WAYNESBORO, Tenn. — There’s a little piece of Russia in the heart of Trump Country, USA.
Urals, Russian-made motorcycles, sit outside Mike’s Cycle and Marine in Waynesboro, about 100 miles southwest of Nashville.
Inside, the shop’s namesake, Mike Mitchell, uses a wrench to crank a lug nut off a motorcycle. His wife, Debbie, smokes a cigarette in the office.
After 37 years of working in Wayne County, Tenn., Mike Mitchell loves bikes. He’s met Russians and liked them too.
Mitchell isn’t losing sleep over the scrutiny of President Trump’s ties to Russia and revelations surrounding his son’s meeting to get damaging information about Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
“I’m sure the other side was looking for dirt. I just can’t believe they weren’t. I’m sure the Americans are over there piddling and messing around in their business. If they’re over here messing in our system, we’ve just got to figure out how to keep it from affecting us,” he said.
In November, Wayne County — with a population of fewer than 17,000 — overwhelmingly voted for Trump. More than 93% of the residents are white. At 86%, the county had the highest percentage of Trump voters of any county in Tennessee. But the county has supported the Republican presidential candidate in every election since at least 1912.
The region, filled with rolling hills and woods near the Alabama border, is still proud of Trump, said Wayne County Republican Party Chairwoman Stephanie Pearson.
“I probably am a bigger supporter of him. I have a greater respect and admiration for him and his office,” said Pearson.
Pearson, who works down the road from Waynesboro as city clerk of Collinwood, said Trump should tone down the personal attacks on Twitter.
But she’s more ashamed of the way Democrats, the media and opponents have attacked her president, and she is disappointed in congressional Republicans for not doing more to help Trump.
She applauded Donald Trump Jr. for releasing his emails about a meeting with a Russian attorney in the midst of the campaign against Clinton.
There’s very little that would change her mind about Trump.
“I don’t know what he would have to do … I guess maybe kill someone. Just in cold blood,” Pearson said.
Steven Jackson, who runs a barbershop in Waynesboro where he also sells “good junk,” said his father would kill him if he knew he voted for Trump.
Jackson, 51, said his father was a lifelong Democrat and he’s one too.
Jackson voted for Trump, the first Republican he’s ever voted for, not because he disliked President Barack Obama, but because he thinks the Democratic Party did not do enough to improve the economy.
“I saw (Trump) as a person I could relate to. In business, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or Democrat. You’ve got to make it,” Jackson said.
People around town talk about the president and Russia, but Jackson said it’s just another issue dividing the country.
He’s more interested in Trump following through on campaign promises.
If Trump can’t deliver on health care and immigration reform, it could push some Wayne County supporters to question the president, said Bonnie Farris, a 70-year-old Democrat in Collinwood.
“I really and truly think that some of the support will change from Republicans,” said Farris.
“A few of my friends talk about it and say when they voted for him, they didn’t think it would be this way. They thought he was going to make America great again.”
But her friend and former county Democratic Party Chairwoman Peggy Monroe said Republican support won’t wane. Monroe, 68, said there’s an old story about Collinwood: In the early 1900s, a Baptist preacher rode through town telling everyone to vote Republican, and they have ever since.
“They are born and raised Republican here. They are taught from the time they can talk that’s the way they’re going to vote. They bring their children to the polls … and they better vote Republican.”
Mike Mitchell agrees the president probably won’t lose support from many in the county, noting Trump’s background in business, not politics.
“Whatever he does salesman-wise or crooked-wise is nothing compared to what the politicians have done,” Mitchell said. “I don’t know anybody that would change their mind.”
Mitchell voted for Trump because Obama’s changes to health care didn’t help him.
Talk of Russia, special prosecutors and election tampering won’t change his mind. But he might support someone else in the next election if Trump can’t deliver on health care.
Looking down at a notebook filled with numbers, Mike’s wife, Debbie, said it’s tough to care about Russian collusion when your husband needs new knees.
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“We’ve lost everything, pretty much,” said Debbie Mitchell. “We can’t afford health care, period. We didn’t qualify for Obamacare, we didn’t qualify for (Medicaid), and we can’t afford to buy health insurance. We’re the ones that fall through the cracks.”
Asked if the situation made her nervous, she laughed.
“Nervous? We’ve been doing it for years. We passed nervous awhile back.”
Follow Dave Boucher on Twitter: @Dave_Boucher1