WILMINGTON, North CarolinaA dozen voters assembled here for a focus group on President Trumps 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 hasnt delivered on his promises, and hes 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. Its like nothing is ever accomplished.
Annie Anthony, 56, who runs a small nonprofit, said, Hes embarrassed me by his behavior I cant imagine how they let him build a country club, let alone be in one. Because adults dont behave that way. She doesnt mind the tweets but wishes he would elevate his language.
He uses words like sad and badthats first-grade language. Were 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. Thats how I hear from him... I dont need an elitist person talking down to me.
Layton says she doesnt 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 doesnt give you all these flowery descriptions about everything. I appreciate that hes 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 Im grateful for it, but theyre slashing this and slashing that, and Im 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 wont be able to pay for treatment, so they wont get to go. Youve got to pay like 24 grand upfront for some of these programs.
At the end of the session, Hart said to Anthony, Im not sure why you voted for Donald Trump. You would be an ideal person to explain to Donald Trump, heres why Ive been with you, and heres why Im not with you. Youve 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 Schumers 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 abortionand Benghazi, she replied. He was going to try to not have as many abortions, and I didnt 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 Im a confused Democrat, but Im actually a weak Republican, she said. Shes worried that her health insurance premiums will go so high she wont 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, Ill be voting to empty that swamp some more, Anthony said. And that doesnt mean Ill be voting for a Republican or a Democrat. Its 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 cant be trusted and who thinks the rules dont apply to her.
Michael Leimone, 41, a cook at a local pizza restaurant, is disappointed in Trump, but doesnt regret his vote. He calls Trump a loose cannon, but insists, Its still better than having the career politician in there.
The Russia probe never came up. Trumps vulnerability with these voters is health care. It came up a lot. They know whos doing the slashing, and theyll know who to blame when those premium hikes hit.