The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel reports on a focus group in which supporters of Donald Trump were shown attack ads against the tycoon. According to Weigel, the ads, presented by pollster Frank Luntz, did not cause members of the group to move away from Trump. In fact, focus group members were more inclined to support Trump following the presentation.
Weigel describes only two of the negative ads presented to the group. The first was an over-the-top ad which, in Weigel’s words, “not too subtly compare[d] the Republican front-runner to Adolf Hitler.” The panel saw this for what it is — an insult to their intelligence.
The second ad was a compilation of unkind comments by Trump about his opponents. Marco Rubio sweats too much; Carly Fiorina talks like a “robot;” Ben Carson is “pathological;” Jeb Bush has to “meet with Mommny and Daddy” for support. This is vintage Trump. Why, by now, would anyone expect a Trump supporter to recoil?
Weigel also describes efforts by Luntz to show that Trump misstates facts, e.g., his claim that thousands of Muslims cheered the collapse of the World Trade Center. I think it has been established that some Muslims cheered, but there is no evidence that thousands did. It’s not clear why a Trump supporter would abandon him over an exaggeration.
There is a line of attack that I believe might erode Trump’s support and very likely help prevent his support from rising to where it may need to be in order for him to secure the nomination. That line of attack would focus on Trump’s record of non-conservatism — e.g., his support for universal health care, his glowing remarks about Hillary Clinton, his massive financial support for Democrats in 2006 that led to Obamacare.
Weigel doesn’t say whether Luntz presented such ads to his focus group. Either Luntz didn’t present any or Weigel didn’t think it worth mentioning, perhaps because Trump’s shaky conservative credentials aren’t part of the mainstream media’s critique of Trump.
According to Weigel, focus group members were quite attuned to the source of anti-Trump material. They reportedly were skeptical of an ad produced for the Kasich campaign and of criticism based on mainstream media sources.
To me, this suggests that ads produced for the Cruz campaign (or perhaps for Rubio’s) that focused on Trump’s left-of-center past might make more headway with the billionaire’s supporters. Alternatively, they might at least help limit the level of Trump’s support.
Weigel seems intent on making Trump’s supporters look as bad as possible. He devotes several paragraphs to two supporters who said they wouldn’t urinate on President Obama if he was on fire.
Luntz responded that this is “the meanest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Maybe, but Weigel’s own call for Matt Drudge “set himself on fire” ranks right alongside it. As hateful as a few of the focus group members may have sounded, I doubt that any of them matched Weigel’s body of venomous anti-conservative rhetoric.
Yet the Washington Post gives Weigel a place in its news pages from which to work over Trump, his supporters, and other Republican candidates. No wonder the focus group members, along with many conservatives regardless of whom they support, are inclined to “consider the source” when assessing the Post’s news stories about Trump and the rest of the GOP field.