GRANITE CITY – Jeremy Nunes of Riverton does standup comedy across the country, and he gave high marks – in presentation and policy – to President Donald Trump for his speech Thursday at U.S. Steel’s Granite City Works.
“He’s one of the most naturally funny people I’ve ever seen, even amongst comedians,” Nunes, 36, said after he watched in person Trump’s talk that lauded the return of hundreds of workers to the plant, belittled “stupid” American trade policies of the past, and said that now, “nobody rips off” the United States.
“He had a few good quips in there, and I think he did a good job getting the message across of the booming economy and the things he did to get that moving,” Nunes, a former village president of Dawson, added. “I can actually tell how the economy’s doing because of the back-room sales I do.”
Nunes said for the past several years, he would sell $20 or $30 in merchandise at his shows, and now such sales are in the $150 to $200 range.
Like some others who watched the speech – many workers at the plant and a smattering of GOP officials – Nunes didn’t think allegations about Trump’s personal life, such as disclosure of a tape of Trump discussing with his lawyer a payment to a former Playboy model who says she had an affair with Trump before he was president – got in the way of the message.
“Fake news, fake news,” Nunes said – a phrase Trump also used during his speech. “And anything that may actually have happened, you know, that’s between him and God. ... I’m judging him on the job he’s doing, and he’s hitting a home run.”
Rosemarie Long, who chairs the Sangamon County GOP, said it is “amazing” and “wonderful” that furnaces at the steel plant are reopening and bringing jobs back. She was also positive about Trump’s trade moves, including tariffs.
“I think Trump is very good at working things out, so of course I’m hopeful that that’s what happens,” she said.
And she, too, is not bothered by talk of Trump’s personal life.
“I’m tired of hearing all that,” Long said. “He’s running the country good. We’ve had past presidents that have done worse, and so I just think they ought to leave him alone and let him do his job.”
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, whose sprawling 13th Congressional District comes within about a mile of the plant, called the restored jobs at the steel plant “a success story of the American economic growth that we’re seeing right now.”
Davis also lauded the the accord Trump reached this week with a European Union official at the White House to open talks to ease trade sanctions.
“He’s told many of our farmers – trust him and his administration, and they’ll come out with a better deal,” Davis said. “I asked last week for results when I talked to the administration. Those tariffs, and retaliatory tariffs in the ag industry really concern me, because of who I represent and the area I represent, and because of what impact it could have on the American agricultural economy.
“But you know what we saw yesterday? We saw results,” he said of the EU negotiations.
Davis was among congressmen praised by Trump at the event as “hardworking” and “very special people.”
Davis had been critical of Trump shortly before the 2016 election, saying that he couldn’t vote for anyone for president that year after an “Access Hollywood” video was made public, showing Trump in 2005 talking about grabbing women. Davis earlier this month would not say who he voted for in that presidential election. But he said Thursday that his criticism of Trump at the time didn’t deter him from joining the president at U.S. Steel.
“This is an historic visit to southern Illinois from the president to tout economic successes in one of the most successful economies that we’ve had in our lifetime,” Davis said. “I would have come to Illinois with President (Barack) Obama. I wish he would have invited me when he came to the Statehouse and talked about bipartisanship without a single Republican along with him.”
Davis said he did appear in Illinois with then-Vice President Joe Biden to discuss campus sexual assault.
“It’s a privilege to work with our presidents and vice presidents no matter who they are because, you know, they were chosen by the American people,” Davis said.
Patrick Erwin, 52, of New Athens, was a laid-off bricklayer until he was hired on to work at the steel plant about a month ago. He said he’s conservative who votes with “my gut,” and choosing Trump in 2016 was a “no-brainer.”
“To me, he seems like he shoots straight from the hip, just says it like it is and he sticks by his word. Time will tell (to) see if I’m right,” he said.
After being laid off for a long time, he said, he’s now working “all I can handle,” putting in 70 to 80 hours a week. He said brick is used to line the ladles into which molten steel is poured.
Erwin is married with three children.
“They’re very happy about this too,” he said, “’cause they’re all getting really good birthday gifts.”
One political leader not at the event was Gov. Bruce Rauner, who announced earlier he would be elsewhere in the state.
“He should be here,” said state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, who said he was honored to accept his own White House invitation to attend.
McSweeney, who says he will vote for Rauner in the fall but backed state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, in the March primary for governor, noted that Rauner barely won that contest.
“What he should be doing is solidifying his base, and this president, obviously, is going to talk about ... lower taxes, talk about deregulation,” McSweeney said before the speech. “Those are policies we need in Illinois.”
But Davis, asked separately if Rauner should have attended, did not criticize the governor.
“Anybody that wants to try and get a politician in two places at once is only playing politics,” Davis said.
While the president was cheered many times by the steel mill crowd during his speech, protesters in a nearby park made it clear they differ with Trump.
More than 300 people were in Civic Park for the protest, according to a Democratic Party of Illinois news release.
“To Donald Trump: after relentlessly trying to dismantle health care for working families, you are not welcome in Illinois,” said state Rep. Christian Mitchell, D-Chicago, who was recently named interim executive director of the state party. “We protest today because Trump’s devastating agenda for working families has no place in Illinois.”