During a focus group discussion here Tuesday night, a dozen Trump supporters said they believed that Trump should make one major change: act more presidential. They said that his use of Twitter is unnecessary, unprofessional and potentially damaging to his presidency.
“He needs to stay off Twitter and quit responding to every little thing people put out there,” said Melinda Berger, 51. “It seems juvenile. Bring yourself above it.”
“Whatever he’s doing in the presidency, Twitter should have nothing to do with it,” added Eric Viersulz, 29.
Their criticism of Trump’s use of social media was a rare moment of disappointment for the otherwise hopeful group of 12 Trump voters — Republicans, Democrats and independents — from the Cleveland area. The focus group, conducted on behalf of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and moderated by Democratic pollster Peter Hart, is not a representative picture of the electorate or Trump supporters. But it provides a window into how much political capital Trump will have as he assumes the presidency — at least among his core supporters.
Most in the group saw signs of Trump’s departure from convention as proof that they are getting exactly what they voted for.
“He’s not a lifelong politician; he’s something different,” said Renee Samerigo, 27, an independent who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 but supported Trump in November. “They always have their own agendas; they have their own people that they have to do things for. He is doing it on his own.”
What about Trump’s Cabinet of Goldman Sachs executives, billionaires and business executives? Pitch perfect, they said.
“Politicians are not dealmakers,” remarked Michael Rotella, 54, a staunch Republican.
“I’m happy because I think it should be run as a business,” said Courtney Pitts, 37, a Democrat who counts Obama as her favorite president but who voted for Trump.
And if Trump lowers taxes on corporations while keeping taxes the same for individuals? That’s fine, too, was the unanimous opinion.
Nearly everyone described a campaign that had left a “sour” and “bitter” taste in their mouths. But few held Trump responsible or believed the campaign would be a liability for his presidency. To them, his brash personality had become a proof point of his ability to upset the apple cart in Washington.
“The people are fed up, for lack of a better word. They’re looking for change and a new direction,” said Sarah Mars, 29, an independent who supported Obama in 2012. “I almost feel like I was willing to put aside human characteristics about him, because there were things I didn’t like about him, but I was willing to excuse it based on things I didn’t like about Hillary [Clinton].”
The dynamic in the room mirrored the forces that propelled Trump to an electoral college victory last month. Moderates and Democrats said they quickly began to overlook Trump's personal flaws in favor of a candidate who they believed would bring about radical change, particularly to their economic fortunes.
The animosity toward the Affordable Care Act was universal among the group. And most had a strong disdain for Clinton, the Democratic nominee, although all but one said they would have voted for Trump even if he were running against another opponent.
Trump won Ohio by 8.6 percentage points, the largest margin of victory for any Republican since 1988. More than one supporter described Trump's pundit-defying victory as proof of the power of quiet voices making themselves heard in this election.
“I am a Democrat for the most part. Everybody assumed I was voting for Hillary,” Pitts said. “I wanted to vote for Trump, and I knew many other people who did.”
They expect an unconventional president, a hard-charging business leader — albeit, one lacking a certain amount of self-control — to occupy the Oval Office come Jan. 20. And although his supporters have a laundry list of projects they hope he will tackle, most of all, they want him to prioritize bringing back jobs and fixing the health-care system on Day One.
Asked by Hart how they would judge Trump as a success or a failure, most cited the state of the economy and the affordability of health care as key tests.
“He’d be failing if he didn’t do anything with the health-care system,” Viersulz said.
The promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which had been a centerpiece of Trump's campaign, seemed to have faded to the background for this group. None named it or immigration as a top priority.
“That was all just talk,” said Derek Knuth, 39, a Republican engineer from Lorain County. When asked what Trump should do about immigration, most in the room said they supported a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Also taking a back seat to economic concerns: worries about the Islamic State and national security. Instead, they said they hope that Trump will move quickly to enact a business-focused economic agenda, shaking traditional politicians' grip on the levers of power.
The group was unforgiving to Republicans politicians — especially House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) – for their resistance to Trump during the campaign. Asked how they feel about Ryan, some responded harshly: “Untrustworthy,” said one person. “Weasel,” another added.
They also harbor a deep distrust of Washington.
“There’s still a lot of animosity toward Trump because he’s not one of them,” said William Gainer Jr., 51, a staunch Trump supporter. “They hate that their perfumed prince candidates like Jeb Bush and John Kasich didn’t get the nomination.”
Gainer added, “They need to accept it and get on board.”