ALEXANDRIA, Va. — “Nothing disqualifies Trump.”
That was the takeaway of Frank Luntz, the public opinion guru, after leading a focus group Monday night of supporters of Donald Trump’s Republican presidential campaign.
For two and a half hours, Luntz quizzed a group of current and past ardent Trump fans about their views on the businessman. He discussed the candidate’s past liberal stances and played past video of Trump saying provocative things about women. Yet when the focus group was over, not a single person who was planning to vote for him said they had changed their mind.
At one point, Luntz bolted from the room with the focus group to make sure the handful of reporters observing on the other side of the glass understood how big of a deal this was. “My legs are shaking,” he admitted.
“This is absolutely for real,” Luntz said of the intense and loyal support for Trump. “And he is not going away. And he is as strong as every survey shows. All those people who think he’s going to implode have not sat and talked to these voters the way that they should have.”
The focus group was made up of 29 people, six of whom said they no longer support Trump but did in the past. Asked to describe Trump in one word or phrase, the answers varied: “businessman,” “brave,” “successful,” “results,” “decisive,” “leader,” “guts,” “charismatic,” “bombastic,” “not a politician,” “not P.C.,” “true American,” “brash,” “decisive,” “kick ass and take names.”
“When he talks, deep down somewhere, you’re going, ‘crap, somebody is thinking the same way I am,’” said one man.
Asked to recall the specific moment they decided to support Trump, most people pointed to his comments on Mexico and the border when he entered the race.
When Luntz surveyed the six people who no longer support Trump anymore, the most common criticism was his lack of specificity on issues and some of his comments regarding women.
“All of his ideas are great,” said another. “And he’s got a lot of energy. I just wasn’t sure there’s enough specifics out there. Everything is very vague.”
“I did see a Billy Bush interview with him and he seemed really…I guess chauvinistic is the word?” said another female in the focus group.
“I didn’t like in the debates when he was the only one who would not say he would not run as an independent,” said one man.
But for the most part, the focus group brushed those concerns off.
At one point, Luntz showed the participants a video clip of Trump saying, “If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, I’d be dating her.” Some in the group agreed it was “creepy” but most dismissed it as an entertainer doing his job.
“It’s funny,” one said, “not to be taken serious.”
“He has a sense of humor,” said another.
“It was great that he can laugh at himself.”
Luntz gave the participants 21 examples of things that could be problematic for Trump today. That includes how Trump was once pro-choice, supported single-payer healthcare, gave more money to the Democrats, supported stricter gun laws, supported the legalization of marijuana and has been married multiple times.
Yet, most people in the focus group said it was difficult for them to even care about most of them.
“The man’s entitled to change his mind on things,” said one woman.
“In the last 15 years, how many times have you guys changed your mind on something?” said a man.
“Exactly,” another woman added.
Luntz then asked the participants to rank what policy they like most from Trump. The most popular was Trump’s belief that Obamacare should be repealed and replaced.
When Luntz reminded the group that Trump was once for single-payer, which is even more liberal than Obamacare, most people shrugged. “Different time,” someone said.
Yet the one thing nearly everybody took issue with was Trump’s past comments questioning former prisoner of war John McCain’s heroism.
“His statement about John McCain, that rubbed me the wrong way,” said one man.
But most signaled they are willing to look past it.
“He’s done some good things,” said a man. “The only real negative I had was his P.O.W comments. Everybody makes comments. You can’t judge his entire candidacy on a comment he made probably on the top his head.”
All this means the rules of politics don’t seem to apply to Trump. Things that would probably damage — or end — other campaigns don’t dent Trump at all.
His poll numbers, both nationally and in early caucus and primary states, continue to dwarf those of the other 16 Republicans running. And he’s drawing crowds of 30,000, like he did last week at a football stadium in Alabama.
The campaigns of his rivals don’t seem to know what to do or how to attack him: the three people who have gone after Trump the hardest — Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Texas Sen. Rick Perry and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham — have seen their poll numbers evaporate.
Some, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have tried to lay low and not comment on Trump, while others, like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, has gone out of his way to praise Trump so he can inherit the businessman’s supporters when he inevitably loses momentum.
But, as the focus group indicated, that might not be so inevitable after all. “It’s really hard to see how you bring him down,” Luntz said.