How do Democratic voters outside the Beltway bubble really feel about the Mueller report? To quote an old line from Chevy Chase back when SNL was still funny — nobody’s listening and nobody cares. Swing-district Democrats meeting with voters haven’t heard a a peep about Robert Mueller or Russiagate during Easter break town halls. Instead, they want to know about policies — and what the party plans to do about Ilhan Omar, Politico’s Sarah Ferris reports:
The Mueller report may be consuming Washington — but it barely registers for vulnerable Democrats meeting voters outside the Beltway.
In a half-dozen town halls from California to Connecticut this week, swing district Democrats fielded few — if any — questions about special counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly two-year probe, even as it threatens to dominate the party’s summer agenda.
No one, for example, asked Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) about Mueller’s report during a town hall here this week at a high school auditorium in her central Virginia district. The former CIA spy acknowledged in an interview that some people are still digesting the 448-page report, but added that it’s proof that “what’s in the news constantly” shouldn’t drive Democrats’ focus.
Reality has dawned on Democrats — at least those who have escaped the Beltway bubble. First-term Minnesotan Dean Phillips hasn’t heard much about here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and wonders whether his party is leaving voters with a very bad impression:
“I’m concerned that the country might start feeling like all we’re doing is talking about Mueller, and that’s not the case,” Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) said in an interview after he spent about two weeks in his Twin Cities suburbs district. “I’ve been very surprised by how few people brought it up since I’ve been back.”
Fellow Minnesotan Angie Craig’s meetings with voters show a similar lack of obsession. Ferris reports that even when Democrats lead off with a “briefing” on the Mueller report, voters change the subject. They want to hear about infrastructure more than Washington DC infighting, and the Green New Deal more than subpoenas. Voters even peppered Democrats about their response to Omar’s anti-Semitic comments, although Ferris is ambiguous about where those questions came up and in what context. Presumably Phillips got a question or two about it, since his district borders Omar’s and MN-03 also has a significant number of Jewish voters (Phillips himself is Jewish).
In this case, Nancy Pelosi is correct in attempting to steer her party away from impeachment and back to policy. It’s not just that there’s no consensus for impeachment and removal; it’s that few people outside the reach of cameras care any longer about the Mueller investigation. The report closed the issue for them, and now they want their elected representatives to get back to work for voters rather than keep engaging in warfare for warfare’s sake. And this fatigue is among Democratic voters.
That’s why I warned about the gamble Democrats are taking in my column at The Week. The beating of dead horses does not impress too many people, even if it makes for good copy in the moment:
Voters generally don’t like Trump much personally, but they’ve also just seen wild allegations of Trump being a Russian agent and/or stealing the election in 2016 collapse in Mueller’s report on Russian collusion. Political partisans (and pundits, too, for that matter) might relish the conflict, but voters largely hoped that the Mueller report would put an end to this particular inside-the-Beltway feud and shift focus back to their priorities.
Instead, to paraphrase Al Pacino from another disappointing sequel: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” A decision by Democrats to pursue impeachment over an obstruction charge in a politically charged independent investigation would be risky — a lesson Republicans learned21 years ago after the move to impeach Bill Clinton. The longer voters keep hearing about the non-collusion in 2016, the more Democrats risk major backlash in the 2020 election.
Perhaps this reminder of real life in the Easter break will snap Democrats out of their obsession and get them focused on business again.