Annie Anthony, a 56-year-old volunteer coordinator and part-time Uber driver from Wilmington, had high hopes for Donald Trump.
She voted for Trump because she is opposed to abortion, because she didn’t like the way Hillary Clinton handled Benghazi, and because she liked the idea of someone “draining the swamp.”
Now she’s not so sure about Trump.
“I thought his ideas appealed to me,” said Anthony, who describes herself as “a weak Republican.” “But since he’s been in there he’s embarrassed me by his behavior.”
Anthony was one of a dozen Wilmington-area residents who participated in a focus group on Nov. 15 sponsored by Emory University of Atlanta and led by Democratic pollster Peter Hart. The group included seven who had voted for Hillary Clinton and five who voted for Trump in the last election.
The focus group underscored what numerous public opinion polls have suggested – that Trump has lost ground in North Carolina since he carried the state by a 50 to 46 percent margin a year ago.
After his first 300 days in office, the participants used such terms as “incompetent,” “childlike,” “troubled,” “loose-cannon,” “cold,” “immature narcissist,” and “embarrassing,” to describe the president.
For Anthony, Trump does not come across as presidential, especially in his tweeting.
“I mean, he dresses nice and Melania is looking good,” she said. “When he’s away he’s great being the president, he’s the showman. But at home … I can’t imagine how they let him build a country club, let alone be in one, because we don’t behave that way. And I’ve been surprised that a billionaire would behave the way he has.”
Anthony hopes that something good will come out of Trump’s push for Congress to pass tax reform. But she said ending tax deductions for charitable donations would hurt the nonprofits she works for. And she says if the Affordable Care Act were to be eliminated, “I’ll not be able to go to the doctor anymore.”
Melissa Hight, a 62-year old retiree with a postgraduate degree who voted for Trump, is still hopeful for the Republican tax plan because she thinks it will help bring jobs back from overseas. And she cheers Trump’s efforts to roll back Obamacare, saying the program has not been workable.
But Hight, who describes herself as more of a conservative than a Republican, also has reservations about the president, who she says has been “antagonistic.”
“I had high hopes,” Hight said. “I think he just goes about things in a way that gets everybody’s back up. He doesn’t facilitate working together. He comes out with these grandiose ideas and there’s no follow-through. It’s a lot of talk and I had such hopes that maybe things would be repaired, the whole country would be better off with him as president but he hasn’t acted presidential at all. The tweets bother me. They may be enlightening to some people. I’m not a tweeter. But to me, firing off these tweets is just childish a lot of times.”
Another Trump voter, Emily Bell, a 32-year-old occupational therapist with a postgraduate degree, described the president as rude and stressful.
“I feel like he told people that he had all these big ideas and big plans, and it just seems to kind of roll to something else,” Bell said. “Like nothing is ever accomplished.”
She added: “I am going to stay optimistic, but I lean more toward being independent. Really it will come down (in 2020) to who I can trust more as president.”
Michael Leimone, 41, who cooks pizzas at a chain restaurant, is a Trump voter who describes the last year as a “whirlwind” and “vacant.”
“He’s not been there when you needed him to be there,” Leimone said, noting the unrest in Charlottesville, Va., and the response to hurricanes.
“He was a loose cannon and I wouldn’t want him dating my daughter if they were the same age, but at the same time, what we’ve had for years and years, not just Obama, but leading up to that, they were not getting the job done leading the country either.”
Leimone said he remains optimistic about Trump.
“He still has a lot of time to prove something,” he said. “It’s still better than having the career politician in there. ... Nobody can do it all by themselves, so he has had a hard road because everybody hates him, not just the Democrats and not just the Republicans. He still has a lot of time to prove himself.”
The only one of the focus group participants who was still strongly for Trump was Cynthia Layton, a 64-year-old nurse anesthetist, who said she loves Trump’s tweets.
“I like him because he talks like my neighbor talks to me,” Layton said. “I don’t need an elitist person talking down to me. The media does not give an honest opinion. That’s why I turned off cable 10 years ago. I read my sites. I listen to his tweets. … That’s how I hear from him. The media doesn’t tell you what’s going on, so you have to find out what’s going on on your own. ... To me, I think his tweets are simply what he honestly feels because he uses white and black language and doesn’t give you all these flowery descriptions about everything. I appreciate that he’s direct and tells it like it is.”
There was some good news for Trump. The president gets credit for a good economy.
“His attempts to bring economy, jobs, infrastructure, construction, I think those are good moves as a businessman. I mean, that’s what he knows,” said Katrina Harrell, a 38-year-old Clinton voter and business consultant.
Several Republicans also liked the stances Trump has taken on trade and on terrorism.
Trump, they said, helps keep this country’s adversaries off balance.
“I think he’s got that unpredictability that when he does that ‘shock and awe’ thing or some of those comments, it makes everybody go, ‘What?’ and they kind of pause,’’ said Anthony.
Despite some rather harsh comments about Trump, none of the Republican members of the panel said they had ruled out voting for Trump in 2020.