The poll, released Wednesday, was conducted Saturday through Tuesday evenings. Trump made provocative remarks Monday about barring Muslims from entering the United States.
It looks like his comments help him in South Carolina. Support for Trump increased eight points after his statement — from 30 percent the first two nights vs. 38 percent the last two nights. The shift is within the margin of sampling error.
Republican pollster Daron Shaw says, “There are enough people in the last two nights of the sample to question the widespread assumption that Trump’s comments will hurt him among GOP primary voters.”
Frank Luntz conducted a focus group last night in D.C. of 29 people who are either supporting Trump, used to support him, or are considering it. When asked about the ban, 17 of the 29 backed it. This is interesting, though, and familiar:
Several pushed back on the question to say that Trump has only proposed this as a temporary, short-term measure. Several cited the same dubious evidence that Trump does to argue that up to a quarter of Muslims around the world are radicalized.
In other words, some Trump fans cheered him for his initial hardline position (keep the Muslims out!) while others focused on him later saying that the ban would be temporary and possibly short (he’s only keeping them out for a little while!). Just last night, as the focus group was happening, Trump continued the walkback by telling Don Lemon of CNN that the ban “could go quickly.” That’s the “step four” in Trump’s rhetorical game-playing that I wrote about on Tuesday. Trump doesn’t lose fans when he tosses these rhetorical grenades, not because all of his fans are with him 100 percent but because he always adds some moderating detail after the fact to give the moderates in his coalition a way to continue to justify their support for him to themselves. Jonah Goldberg described his strategy this way:
Trump says something indefensible, half-baked, or otherwise ridiculous. He then walks it back slightly or — as he did with taking-in Syrian refugees — entirely. His defenders take the revised version of what he said at face value, add in a serious point or two that Trump has not actually made, and then make it sound like his critics are the unreasonable ones.
Right. It’s the same M.O. as immigration: We’re sending all the illegals home (hardline!) except we’re also letting all of the good ones back in (not so hardline!). All I’d add to Goldberg is that the segment of Trump’s fans who like the hardline idea as-is and the segment who’ll tolerate it once he’s watered it down a bit aren’t completely separate. I think there’s some chunk of Trump fans who like him enough that they’ll spin for him both ways. If you criticize him for pushing a hardline idea, they’ll argue that you’re forgetting the part where he modified it. And then, if you keep pushing and claim that the modified bit makes no sense, they’ll fall back to, “Well, so what? The hardline idea is pretty good, frankly.” If a ban on all Muslims from entering the U.S. could be lifted quickly, as Trump hinted to CNN, then it makes no sense. Nothing’s going to be achieved in a few weeks or months on counterterrorism that would suddenly make it “safe” again to lift that ban. The fact that he’s emphasizing that it might be temporary is proof that it’s a political pander, not something that he thinks would improve security. To which Trump’s fans might say, “Okay, so make the ban permanent.” That’s a more serious policy proposal, but that’s the unvarnished hardline position — beyond what even Trump has suggested. And given how he imagines the plan would work in practice, that would achieve next to nothing too.
Anyway. According to Dave Weigel, who watched Luntz’s Q&A with the group, support for Trump among the people there strengthened over the course of three hours even though Luntz focused heavily on things Trump has said that he’s taken heat for — the Muslim ban, mocking that disabled reporter, dismissing McCain as a war hero because he got captured, and so forth. Not only does excoriating him not work, it backfires. But then, we already knew that. In lieu of an exit question, here’s a tweet worth preserving:
This Trump focus group is now mostly justifying him mocking the disabled reporter. Hour 3 starting now
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) December 10, 2015