SUN CITY, Arizona (AP) — President Donald Trump's most ardent champions are sticking by him, happy to absolve him of any wrong in the blame game over the deadly weekend violence at a rally of white supremacists.
Some Republican members of Congress have criticized Trump's back and forth response since a car slammed into a crowd of counter protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing a woman and injuring 19 other people. Trump's insistence that "both sides" bear responsibility for the violence has sparked anger among many Americans.
The president's statements have also given some supporters pause. But many of the people who helped elect Trump seem unfazed by the outcry over his statements concerning the protest and counter protest over removing a monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Trump on Thursday bemoaned growing efforts to topple monuments to Confederate war heroes, saying that the United States is watching "the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart."
The enthusiasm of many of the president's core supporters has been noted in the past. Trump himself boasted during the campaign last year he "could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."
Such unflagging support remains despite polls that show his approval rates dipping overall.
"I WOULD VOTE FOR HIM AGAIN IN A HEARTBEAT"
In Sun City, Arizona, a retirement community and Trump stronghold north of Phoenix, 80-year-old John Libby said nothing the president has done since Election Day has changed his support for the man.
Libby said he would attend the president's scheduled Tuesday night rally in Phoenix if he had a car rather than one of the golf carts used as transportation by residents of the area.
"I would vote for him again in a heartbeat," Libby said in the bright sunshine outside a grocery store in a strip mall of low-slung stucco buildings.
The Des Moines, Iowa, native said he thought the president handled the aftermath of the Charlottesville attack well, but allowed that Trump's response "wasn't fast enough for some people."
Arriving at the supermarket in his own golf cart, Dr. Charles Thomson, a 92-year-old psychiatrist formerly of San Diego, said he voted for Trump and now "I support him more than ever."
Both men criticized Arizona Republican senators Jeff Flake and John McCain for not supporting Trump's initiatives more.
"HE HAS DONE NOTHING TO TURN ME AWAY FROM HIM"
Patricia Aleeyah Robinson, a retired truck driver from Toledo, Ohio, said her support of Trump has cost her friendships and strained family relationships.
But like many of the president's most passionate supporters, the 63-year-old black woman said her opinions about Trump have not changed since his response to the violence at the Charlottesville rally.
"He has done nothing to turn me away from him," said Robinson. She said he doesn't defer to racists and feels he is the only president who has ever spoken directly to blacks.
"HE SHOULDN'T LET THE PRESS GET UNDER HIS SKIN"
Clemente Ruiz, a 49-year-old truck driver in Lubbock, Texas, said he's been happy with the job Trump has done. "I'd vote for him again tomorrow," he said.
The son of a Mexican immigrant who became an American citizen, Ruiz said his only criticism of the president is that he is too "thin-skinned."
"He refuses to let anything go," Ruiz said. "He shouldn't let the press get under his skin the way they do."
But overall, said Ruiz, Trump has accomplished much for the economy. "Everything is looking good as far as that goes and as far as our military goes," he added.
"WHY CAN'T I BE PROUD OF MY HERITAGE?"
Steven Damron, 50, a Trump supporter from Spring Hill, Florida, said he agrees with Trump that both sides in Charlottesville were to blame for the violence.
He thinks the president has handled the aftermath well, but believes he should also have singled out groups on the left — such as Black Lives Matter — the way he did with the KKK and neo-Nazis.
Damron is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans group.
He spoke after a meeting in Tampa of the Hillsborough County commission to discuss plans to remove a Confederate monument near a public building and install it in a private cemetery
He said he doesn't condone neo-Nazis or the KKK but believes white people should be able to stand up for what they feel is their cultural heritage, including monuments to the Confederacy.
"It's OK for the black people, for African-Americans, to stand up for what they believe in — which I think they should, too. They should be proud. But why can't I be proud of my heritage and who I stand for?"
"HE SPEAKS HIS MIND"
Wyoming construction contractor Richard Mathern said he voted for Trump because of his business experience and wasn't fazed he hadn't spoken out more forcefully against the weekend violence.
The 48-year-old is among more than 68 percent of people in Wyoming who voted for Trump in the widest margin of victory in any state.
"Trump, he speaks his mind, there's no doubt about that. It does tend to tick people off," Mathern said during a break at a home nearing completion in Cheyenne.
"There's a lot of hatred down there (in Charlottesville) ... But tearing down historical statues is not the answer," he said.
"HE WANTS THE ALT-RIGHT TO LIKE HIM"
David Hollender, a 51-year-old Orthodox Jew from Williamsburg in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, said he voted for Trump because he liked his ideas.
But he doesn't agree with how the president has handled the aftermath of the Charlottesville violence.13 comments on this story
"I don't believe that Trump is anything like them, but I feel he wants the alt-right to like him," Hollender said.
Will he support Trump in the future?
"I have to see," Hollender said. "I don't think I would vote for him again. It depends who the opposition is."
National Writer Matt Sedensky reported from New York. Also contributing to this report were John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio; Jamie Stengle in Dallas; Tamara Lush in Tampa, Florida; Mead Gruver in Cheyenne, Wyoming; and Mariah Brown in New York City.