Focus group: Trump's "erratic" attacks are costing him supporters

Last Updated Aug 21, 2016 12:46 PM EDT

Donald Trump is alienating his own supporters because of his sometimes “erratic” and inflammatory ad hominem attacks, according to a focus group held Saturday by pollster and Republican strategist Frank Luntz.

“He was my first choice. But just along the way, he has -- I guess you can say he’s lost me,”  one participant said in the focus group, which aired Sunday as a segment on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “I’m not saying there’s no chance of turning but he’s become outrageous. I mean, we all have thoughts, but I think he speaks without thinking.”

The panel, conducted in Pennsylvania, only had a handful of attendees that were still committed to supporting the GOP nominee. Several more participants once backed Trump but no longer do.

“When he initially began to run, he gave voice to a lot of the frustrations that I was feeling about how government is working or more to the point not working,” one man, Michael R., said. “But since then, he’s been running as a 12 year old and changes his positions every news cycle, so you don’t even know where he stands on the issues.”

Another, Howard E. chimed in: “Whenever somebody makes a derogatory comment to him, like in a democratic convention, Trump feels like he needs to attack that person. And he says things that are crazy. And I keep asking myself: is this the kind of person I want to handle the nuclear codes?”

Luntz followed up, asking, “what’s the answer?”

Howard responded: “No way.”

One attendee even seemed to question whether Trump still had his heart set on winning the election.

“I almost think the last couple of weeks, he might be second-guessing this, because he even said like a week ago, ‘it’s okay if I’m not the president,’” one woman said. “And then he’s just throwing out all of these bizarre comments. So I’m wondering: Is he serious still about it?”

Another participant, Bill C., pinpointed Trump’s focus on his “personality” as the reason the billionaire lost his support.

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“The more he made it about his personality, the less likely that I am to vote for him and it seems like everyone else is going in the same direction here,” Bill said, though he noted that he views the latest focus on policy questions from the Trump campaign as a positive development.

“The last couple of weeks, I’ve seen kind of a pivot back to the issues, and that gives me a little bit more hope for him,” Bill went on. “But he’s yo-yo’d back and forth so many times I need to see a little bit more.”

Still, more than half of the voters in the room said they would consider casting a ballot for Trump in the fall.

Asked what could be done to convince them that the flailing campaign is worthy of their vote in November, participants gave a range of answers.

“He’s got to at least give us a plan of what he -- some kind of plan of action of what he would like to do,” Sharon J. told Luntz. “I want him to talk more about that and stop attacking people and attacking erratic --”

Another attendee, Michael A., jumped in: “I think we’re looking for leadership that inspires all of us to be greater than ourselves. So I’m looking for the things that he says that are scripted, even the teleprompter that he makes fun of but now he uses. But also the unscripted things like the debates, and let’s see how he reacts under pressure when he has to -- one on one with Hillary.”

Mantel F. prescribed this for the campaign: “Now he’s being a little too authentic. Now he’s giving us too much of himself. He needs to pull back a little bit.”

Janice K. described the general election campaign as “a job interview” and advised Trump to put “his best foot forward.”

“This is not how you would behave when you’re going to a job interview, by throwing tantrums and calling the interviewer names. Or the other applicants,” she said.

When questioned why they would still consider voting for Trump despite all their negative feelings, participants pointed to Hillary Clinton as the reason.

“The other candidate is unfavorable in my estimation and I don’t have another choice,” one woman said. “And I don’t want to give up my vote, because I think that it would be worse not to vote.”

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Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Reince Priebus gave his own response to the focus group comments in a later interview with “Face the Nation,” explaining some of Trump’s recent pivot to policies as a sign the candidate has “show maturity.”

“I think that he’s growing in his role,” Priebus said. “He’s a person who’s never run for public office.”

The RNC chair added that the 2016 election “is about choices.” 

“You have someone who is not politically correct, who, at times, has said some harsh things that even he admitted, versus someone who lies with incredible skill and grace,” Priebus said. “And so the question is whether or not in -- in the fall, making the case to the American people, that the outsider -- which is what the American people want -- they want that outsider, they want that product that Donald Trump presents, not Hillary Clinton, but they also need to know that it’s going to be a safe product.”

Priebus went on to tout Trump’s recent behavior on the campaign trail, including the use of a teleprompter, as showing “consistency.” And he later noted that Trump’s outreach to Hispanic and African American voters on the trail were all signs that the campaign was on the right track.

Of the base supporters that Trump seems to have lost over the past weeks, Preibus said he was confident the billionaire would win them back.

“What we’re talking about is a few percentage points. After the convention I think he was at 88, 89 percent support. You go down five or six percent on your own -- on your own base of support, obviously that can be the difference between being down by two or down by six,” he said. “What you’re seeing over the last week and a half is a very -- I think -- a pretty consistent view within the Republican party that Donald Trump is doing exactly what he needs to be doing and if he keeps doing what he’s doing, we’re going to be right back to even or ahead.”