Lion kings, gorillas, Labradors and road kill: The 2016 presidential campaign as viewed from the perspective of a handful of Pennsylvania “Wal-Mart moms”

April 25, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 25, 2016

When I last wrote about politics, I discussed a cockamamie scheme to draft a retired Marine general into running a third-party presidential campaign that would block either Trump or Clinton from winning the Electoral College.

I wanted to return to the subject of politics after reading this Todd Gillman story about the possibility of a contested Republican National Convention, which seems high indeed. The article, published Friday, concerns focus groups that were held in Pennsylvania last week by a pair of pollsters, one Republican and one Democratic. Gillman concluded that “for at least one group of Wal-Mart moms — an umbrella demographic that stands for much of the electorate … depriving Trump of the prize if he’s ahead would deeply offend many voters.”

(The pollsters define Wal-Mart moms as voters with children age 18 or younger at home and who shopped at Walmart at least once in the past month; they comprise roughly 15 percent of the electorate. According to Gillman, they include members from a wide range of income brackets.)

Gillman does a good job of presenting the arguments for and against a contested convention. The cons mainly come from the mouths of 10 anonymous so-called Wal-Mart moms from the Pittsburgh area, all registered Republicans, who said their sense of fair play would be offended if the candidate with a plurality of votes didn’t wind up receiving the nomination.

For the arguments in favor of a less successful candidate — or, potentially, a non-candidate, should Paul Ryan change his mind — getting the GOP nomination, Gillman turned to Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer, who noted “that in the recount election of 2000, Democrat Al Gore collected the most popular votes but readily acknowledged that he needed a majority in the Electoral College.” Gillman also quoted a CNN interview in which Spicer said, “There’s no other time that we would ever say — whether it’s politics or sports — ‘Hey, if you get to the 2-yard line, well that counts as a touchdown.’ That’s just not how the rules work.”

So far, so good. But for me, the really eye-opening stuff came in these two paragraphs near the end of Gillman’s article:

[H]ardly any of the Wal-Mart moms find a Trump presidency alarming. That sets them apart from GOP insiders who foresee electoral catastrophe with Trump atop the ticket, or rock-ribbed conservatives dismayed by his ideological flexibility.

And [U.S. Sen. Ted] Cruz found little affection in this focus group. Asked to name an animal he reminds them of, one said gorilla, “because it’s very close to being a human.” Another said “your neighbor’s dog.… It might be OK, but you’re never too sure.”

The first paragraph isn’t shocking — Trump is the leading GOP vote-getter because he’s appealing to somebody, and although his negatives are high among women, these moms are clearly among that somebody. But while I personally find Cruz to be unappealing in terms of policies, personality and physiognomy, I was simply astonished by the antipathy the focus panelists had for the senator from Texas.

When I checked the pollsters’ memo about the focus group, I found that Kasich is also viewed dimly: One said “I think they like him in Ohio”; another said he was “too sane” (you read that right: too sane!); and he was also described as “mild, like a kitten.”

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) didn’t generate much enthusiasm, either, being described as “an Escort with 300,000 miles” and the “family Labrador that doesn’t do tricks anymore”; several wondered if he had enough energy to serve as president.

Clinton was viewed nearly as unflatteringly as Cruz. The GOP moms described used the words “weasel, rattlesnake, monkey at the zoo” to describe her. A group of Wal-Mart moms who are also swing voters, whom the pollsters convened near Philadelphia, questioned Clinton’s authenticity.

Trump elicited split views, unsurprisingly. The GOP focus group members “depicted him as a Porsche, a Ferrari, a muscle car, a boxer who stands his ground, a bulldog, an Escalade, a lion (fierce and King of the Jungle) and as an unpredictable cat.” (I have to assume that whoever described Trump as a lion hasn’t peered too closely at his mane.) The swing voters called Trump “a cheetah, a clown car, a hyena, a Porsche, roadkill and as an anaconda.”

Some of these focus group results were a bit dispiriting. I was sorry to read that many panelists could articulate few if any policy positions of the candidates; that many described themselves as “confused” by the delegate math; and that many were disinterested in the fact that the Republican-controlled Senate, in defiance of precedent and constitutional text, is staunchly refusing to hold hearings on a potential successor to the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.

But I found myself in complete agreement with the focus groupers who called the presidential campaign a circus: “One Mom likened it to an April Fool’s joke — except that the joke is on the voters.”

It’s hard to argue with that, sister.

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