Steve Berman, a 59-year-old screenwriter who voted for Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012 but enthusiastically backed Donald Trump in the March 15 Missouri presidential primary, is exactly the kind of voter who, Trump supporters argue, will win the White House for Trump next November. Berman, one of a dozen St. Louis-area Republican and independent voters in a focus group convened by respected Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart for the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania on Tuesday night, praises the Republican front-runner's "vast knowledge, toughness, brains (and) brawn." What would Berman tell Trump? "I believe in you. ... The fact that you're not a politician makes me like you even more."
But Berman concedes Trump's chronic vanity and serial discourtesy: "He's an egomaniac, even though I love him," and "if anything's going to get him into trouble, it'll be his mouth." The Trump mouth concerns Cherri Crenshaw, 48, who is in medical sales and voted for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the primary. "He's very strong, but I think he comes across as a bully," she says, noting that "this should not be reality TV" and arguing that Trump "needs to show more dignity and have a presence about him that's respectable."
What would Joyce Reinitz, a 61-year-old elementary school teacher and Cruz voter, say to Trump? "As a teacher, a parent and a grandparent, I think you need a social filter."
Even restaurant manager Kevin Rotellio, 44, who proudly voted for Trump in the primary and who praises Trump "for lighting a fire in the American public and exposing all the wrongdoings of current and past political members of both parties," urges Trump to "tone it down a bit" and to "be firm, but not obnoxious."
This St. Louis group of people who had split their votes between Cruz and Trump in the primary — with a lone Ohio Gov. John Kasich backer — contained some harsh Trump critics. Aron Smith, 45, who works in technology and supports Cruz, doesn't think Trump is "presidential-quality" and would tell Trump directly: "I do not believe your crass and cavalier attitude fits the role of president."
That was mild compared with what independent Cassandra Westerhold, 33, thinks. If given the chance, she would tell Trump: "I believe that you are a bully and misogynist, and I am ashamed to have you as the front-runner for the Republican Party."
All in all, the relentlessly controversial Trump would appear to have a difficult task — especially among female voters — in gaining united GOP support for the fall campaign. That is until you hear what happened when Peter Hart brought out one of his provocative hypotheticals, asking the St. Louis group to imagine each of the candidates as a fifth-grader at school recess. Ted Cruz would be "reading the Bible" or "giving the teacher an apple," "kissing butt." Trump "would be making a deal to trade lunches" or "pushing the smaller kids down." But what about the Democratic front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? The unflattering answers from St. Louis Republicans were uniform. Clinton would be "stealing lunch money," "scheming" "tattling on somebody," "lecturing somebody" or "being a mean girl." When it came to one word to describe her, the answers included "dishonest," "evil," "power-hungry," "unethical" and "criminal." In short, with many Republicans still having doubts about their front-runner, Hillary Clinton — whom everyone in the focus group would vote against — is not a divider but, as of now, a uniter for Donald Trump.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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