Months of media scrutiny and criticism from Republicans have done nothing to suppress enthusiasm for Donald Trump among his supporters, if a Wednesday night focus group of Trump supporters is any indication. In fact, Trump may even be able to command significant support as a third-party candidate.
Conservative analyst Frank Luntz hosted the focus group of 29 Republicans, most of them committed Trump supporters along with a handful who described themselves as former Trump backers who had become skeptical.
Luntz worked the group for three whole hours, pressing them on why they supported Trump and what, if anything, could shake their faith in him. The answer: Not much. In fact, three hours of mostly negative attention on Trump increased the group’s support for him. At the beginning of the night, only ten of the attendees rated their support for Trump at nine or ten on a 10-point scale. By the end, 15 people rated their support a nine or ten.
Even when shown a series of clips showing Trump taking liberal positions just a few years ago, such as favoring single-payer healthcare and abortion rights, left his backers almost completely unfazed. (RELATED: The Progressive History Of Trump)
“People can change their minds, and do,” said one woman in the group. “I just feel like Donald Trump is a leader.”
“Hillary started as a Goldwater Republican,” noted another.
Gregory, one of the youngest Trump backers in the room, put forward a business-related hypothesis for Trump’s shifting attitudes.
“You’ve got to ask yourself, what was his role five years ago when he made those statements?” he asked, pointing out Trump wasn’t a declared politician until recently. “What incentive would have have to agree with the mass? It’s a business move at that point.”
Luntz asked the crowd whether they cared about Trump taking liberal viewpoints five to ten years ago, and almost none of them did.
Negative ads criticizing Trump for his views on women and his attacks on Republicans were similarly ineffective. The only ad which remotely shook the group’s confidence was one consisting of testimonials by angry former employees of Trump’s businesses. Several group members said the ads reminded them of President Barack Obama’s sharp attacks on Mitt Romney for his tenure at Bain Capital.
In a debriefing for the media following the focus group, Luntz claimed the group’s commitment to Trump went far beyond that seen for politicians in the past.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Luntz said. “[Trump] has created or found the magic formula.”
The commitment to Trump comes even though his backers don’t simply agree with everything he says. Only 17 of the 29 group members agreed with Trump’s proposal to block Muslims from entering the United States, and several of those backing it were quick to emphasize it was a short-term response to the San Bernardino shooting and other terror threats. Many were also critical of Trump’s mockery of Megyn Kelly and New York Times reporter Serge F. Kovaleski, but they dismissed this mockery as rare instances of “bad Trump” that weren’t enough to counter the “good Trump” they eagerly supported. (RELATED: Two-Thirds Of Republicans Agree With Trump Muslim Immigration Plan)
If there’s any vulnerability for Trump at all, it’s on the matter of electability. More than half the group said they would back Trump in a three-way race against Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio, and 13 said they’d even back Trump in a three-way against Clinton and Ted Cruz. Almost everybody argued that Trump was the most electable of the GOP candidates, and they were similarly confident he could win as a third-party candidate.
But when pressed hard by Luntz, every member of the group said they would stop backing a third-party Trump candidacy if they were convinced doing so would hand the election to Clinton. In the end, they would hold their noses and vote for Rubio if it was the only way to halt a Clinton presidency.
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