Focus group of Ohio Trump voters: Do you believe him or Comey on this Russia stuff?

It’s too soon for polls gauging reaction to Comey’s testimony yesterday but the clip below that’s being circulated by the RNC gives you a clue how it’ll go, in case there was a shred of doubt.

This, from John Podhoretz, captures the dynamic succinctly:

And of course the left would be arguing the “it wasn’t obstruction!” position. The smartest knock on Comey in the clip comes from two guys who wonder why, if he was so bothered by Trump’s request for loyalty and pressure over Mike Flynn, he didn’t speak up and tell him directly that it was improper. That was a mistake, one that lends itself to the theory that he cared more about protecting his job than reining in the president, although I think it can be explained in terms of the dynamics of a superior/subordinate relationship. When your boss asks you to do something shady, do you get in his face or do you say nothing and ignore him in hopes that he won’t ask again — especially if what he’s asking isn’t clearly illegal? It’s not so much a matter of Comey being desperate to keep his job, I think, since he’ll make more in the private sector than he would at the Bureau. It’s a matter of not knowing how to respond in the moment when an authority, who in this case happens to be the world’s most powerful person, surprised you by requesting something improper. The shock plus the sense of your own subordination plus the impulse towards “politeness” in what had been a friendly interaction can lead you to freeze.

On the other hand, is Comey above lying? Read this, in which he claimed yesterday contra available evidence that his only knowledge of the grounds for Jeff Sessions’s recusal came from Sessions’s public statements. Was that faulty memory or something worse?

In any case, the “Comey should have thwarted Trump’s bad impulses” defense smells a lot like Paul Ryan arguing yesterday that we can’t be too hard on the guy since he’s new to politics and doesn’t understand how government ethics work yet. In both cases, Trump is held to a lower standard than the people around him. Somehow, to the focus-group panelists, it’s the recipient of the improper request who’s to blame for not defusing the situation rather than the president who made it. If Comey had confronted Trump and told him that his loyalty/Flynn requests were plainly wrong, and then Trump fired him, how many Republicans would have sided with Comey even then?

Congressional Republicans are less loyal than the base, it seems:

Tellingly, the Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee paid no heed to the talking points distributed in advance by the Republican National Committee at the behest of the White House. Instead of attacking Mr. Comey’s credibility, as the R.N.C. and Donald Trump Jr. did, the Republican senators praised him as a patriot and dedicated public servant. They largely accepted his version of events, while trying to elicit testimony that would cast Mr. Trump’s actions in the most innocent light possible.

When CNN asks the focus-group panelists if they believe Comey lied at any point, several hands go up. When they ask if they believe Trump lied, no one — no one — agrees even though Team Trump lied as recently as yesterday afternoon in accusing Comey of leaking his memo to the Times before Trump tweeted about possibly having “tapes” of their chats. And that’s not the only potential lie that White House staff are worried about:

For their part, many of Mr. Trump’s aides were less than impressed by the public performance of Mr. Kasowitz, a lawyer based in New York who has earned the president’s respect and, for the moment, his situational obedience. A hastily drafted initial statement to the news media contained typos — “president” was misspelled — and he delivered it in a harried monotone, staring down at his text, to reporters gathered at the National Press Club…

Several current and former Trump aides said they were especially concerned about Mr. Kasowitz’s unqualified assertion that the president had “never told Mr. Comey, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,’” as Mr. Comey said on Thursday.

Trump allegedly said that during a dinner with Comey on January 27 in the Green Room of the White House, so there’s probably no recording that could prove or disprove it either way. Probably.

Exit question: Weren’t there more interesting focus groups CNN could have pulled together than this? Imagine asking nine Clinton voters to watch Comey’s testimony and sound off afterwards. On which side do you suppose they’d come down? Literally every person here answers in the affirmative when asked if they felt better about Trump after listening to Comey even though Comey made a point of calling Trump a liar, accused him of improperly (if not illegally) trying to influence an investigation, and suggested that the current Trump-appointed Attorney General might have concealed under oath yet another meeting he had with the Russian ambassador. It’s good that the media is trying to correct its neglect of middle-American opinion last year by doing stuff like this, but this borders on overcorrection. If you want a real middle-American take on Russiagate, pull nine people aside randomly and ask them about Trump and Comey. Likeliest response: “Who’s ‘Comey’?”