CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Donald Trump’s supporters have sky-high hopes for the president-elect’s ability to create drastic change in Washington, and - so far - they are willing to give him almost limitless leeway to achieve those results in his own wildly unconventional and controversial way.
A focus group of 12 Trump voters in Cleveland made clear on Tuesday night that they will demand that Trump deliver on two major domestic campaign promises: to overhaul the Obama-backed health care system and to create a flood of new jobs.
But they also remain almost entirely unbothered about Trump’s potential family business conflicts, his refusal to disclose personal financial information, his lack of government experience and his reliance on wealthy business executives to fill out his team.
“He already has his wealth, he doesn’t need to profit off anybody or anything,” said Melinda, a 51-year-old homemaker who defended Trump’s plans to mesh his “unprecedented” business empire with the commander-in-chief post.
Michael, a 54 year-old mechanical engineer, compared Trump’s continuing involvement in “The New Celebrity Apprentice” to other presidential hobbies. “How is that any different from a president who goes golfing, or boating, or fishing? You have to do something when you’re not doing presidential stuff.”
The group expressed reverence for Trump’s business savvy, along with biting scorn for establishment political figures and broad praise for Trump’s Cabinet picks.
“He’s picking people that know how to run businesses and do things without political ties. They’re not tied to political parties,” said Bill, a 51-year-old electrician.
“These voters are going to give him every break that they can, until they stop giving him a break,” said Peter Hart, who moderated the focus group conducted on behalf of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. “Forgiveness is high, but expectations are high, too.”
Those expectations center squarely on health care and jobs, with every member of the focus group urging Trump to tackle those issues urgently.
“Think about how many people are out there struggling, that have lost jobs, that can’t afford their medical bills,” Derek, a 39-year-old engineer, advised. “And just make sure you do what you said you’re going to do.”
From Russia, With Love
These Ohio voters - half of whom supported Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 or 2012 - were deeply skeptical of the CIA’s allegation that Russia acted to influence the election in Trump’s favor.
“I just think that it’s nonsense. I don’t think there’s anything substantial to it. I think the media just is trying to blow it up, everything, after this election, they want to make any excuse in the world,” said Derek, an engineer.
“I don’t know a lot about it either but I know that the media twists things a lot and it wouldn’t surprise me if they just put it out there as a theory,” said Sarah, a 29-year-old intervention specialist who describes herself as a Democratic-leaning independent.
Several participants insisted that the revelations published by the hacked emails overshadowed worries about the source of the theft.
“I remember seeing Hillary Clinton get on TV and blame the Russians automatically,” said Kevin, a 32-year-old deputy sheriff. “Well, I don’t really care who gave us these. I care about the content of what was in the emails.”
Many also echoed Trump’s optimism about closer ties with the nation ruled by President Vladimir Putin, whom participants branded with labels ranging from “devious” to “leader” and “badass.”
While Trump’s supporters were forgiving of controversies involving his businesses, they expressed concern about the tone the president-elect has continued to take in his use of social media.
“It seems juvenile,” Melinda said of Trump’s Twitter use. “Bring yourself above it. If you’re supposed to be the president you don’t need to respond to every little nasty thing that comes your way.”
Nearly all of the 12 participants advised the real estate mogul to take a more “professional” tone on Twitter, and some even suggested he should give up the medium altogether.
William, a 50 year-old service representative, cheered Trump’s messages on Twitter but warned that the timestamps on his 140-character missives look unpresidential.
“When it comes out that “at 4:35 this morning, Donald Trump tweeted… ” that looks bad,” he said.
Participants also worried about Trump’s assertions that he does not need to receive daily intelligence briefings because he is “a smart person.” Eight out of the 12 members of the group suggested that they would advise Trump to attend the briefings more diligently.
“They expect him to act like a president, and acting like a president means not being on Twitter,” said Hart, the moderator. “Acting like a president means being well-briefed. Acting like a president means opening up the tent.”
Despite their hesitancy about the most unrefined aspects of his tone on Twitter, these voters were still animated by the same derisive view of political and media elites that fueled their original enthusiasm for Trump as a candidate.
William, 50, offered particular scorn for Republican congressional leaders who have pushed back against the president-elect’s agenda.
“They hate that their perfumed prince candidates, like Jeb Bush or even [John] Kasich, didn’t get the nomination," he said. "And they’re still sitting there scratching their heads ... I think they need to accept it and get on board.”
Earning a particularly shaky review was House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was assessed with phrases ranging from “unsure” to “weasel.”
And Trump’s image as a populist champion remains as untarnished as ever with his supporters.
“We finally had somebody who was a true person,” said Marcy. “He wasn’t in the politics, he wasn’t into the same old climbing this political ladder. It was finally somebody who was, who started like us, like everybody who works, who goes to work every day.”