Secret Russia meeting? So what. Collusion? Nah. Media outrage? Fake news.
Anyone who thinks the Republican base will abandon President Donald Trump over the latest Russia revelations is sorely mistaken.
According to a POLITICO survey of more than two dozen local Republican Party leaders in counties where 2018’s most competitive races are shaping up, the GOP grassroots aren’t fazed by news of Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting last year with a Kremlin-linked lawyer or the daily drip of stories about Trump and Russia. They aren’t even paying close attention.
That’s a problem for Democrats, who will likely need to win over the support of some Trump-backing Republican voters in the battleground congressional districts where the House majority will be won or lost in 2018.
“It’s pretty much a non-issue. Most people that do reference it, reference it as a witch hunt. It’s a one-sided thing: ‘Trump, Russia, Russia, Russia, Russia.’ I hear more about that than any credible evidence against Trump, Trump Jr.,” said Carl Bunce, chairman of the Las Vegas-based GOP in Nevada’s Clark County, where two tight House races are expected to be fought.
“It’s just all noise to people on the ground here. People on the ground are just concerned about job security. It’s almost embarrassing for the media from my perspective. Move on. I’m sure they could find something else to report on,” he said.
While it’s too soon for any public polling on the new controversy surrounding the president’s son, Republican voters in general haven’t budged in their support of the president — 8 in 10 back him nationwide, according to a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll this month.
One reason is that the Russia narrative simply isn’t one that party activists are following closely — or even believe.
“Yeah, so I haven’t heard about that, I guess that’s an indication of where it is on my radar,” said Brian Murphy, the GOP chairman of southern New Hampshire’s Rockingham County, referring to Tuesday’s publication of Trump Jr.’s emails arranging a meeting with a Russian lawyer offering information that would “incriminate” Hillary Clinton.
“We haven’t heard a lot of scuttlebutt about it. I think it’s a whole lot about nothing,” said Craig DuMond, GOP vice-chair in Delaware County, N.Y., where Rep. John Faso is a top Democratic target. “It’s something really, personally, I’ve dismissed. It’s a lot about nothing.”
Any collusion, went a common refrain, is between the news media and the desperate, out-of-power Democratic Party.
“Democrats and their allies in the media are actually doing the country a disservice with their ‘scandal each day’ narrative,” added San Diego County Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric, whose local congressman, Republican Darrell Issa, is facing a highly competitive reelection race. “While it’s like catnip for the elites and it keeps pundits busy, regular people tune it out.”
Echoing an administration that regularly refers to stories about possible ties to Russia as a “witch hunt” driven by the “fake news” media, local Republican officials were quick to insist the constant coverage said more about the state of the press — and its alleged hatred for the president — than Trump.
Their takeaway from the glut of stories? The media can’t be trusted.
“The story with Don Jr. falls into the category of being taken with a grain of salt, or several grains of salt. People are reserving judgment,” said Vlad Davidiuk, a senior official in Texas’ Harris County GOP. There, in the Houston suburbs where Republican Rep. John Culberson’s seat is considered vulnerable next year, Davidiuk notes that voters are more concerned with the state’s impending legislative special session.
“It’s part of the over-saturation of the Russia story and the collusion allegations. And [having] no evidence to back up those original assertions kind of led people to the conclusion that a lot of it was manufactured. A lot of the subsequent reporting and stories that emerged showed [that] some people in the mainstream media were using the story to further a political narrative or boost ratings artificially,” he said.
Among Republicans at the local level at least, the latest revelations that have rocked Washington are little more than a product of Democratic overreach, without any real implications for GOP candidates next year.
“The coverage is overblown. It’s a product of the fact that the Democrats and the DNC don’t have their own message, and they’re reduced to buckshot, blanket criticism of the president,” said Murphy. “If you put that criticism coupled with the media, they believe that what they’re reporting on is salient and appropriate, and the DNC and the Democrats think that it’s critical for them to message in that anti-Trump manner, but it’s really out of tune with what Americans are looking for and what is truly newsworthy.”
Even talking about it, many insist, is a waste of time.
“There are certainly much more important issues,” said Roxie Armstrong, GOP chair of Kansas’ suburban Wyandotte County, where Rep. Kevin Yoder is facing a competitive challenge in a seat that Clinton carried in 2016.
Armstrong then hung up the phone.