By Joseph Ax
The first year of Donald Trump's unorthodox presidency may have been a dizzying ride, but Belinda Miller has never regretted voting for him in 2016.
"My 401(k) and my 403 have soared, and if anybody doesn't realize that, they've been asleep for a year," said Miller, a 50-year-old emergency room nurse from Audubon, Pennsylvania, referring to her retirement accounts' growth in a booming stock market.
"I look overall not at what he says but what he does. All that other stuff is just rhetoric, smoke and mirrors," she added.
The Philadelphia suburb where Miller lives in Montgomery County was key to Trump's surprising 2016 triumph. In a sign of its importance, his campaign dispatched his daughter Ivanka to the region late in the race to woo women there.
In interviews with more than half a dozen Trump supporters in the region, mostly women, his backers remained largely committed to him, citing his immigration policies and a belief that tax reform will create jobs amid a growing economy. Many of them were unfazed by Trump's combative style and provocative language.
Trump's strength among his base is reflected in Reuters/Ipsos polls of Trump's approval ratings, which show his support among Republicans has slipped only slightly over the year, dropping from 84 percent in his first month to 78 percent in the last month.
Carol Markowicz, a 52-year-old Philadelphia resident, said she voted for former Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012 but cast her ballot for Trump, convinced his business background and anti-illegal immigration stance would secure more jobs for Pennsylvanians.
"I really think they need to build a wall," she said of Trump's proposed Mexican border barrier. "I think they need to send back all these people that aren't supposed to be here, because they're taking jobs from Americans."
Other Trump voters have grappled with how to evaluate the president's policy accomplishments, like the sweeping tax law Republicans passed in December, amid his inflammatory words.
Some, like Miller and Loida Hopkins, a stay-at-home mother in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania, said they focus on his actions, not his language.
"Let's set aside his personality. What about what he's actually doing that is benefiting us?" Hopkins said.
On paper, Hopkins seems a likely Democratic target: Daughter of two illegal immigrants, she collects food stamps, suffers from enormous debt and voted for Obama in 2012.
But the devout Christian said she voted in part for Trump because of his opposition to abortion and believes that God put him in the White House for a reason.
She also said she was working hard to better herself, unlike other welfare recipients, and did not object that wealthy people and corporations stood to benefit from the tax law. Her husband, she said, is receiving a bonus from his company as a result.
TRUMP TWEETS HAVE 'REPERCUSSIONS'
Not all Trump voters are sticking with him. Kathleen Kuffel, 74, another Philadelphia suburban resident and a diehard Republican, said she reluctantly voted for Trump due to her distrust of Democrat Hillary Clinton.
But his behavior has dashed her hopes that he would act more "presidential" in office.
"He has some good ideas. Our tax code needs to be revamped, and I agree with some of his policies on immigration," she said. "But he needs to learn diplomacy. He needs to learn he is not the only person in the world, and he needs to stop being selfish. He needs to consider that every time he tweets, it's having huge repercussions."
Polling data suggest the recent national debate about sexual abuse by powerful men has done little damage to Trump's standing among Republican women, despite allegations of misconduct from more than a dozen women, all of which Trump has vehemently denied. Most of the women who spoke with Reuters said they did not believe the allegations.
Democrats running in 2018 face the same dilemma voters do: whether to focus on Trump's behavior or his policies. Mark Nevins, a Philadelphia-based Democratic consultant, said he would advise candidates to campaign on pocketbook issues, like arguing that the tax bill increases the deficit while raising taxes on the middle class.
"There are people who just want to know: Who is going to make my life better?" he said.
But that argument may not sway Trump voters like Belinda Miller and her husband, John, a contractor, especially given the low unemployment rate and the still-growing economy.
"Have you ever gotten a job from a poor person?" John Miller said. "Poor people don't hire workers. The corporations just needed a break in taxes so they can operate properly."
(Reporting by Joseph Ax, Editing by Frank McGurty and Cynthia Osterman)