They don’t like President Trump’s personality, they don’t like his bullying tweets or his name-calling.
But undecided voters in battleground states and key suburbs are saying in focus groups organized by Trump backers that House Democrats’ effort to impeach the president is an unfair, confusing waste of time.
“They’re wasting a lot of time and energy on it,” said one woman in Phoenix. “I just feel like it’s hurting everybody.”
The hope among Team Trump is that an impeachment backlash could help the president with suburban voters who have been fleeing from Mr. Trump since 2016. The House impeachment inquiry, which opened with public hearings Wednesday, will resume Friday with testimony from Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
A new Democratic campaign memo Thursday showed Mr. Trump with an underwater rating of 40% favorable / 56% unfavorable among suburban voters in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, with even worse ratings among suburban women in those states.
Pollsters for the pro-Trump nonprofit group America First Policies have conducted 18 small focus groups with independent voters since Oct. 22 in key states that will likely decide the presidential election next year — Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Georgia.
Among the views to emerge are that Joe Biden is too old for the presidency, the Democratic candidates are bent on socialism, and impeachment is a loser issue for the Democrats.
When a pollster asked one focus group in Charlotte, North Carolina for a show of hands of those who believe Mr. Trump deserves to be impeached, only one person among the 12 undecided voters raised his hand, according to a video viewed by The Washington Times on Thursday.
“I don’t think the majority of the country cares,” one man said of impeachment. “I want to see a program [from Congress]. At least you’re not constantly thinking about impeaching someone that you can vote out next year.”
In an Arizona focus group, one woman said of impeachment, “liberals really don’t want him in office and they’re not going to stop. It’s going to backfire. It’s a waste of time. It’s an obvious distraction from what’s going on, and his accomplishments.”
Asked whether there was anything wrong with Mr. Trump’s phone call with the president of Ukraine, a conversation at the center of the impeachment inquiry, a focus-group participant named Ken in North Carolina said there was “nothing” troubling about the call.
“Given Trump’s personality and his arrogance, you can always see him saying something stupid,” Ken said of the call.
But a woman in the same group questioned whether the president is hiding something, asking “Why isn’t he allowing people to testify?”
A person familiar with America First Policies’ research said the voters’ views expressed in select video clips shown to a few reporters Thursday were representative of all 18 focus groups.
The first public impeachment hearing on Wednesday didn’t register any better with a focus group in Pittsburgh that was conducted Wednesday night, with undecided voters finding the inquiry “confusing,” the source said.
“People still don’t really know what it’s about,” the person said.
The top Democratic candidates didn’t fare well in the focus groups. The most frequent descriptions of Mr. Biden were “too old” and “forgetful.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was described most often as “liar” or “socialist,” and Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont was characterized by the undecideds as “socialist” and “crazy.”
One voter said of the 76-year-old Mr. Biden, “I think he’s just too old. The world and everything is changing so fast. We can’t keep up. I can’t imagine him trying to keep up.” (Mr. Trump is 73).
A woman in a focus group said of Ms. Warren, “I’m hearing people who love Trump saying ‘I wonder if I should vote for Elizabeth Warren.’ She’s very vocal, she’s very opinionated, she has a way of dragging people in.”
Another woman said of former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who has quit the race, “I watched 10 minutes of a Democratic debate — when I hear somebody talk about taking away guns, I’m like you just f—ing killed yourself.”
Others in the groups gave high marks to Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, primarily for standing up to Hillary Clinton’s accusation of being a Russian asset.
They expressed concerns about the Democratic field espousing socialist views on “Medicare for All,” limiting energy production and giving free college tuition. They were also opposed to what Mr. Trump calls Democrats’ “open borders” policy and sanctuary cities, views held especially by women.
A man in the North Carolina focus group said the Democratic field lacks anyone who can beat Mr. Trump.
Democrats are increasingly encouraged by anti-Trump trends among suburban voters. Polling released Thursday by the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA showed Mr. Trump with favorability ratings of 34% among suburban women in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, with a 61% unfavorable rating.
“Issues that motivate his base are backlashing with suburban voters,” Priorities USA said in a campaign memo. “Our survey makes it clear that while Trump’s record and rhetoric on immigration, border security, race relations and corruption are top issues for Trump’s base to support him, they are also reasons for a majority of suburban voters to vote for somebody else. The more he focuses on these issues in an effort to motivate his supporters, the more he will turn off the suburban voters who have already been moving away from Republicans in recent years and make up a significant portion of the electorate in these key battleground states.”
Erin Perrine, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, said the impeachment effort is building up the president’s base of support.
“Every time the Democrats go and take this unfounded, unnecessary step to try and impeach a duly-elected President of the United States, they fuel our base, they fuel our supporters. So go ahead Democrats, you’re making it easier for us to win again in 2020,” she said on Fox Business Network.
Campaign manager Brad Parscale said the campaign had one of its best fundraising days ever in the 24 hours after the first public impeachment hearing, collecting $3.1 million in small-dollar donations.
Trump campaign senior advisers Kimberly Guilfoyle and Katrina Pierson will host a Women for Trump “Empower Hour” ahead of the Democrat debates on Tuesday “to highlight the accomplishments of President Trump’s administration and his commitment to empowering women and families,” the campaign said.
The person close to the pro-Trump focus group research said of the president’s slippage among suburban voters, “We see that. It’s true.”
Noting that America First Policies also conducted focus groups in Georgia, the same source said the traditionally red state is a concern because of changes among female voters in the Atlanta suburbs.
“We don’t want [Georgia] to be our Michigan,” the source said, referring to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss of the traditionally blue state, which she took for granted. “We’ve got to lock it up.”
This person said of suburban women voters, “We are targeting them. These women will come on his side when you mention the Second Amendment. There are a lot out there that feel very passionately and very strong about their Second Amendment being infringed on. And then it’s also [about] socialism.”
The source said undecided voters in the focus groups panned Mr. Trump’s tweeting, and expressed views that he should be “more presidential” and not “such a bully.” But some of those same voters say they like Mr. Trump’s habit of fighting back against his critics.
The focus groups also suggest there is again a phenomenon of the “hidden” Trump voter — people who support him but don’t talk about it because they believe it will be unpopular among friends, neighbors or relatives.
“People I know who are Democrats are a little louder with their views,” said a woman in Phoenix. “I don’t have a Trump sticker on my car. I’m not stupid. I don’t want to get my car scratched. People are so crazy.”
Said another woman, “The fanaticism … is so high right now, it’s scary. You have to be very careful to disclose your political views to anybody. It’s scary.”
The Trump reelection campaign is making a major effort nationwide to register voters for 2020, believing that there are many potential Trump voters who support him but haven’t registered.