Support for Donald Trump is not only broader than many expected, it’s deep.
Trump supporters aren’t shaken by almost anything they hear from him or about him. His remarks about immigrants here illegally from Mexico, prisoners of war, women? Even when they bother his supporters, those voters shrug them off and stay committed.
One big reason: They are drawn by the bravado of a can-do tycoon more than policy, which helps explain why out-of-the-box comments that analysts have predicted would sink him so far have instead made his brand stronger.
These are some of the highlights of a focus group held in Virginia this week of Trump supporters from the Washington metropolitan area – the heart of the political establishment that Trump is running against.
“This is absolutely for real. This is not going away,” said Frank Luntz, a longtime consultant to Republicans, independents such as Ross Perot and the news media, which questioned the 29 voters for more than two hours.
“This isn’t Perot. This is so much stronger than Perot,” added Luntz, who ran the focus group. “He’s doing better than anyone acknowledges.”
The voters from Maryland, Virginia and Washington – 23 of whom still support Trump and six who have moved on but appeared to still like him – used words such as “leader,” “tough,” “bombastic,” “rash” and “not politically correct” to describe him. They mentioned “leader” more often than any other term.
His strong personality, rooted in a successful career outside politics, is key to Trump’s appeal. Given a choice, 23 said they liked him for his persona, just six said for his policies.
He’s a patriot and he wants to make America great again.
A Mexican-American woman supporting Trump
The participants in the focus group were not identified.
“He doesn’t change and apologize,” said one woman.
One man said he really wants someone to change the way Washington works, and that he’s disappointed after twice voting for President Barack Obama. “I really thought he could change things,” the man said. “Now I’m really skeptical about politicians.”
Several did say they were concerned about Trump’s comments, most notably about women. One woman said she stopped supporting him after his comment criticizing a breast-feeding mother. “I didn’t like it,” she said. “I don’t know if he really does” respect women.
Another, a military wife, said she likes Trump but stopped supporting him, at least for now, because he hasn’t said how he would do all the things he promises. “I find him exciting,” she said. “But I want to see actual policies. I want to see how he’s going to do it.”
Asked to rank the things that might turn them off of Trump, they cited his saying once that Democrats were better at the economy, his refusal to rule out a third-party run and flipping on illegal immigration. In recent weeks, Trump has called for tougher rules on immigration. He has called for doing away with the 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to any child born in the U.S. regardless of the parents’ legal standing.
Least likely to raise the voters’ concerns about Trump: not being a religious conservative.
But none changed their support after hearing the facts and seeing videos of Trump. Many said his flip comments about women, for example, were jokes, or that some of his past liberal positions, such as supporting a complete government takeover of health care, were old.
“I don’t see anything on here that is a complete, ‘Holy crap, I cannot vote for this guy’ complaint,” said one man.
“We offered them video examples of Trump at his boldest and most outlandish,” Luntz said. “And it actually made Trump voters like him even more.”
They are completely up for grabs if Trump does not make it to the Republican nomination.
Only Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has a slight edge, as six called him their second choice. “A polished Donald Trump,” one said of Cruz.
The rest of the group splinters, with three naming former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida their second choice; two each naming retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Democrat Hillary Clinton, former executive Carly Fiorina, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin; and one favoring Gov. John Kasich of Ohio.
The Trump followers did follow issues. Topping their concerns: national security, federal spending and debt, and immigration. Of no interest: social issues. None said they cared.
And they did say they liked the billionaire developer for some of his stands, most notably his opposition to Obamacare; his vow to get tougher on trade with countries such as China and Japan; his fights with the news media; and his promises to build U.S. infrastructure, cut corporate taxes and build a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border.