Listening to 29 adults talk about Donald Trump for 2 ½ hours probably isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, especially when the talkers are Trump supporters to one degree or another. But it can be illuminating.
And a focus group of Trumpies on Monday night in Alexandria, Virginia, was just that—quite revealing. It was organized by Frank Luntz, Mr. Focus Group himself. He’s conducted more than a thousand of them. Yet he was at times surprised by how the gang of 29—17 women, 12 men—talked about Trump.
The group consisted mostly of Republicans with a sprinkling of Democrats and independents and a few folks who had voted twice for President Obama. Two African-Americans were in the group.Some classified themselves as “former” Trump supporters, but their admiration of Trump seemed to have diminished very little.
Here are five things I learned about the Trump constituency:
--They view Trump as different from all the other presidential candidates. He’s not just their favorite candidate. Their tie to him is almost mystical. He’s a kind of political savior, someone who says what they think. Luntz asked them for the one word that comes to mind when they think of Trump. The word cited most was “leader.” Other words mentioned were “not a politician” and “not PC” and “decisive.”
--They love the Trump swagger and attitude. Luntz asked what they liked the most, the Trump persona or his policies. Persona got 23 votes, policies six. Shown a video of Trump’s insisting that he would be the greatest president ever, they were untroubled by his boastfulness. Several said Trump was merely displaying his confidence. “I like his confidence,” one woman said, "it makes me feel confident.”
--They cut Trump an enormous amount of slack. They are quite forgiving.They were given a list of 21 “negatives” about Trump and asked to pick the seven they thought were legitimate. Around 10 of the group – by my rough count – said they couldn’t come up with seven. The negatives that got the most votes were his previous support for a single-payer health care system, his support for gun control, and his comment that the economy did better under Democratic leadership. The worst thing said about him was that he has “flaws” like everyone else. Luntz’s presentation was balanced between favorable to Trump and unfavorable. But after hearing all of it, all 29 said they thought better of Trump.
--The intensity of their feelings about Trump was striking. It was noticeable in how they spoke of him in contrast with their view of members of Congress as “useless.” In 1992, Luntz worked for Ross Perot’s third party campaign for president. Perot got 19 percent of the vote in the general election. “This is much deeper and intense that [it was for] Perot,” Luntz said. And a majority of the 29 said they’d stick with Trump if he runs third party.
--For nearly an hour, Luntz played clips of Trump from TV. The focus groupies were asked to move a dial between zero if turned off by Trump, 100 if thrilled, and 50 if neutral. More often than not they hit 100 or came close. Trump’s tackling a man ringside at a WWF match? They loved it. What they didn’t like was his attack on John McCain as less than heroic. And some of the women in the group were put off by his harsh criticism of Rosie O’Donnell, though they were mollified once Trump said (in a TV clip) that she jumped on him first.
What did I conclude from all this? One thing stood out: Trump has a solid base of support that won’t soon fade away. Those who think otherwise are kidding themselves.