WILMINGTON, North Carolina—A dozen voters assembled here for a focus group on President Trump’s first year give him credit for a good economy and a robust stock market. Having said that, they used the forum to let loose with their condemnation of the tweeter-in-chief and the many ways he has embarrassed them.
It was a tough assessment, and the most stinging critique came from those in the group who had voted for Trump, with Republican women serving up the harshest words, saying he hasn’t delivered on his promises, and he’s crude and bullying.
“I feel like he told people that he had all these big ideas and big plans, and it just seems to kind of roll to something else,” said Emily Bell, a 32-year-old occupational therapist. “It’s like nothing is ever accomplished.”
Annie Anthony, 56, who runs a small nonprofit, said, “He’s embarrassed me by his behavior… I can’t imagine how they let him build a country club, let alone be in one. Because adults don’t behave that way.” She doesn’t mind the tweets but wishes he would elevate his language.
“He uses words like ‘sad’ and ‘bad’—that’s first-grade language. We’re an intelligent population who elected you. Represent us!”
There was only one staunch Trump supporter in the group, Cynthia Layton, a 64-year-old nurse, who loves the tweets. “That’s how I hear from him... I don’t need an elitist person talking down to me.”
Layton says she doesn’t trust the media, and she turned off her cable 10 years ago. She draws inspiration from Rush Limbaugh. “I read my sites. I listen to his tweets,” she says, which “are simply what he honestly feels because he uses white and black language and doesn’t give you all these flowery descriptions about everything. I appreciate that he’s direct and tells it like it is.”
The focus group on Wednesday evening was organized in collaboration with Emory University, and almost half the two hours focused on the opioid crisis, which everyone agreed is a huge problem. A 47-year-old single man described as a self-employed handyman said he had lost eight friends in the last six months, all to heroin, a stunning statement that prompted a round of personal stories.
Wilmington is the center of a growing addiction rehabilitation industry, and many who come for treatment relapse and stay. The group blamed pharmaceutical companies for downplaying the addictive potential of opioids, and doctors for peddling them. The word “kickbacks” came up repeatedly as the group discussed their ready availability.
“I have Obamacare and I’m grateful for it, but they’re slashing this and slashing that, and I’m afraid that I might lose my health care,” said Annie Anthony, who is divorced and voted for Trump. Like almost everyone in the room, she knows people grappling with addiction. Without insurance, people won’t be able to pay for treatment, “so they won’t get to go. You’ve got to pay like 24 grand upfront for some of these programs.”
At the end of the session, Hart said to Anthony, “I’m not sure why you voted for Donald Trump. You would be an ideal person to explain to Donald Trump, ‘here’s why I’ve been with you, and here’s why I’m not with you.’ You’ve moved a long way” since the election.
Anthony responded with a story of how she was driving an Uber one night and had one of Democratic leader Chuck Schumer’s assistants in her car. He was going to Jacksonville, which was a 90-minute drive, so there was plenty of time to talk, and he asked her the same question. Because of abortion and Benghazi, she replied. “He was going to try to not have as many abortions, and I didn’t see her as telling the truth with Benghazi.”
Earlier in the discussion, Anthony had said, “I expect our embassies to be safe, and she [Clinton] let our people down.”
“My kids think I’m a confused Democrat, but I’m actually a weak Republican,” she said. She’s worried that her health insurance premiums will go so high she won’t be able to afford to see a doctor.
These are the people Trump is losing, but predicting where they will land next politically is complicated. “If the swamp is still full, I’ll be voting to empty that swamp some more,” Anthony said. “And that doesn’t mean I’ll be voting for a Republican or a Democrat. It’s going to be based on their behavior and whether I found them trustworthy.”
The antipathy toward Hillary Clinton is so strong that it keeps voters in the Trump camp. Asked for a word or phrase to describe Clinton, there was a string of invectives: crook and thief and sore loser, someone who can’t be trusted and who thinks the rules don’t apply to her.
Michael Leimone, 41, a cook at a local pizza restaurant, is disappointed in Trump, but doesn’t regret his vote. He calls Trump a loose cannon, but insists, “It’s still better than having the career politician in there.”
The Russia probe never came up. Trump’s vulnerability with these voters is health care. It came up a lot. They know who’s doing the slashing, and they’ll know who to blame when those premium hikes hit.