ALEXANDRIA, Va. – There may be no line Donald Trump cannot cross.
Support for the brash Republican Party presidential front-runner is only intensifying with every provocation, such as his call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. Many of his backers would even abandon the Republican Party if necessary to support an independent Trump for president.
Those are among the highlights of an evening spent with a focus group of past and present Trump supporters from the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area — the heart of the political establishment that Trump’s candidacy threatens.
“I was stunned. These are Republicans and they’re prepared to sink the Republican Party,” said Frank Luntz, a longtime consultant to Republicans, independents such as Ross Perot and the media. He led the two-hour-plus conversation with the 29 voters. “They’re invested in him and they’re prepared to dismiss every critique.”
The voters from Maryland, Virginia and Washington — 22 of whom support Trump and seven who have moved on — applauded Trump for his combativeness.
“We are tired of political correctness,” one man offered. “We’re being burdened by it and it is making us weaker as a country globally, and I think he represents that voice of frustration.”
The participants were not identified by name, though several gave their names to reporters after the event.
As top Republicans denounced Trump’s bid to bar Muslims from entering the country, more than half of the group said it supported the measure and credited Trump with recognizing their fears.
“Christians aren’t trying to get into other countries and blow up their coffee shops,” said R.J. Wolf, 43, of Washington. “Muslims are the only ones who are doing it. People who are totally foreign to us, yes, we need a temporary halt, that’s a reasonable position.”
Asked to describe Trump, members offered such praise as “bigger than life” and “smartest guy in the room.” Several, however, also suggested “egomaniac” and “demagogue.”
They said they backed Trump more for his larger-than-life persona than any particular policy. And they were willing to justify almost anything Trump says. His profanity shows he’s a man of conviction and a man of action. Everyone curses out of the public eye, they said.
“He says what everyone else wants to say,” said Frank Lomzillo, 59, a retired law-enforcement officer.
“Americans think the country is in crisis, Trump is telling them the country is in crisis and people flock to a strong leader when they think the country is in crisis,” one man said. “He stands up there, he gives the image he’s not going to put up with any crap.”
The group watched videos of some of Trump’s more contentious statements and his support only grew. Luntz said the more Trump is challenged — by his rivals and especially by the media — the more his supporters like him.
“You are building his campaign with every attack. You’re actually creating the phenomenon,” he said as he watched the group from behind a one-way glass.
Trump’s warnings about Muslims resonate after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., with the group noting that the California couple had been plotting for years. They seemed to endorse Trump’s call for monitoring mosques, arguing that the country has been too afraid to offend others. “Scores of people died because someone didn’t want to be accused of being racist,” one man said.
Still, former Trump supporters evinced weariness with his combativeness. “We need a leader who can work with people,” one woman said.