including when Trump described the congressman as “little pencil neck.”
At the rally, some Trump supporters said they also had reservations about new tensions in the Middle East, and several highlighted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have required a U.S. military presence for years.
“I believe that really we should stop meddling in the affairs of people across seas,” said Aaron Bostelman. “It’s really none of our business what they’re doing.”
Trump, who campaigned on getting the United States out of wars in the Middle East, has been caught between supporters who want to hold him to that promise and others who want him to make good on his threats of unparalleled strength and military might.
Several said Trump’s decision to send thousands of additional troops into the Middle East was more preventive than provocative.
Lucky Penn, of Toledo, said the troop deployments were “a security, just in case” and not to engage in another war.
“It’s about time we get a person that’s got guts, and he’s got guts,” he said of Trump.
When Vice President Pence took the stage at the start of Thursday’s rally, he praised Trump for the strike killing Soleimani, sparking chants of “USA!”
“President Trump took action, and Qasem Soleimani is gone,” Pence said.
Later in his speech, Trump recounted how he was ready to retaliate against Iran for its ballistic missile attacks on two bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq on Tuesday, but ultimately decided not to because the Iranian aggression result in no American causalities.
“Not that I wanted to, but we were ready, you have no idea,” Trump said, portraying himself as a willing, if reluctant, executor of American might. “A lot of people got very lucky.”
Rick Briggle, a retired teacher who was attending the rally, said that he did have some concerns about the intelligence that Trump acted on, citing the flawed rationale for the war in Iraq. Still, he said he ultimately trusted Trump to stop short of launching a war.
“I think he’s been antiwar all along, and this is something new for him,” he said. “But what I like about him most is what he says, he does.”
None of the people interviewed supported a ground war with Iran or an escalated military conflict in the Middle East.
“I think we need to bring our boys home,” said Ash Hampton, a Marine Corps veteran who drove to the rally from Michigan. Hampton said he supported the strike on Soleimani but wanted Trump to make good on his promise to extract the country from the Middle East.
Speaking before the rally, Gloria Christian said that although she had concerns about potential unintended consequences of sending troops into the Middle East, she felt Trump was doing what was necessary to deter Iran’s aggression.
“If you're working with a bully, do you back down and cower, or do you try to pluck up your feathers and look larger?” she asked. “Is it perfect? No, but I don't really think he’s trying to do anything that’s harmful to the world or country.”
The crowd represented a subset of some of the president’s most ardent backers, and many waited in line for hours to attend the rally.
During the rally, Trump mentioned Abraham Lincoln, favorably comparing himself to the Civil War-era icon. The crowd jumped right in, chanting “Trump, Trump” when the president asked which president they preferred.