“I’ll try not to sound too awful, but I want to thank the Russians for interfering with our election to stop Hillary Clinton from becoming president,” Mary Lou from Connecticut said upon calling into C-SPAN on Monday. “That woman has got illusions of grandeur.”
“Let me ask you, do you think Russian interference is the reason Trump won in 2016?” the host asked.
“Yes, because the Russians interfered,” Mary Lou affirmed.
The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins extended that thought in a tweet.
“If Trump & co. just pivoted to ‘Aren’t you glad Russia helped us defeat Hillary Clinton?’ ” he asked, “would there be any serious blowback from his base?”
This is all anecdotal. Because four Trump supporters said on social media that they would be fine with Russian interference on behalf of their political side doesn’t mean that all Trump supporters would — or even that a majority would.
Pollsters, understandably, haven’t yet broached this question in their surveys. After all, pollsters aren’t generally in the habit of asking people whether they think criminal acts are good or bad; it’s presumed that the common view is that they’re bad.
But it may be a question worth asking in this politically polarized moment.
We do know that, generally speaking, Republicans are more skeptical than independents and Democrats about whether any interference took place. Last month, Fox News found that a majority of Republicans and Trump voters didn’t think Russia had interfered, while a plurality of independents and a large majority of Democrats said that the interference took place.
When Quinnipiac University asked a similar question in March, the results were slightly different. More Republicans said that interference had been attempted — but most said, contra Mary Lou, that it wasn’t effective. Democrats overwhelmingly viewed it as both real and effective.
At the same time, Republicans are much more likely to have positive or neutral views of Russia than members of other political groups. In Quinnipiac’s poll, a plurality of Republicans held that Russia is neither an ally nor an adversary.
In a PRRI poll last August, more Republicans described Russia as “friendly” than as “unfriendly” or an “enemy” of the United States. Majorities of independents and Democrats labeled Russia as an “enemy” or at least “unfriendly” to the country.
How does this all sync? How big is that group of people who (1) support Trump, (2) believe Russia interfered, (3) believe it was successful and (4) have a positive view of Russia after that occurred? Almost certainly it’s very small.
Except that we know at least one prominent Republican whose view of Russian meddling seems to be that it was not that big a deal: President Trump.
While he’s been fairly straightforward in his repeated assertions that Russia didn’t interfere in the 2016 election, he also offered almost exactly the case Coppins presents in defense of Donald Trump Jr. when it emerged last year that he’d taken a meeting with a Kremlin-linked attorney offering dirt on Clinton.
“That’s politics!” What matters is winning, not how you play the game. If Trump were to unequivocally admit that Russia intervened in 2016 and, further, that it was the difference-maker — an admission that will never occur — it’s hard to see a circumstance in which Trump would then condemn Russia for having done so.
Part of the reason Republican views of the situation differ so much from Democrats’, certainly, is that they’re a reflection of Trump’s views. Trump generally claims not to think Russia interfered in 2016 and rejects the idea that any interference mattered. If his view changed, it’s safe to assume that the view of many in his party would, too.
For what it’s worth, most Republicans also believe that Russia isn’t trying to interfere in the 2018 elections. Fox News’s June poll shows that nearly two-thirds of Republicans aren’t worried at all about the prospect of interference.
It raises a question that serves as a corollary to Coppins’s: If Russia intervened in the midterms on behalf of the Democrats, how would it be received by members of either party?
If the Russians’ goal were to increase divisiveness in U.S. politics, that’s their natural next move.