Byron York: Donald Trump’s great big, beautiful missed opportunity - Washington Examiner (2024)

CHARLOTTE, N.C.Donna Ryan is a retired director of finance who describes herself as a political moderate and whose political hero is Ronald Reagan. She worries about the national debt, the threat from the Islamic State, and a decline in public morality hastened by social media. She doesn’t believe the United States is particularly great now — she rates it at a six when asked to place the country’s present condition on a one-to-ten greatness scale — and she would like to see an America that is “free and truly leading the world in everything, including morals.”

Donna wanted to vote for Donald Trump. For much of the campaign, up until the summer’s party conventions, she was drawn to the appeal of a businessman, and especially a non-politician, running for president. (She still has warm feelings for Ben Carson, whose candidacy she admired.) But she can no longer support Trump and has “pretty closely decided” to vote for Hillary Clinton.

“I so much wanted Trump,” Donna told a focus group held Tuesday night in the Charlotte area by the Democratic pollster Peter Hart. “I so much wanted a non-politician. But I don’t trust him, and I’ve become afraid of him.”

Why afraid? asked Hart.

“Because I just don’t think he knows when to shut up,” Donna answered. “If he would just say, I’m a businessman, I’m not a politician, I’m going to make America great again — and stop right there — then I would vote for him.”

When did Trump lose you? Hart asked.

“Around the summertime, so it guess it was around the conventions,” Donna answered. “I started getting nervous. He just went off and his face gets all red.”

Another Hart question: When his face gets red, what does that say to you?

“I see a temper, a temper tantrum, like a little boy,” Donna said. “I had five brothers, and I remember that face. And that’s when I got scared of him.”

“So I started to listen more to Clinton. I don’t like Clinton, let me tell you, and I don’t trust her, but I think she’s the lesser of two evils.”

There were a dozen people in Hart’s group, six men and six women. They were all what Hart called “late deciders” — they had made their choice in the last couple of months — or were still undecided. Of the men, three appeared to support Trump, with some reservations, while two appeared to less reluctantly support Clinton. One was difficult to read. The ones who supported Trump worried a lot about the Supreme Court and on that basis chose to back the Republican. (Indeed, for most of the Trump leaners, the future of the Court was nearly the only reason cited to explain their support.)

But it was the women who told the story of the group — and perhaps the election.

Another woman, Jennifer, began by saying she is still undecided. “I’m kind of like Donna,” she said. “I wanted to like Trump. But I don’t know that I can, because it’s embarrassing the way he acts, his temper tantrums. I think he’s just an embarrassment to our country. I don’t embrace Clinton, but I’d vote for her. It’s probably going to be a vote against Trump.”

By the end of her remarks, Jennifer didn’t seem so undecided anymore.

Still another woman, Denise, said she too is undecided, but leaned a little the other way. “I’m leaning slightly towards Trump based on Supreme Court decisions, national security, pro-life,” Denise said. “Mainly for what the party stands for, not as much the candidate.”

Hart asked Denise if she had anything to say to Donna — that is, perhaps to persuade her it’s OK to support Trump.

“No,” said Denise, adding that it’s a personal decision. She appeared to completely understand her fellow group members’ choice not to support Trump.

As the talk went on, it became obvious that Trump could have had the support of Donna and Jennifer, and could have had the undivided support of Denise. Trump did have their support when the summer began — and remember that was after a crazy and contentious primary season, when Trump started a zillion controversies, from dissing John McCain to calling for a ban on foreign Muslims entering the U.S. to allegedly mocking a disabled reporter to declining to disavow David Duke to going after a judge of Mexican descent. Even after all that, Trump still had a real chance to win Donna’s, and Jennifer’s and Denise’s strong support.

But Trump let it all get away. And it didn’t happen with the leak of the “Access Hollywood” tape, or with the accounts of women who said Trump tried to grope them. No, it appears Trump blew it with many women beginning with the conventions, when he formally entered a one-on-one contest with Hillary Clinton. Under the heightened scrutiny of a general election race, with press coverage turning sharply negative, Trump’s fight with Khizr Khan, his remarks about “Second Amendment people,” his extended fight over the 1996 Miss Universe — those new controversies, piled on top of the pre-existing controversies from the GOP primary season, finally took Trump down. Everything after that was just extra.

To watch the session was to see the great big, beautiful opportunity Trump — even the most imperfect Trump — had to win the loyalty of voters who wanted something new. He had a golden chance and didn’t do it.

“Trump had three women who clearly could have been in his corner, should have been in his corner,” Hart said in a talk with reporters after the session. “I thought the turning point was right after the Democratic convention with the Khan family. That week was maybe the worst week of the campaign — until he was able to top it one more time, or two more times, or three more times.

The Hart session also revealed a striking depth of hostility to Hillary Clinton. Indeed, the flip side of the participants’ problems with Trump is their dislike of Clinton; Trump wouldn’t be anywhere close to contention, as he is today, if voters didn’t abhor his Democratic opponent.

When Hart went around the table asking for a one-word description of Clinton, one word dominated.

“Liar.”

“Liar.”

“Liar.”

“Liar.”

“Liar.”

To be fair, one participant said “untrustworthy,” while another violated the one-word rule to describe Clinton as “above the law.”

Later, Hart asked the group to give a one-word description of what motivates Clinton. When he asked the same question about Michelle Obama, the answers included “family” and “social change” and “children” and “peace” — overwhelmingly positive responses. But when the question was asked about what motivates Clinton, the answers changed:

“Power.”

“Power.”

“Power.”

“Self-interest.”

“Money and power.”

There was also one “love of country” and one “policy change” — three of the 12 members of the group supported Clinton, if without great enthusiasm. But for the rest — nine out of 12 — the answers were mostly brutal.

“One of the things that we would say there’s total agreement around the table is, nobody trusts her,” Hart said to the group. “Nobody said look, I consider her to be a very honest person… Is this something that is going to be an obstacle throughout her presidency or is this something that she can overcome?”

Nobody had any particularly great ideas.

Near the end of the session, Hart asked whether people believed Clinton can “understand and empathize” with the challenges the group members face each day.

“I don’t,” said a young woman named Katie, who leaned toward Trump. “I feel like she’s too well-prepared, too well-spoken, that I can’t see her as a human being.”

Katie explained that Clinton can look good delivering a speech behind a podium, but doesn’t seem to have an inner empathy.

“I agree with what Katie said,” added Jennifer. “She seems like she has a script. I don’t know. I don’t think I know her.”

Hart asked, “How many people say you don’t think you know her?” Eight of the 12 around the table raised their hands — this about a woman who has been in the national spotlight for a quarter-century.

At one point early in the session, Hart asked if there were any people who liked both of the candidates. No hands went up. Then he asked if there were any people who liked one of the candidates. No hands went up. Then he asked if there were any who didn’t like either candidate. Twelve hands went up.

The negative views of Clinton were many years in the making. Voters might not feel like they know her in any in-depth sense, but they’ve known of her for a long time and have seen her flaws on public display for decades.

Trump is something different. What emerged from the Hart session is that Trump, the non-politician, the outsider businessman, had an extraordinary chance to win the support not just of Republicans but of voters tired of both parties. Even after making enough mistakes to kill any other candidate, Trump still had a chance. But his own missteps eventually played into the hands of his adversaries, and he lost the support of women like Donna, leading to a gender gap in Clinton’s favor with women that at least doubles Trump’s advantage with men. Now, with less than two weeks before Election Day, there’s no getting it back.

Byron York: Donald Trump’s great big, beautiful missed opportunity - Washington Examiner (2024)
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