Politics & Government

Dem operatives craft Trump-Mueller message for 2018 elections

How can Democrats most effectively rally support for Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump team’s ties to Russia?

Remind the public — which mostly thinks the probe has failed to uncover potential crimes — that the months-long investigation has yielded almost two dozen indictments so far, a group of top Democratic operatives urged party officials, activists and candidates on Wednesday.

According to recommendations released Wednesday by Navigator, a group of leading party pollsters and strategists who are trying to help progressive leaders and Democratic candidates devise the most politically effective messages for 2018, 59 percent of the public thinks the special counsel investigation into Russia’s attempts to support Donald Trump’s campaign has yet to reveal any evidence of wrongdoing by his team.

It’s a result Democratic operatives might find surprising given how much attention the probe has received; 97 percent of Americans have heard at least “a little” about the investigation, the report found.

But to the report’s authors, that widespread lack of knowledge about the probe’s results so far gives Democrats a chance to argue that the investigation should continue, even in the face of Republican calls to wrap it up.

The report found that when presented with two arguments — one that the year-old investigation should be ended and another that the multitude of indictments is proof it should continue — 59 percent of the public (and 63 percent of independents) side with the argument that the probe should keep going.

That’s a far better result for Democrats than other messages tested, including that ending the investigation would let the Russians win after interfering with the last presidential election and that an experienced official such as Mueller deserved to finish the investigation.

The only message that tested better was arguing that nobody, including the president of the United States, was above the law: 63 percent of the public sided with that argument, including 64 percent of independents.

It’s less convincing to counter that ending the investigation would encourage more Russian meddling, or to simply appeal to the credentials of the investigator, special counsel Robert Mueller, the report found.

The special counsel’s investigation has thus far yielded charges against 22 people or companies, including former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort.

A spokesman for Navigator said it does not want to tell Democrats what to talk about, only how best to talk about whatever subject they focus on. Last month’s Navigator report discussed how the party should talk about the economy.

This month focused on the Russian investigation, including whether the public was more concerned that the president might have colluded with foreign government agents during the 2016 presidential election or that he might have attempted to obstruct justice into the subsequent investigation.

The public — by a seven-point margin — said they were more concerned that the president had obstructed justice. The margin grew to 12 points among independents.

Mueller himself is viewed ambivalently by the public. Although a solid majority, 55 percent, say they support a continued investigation, only about a third (34 percent) thinks he’s doing a good job, according to the report. Another third say he is handling the investigation poorly, while another third aren’t sure.

Only 11 percent of Republicans say Mueller is handling the investigation well, compared to 60 percent who say he is not.

But congressional Republicans fare even worse in the public’s view: Just 16 percent of people think GOP lawmakers have handled Mueller’s probe into Trump well, while 58 percent said they have not handled it well.

Overall, only 27 percent of Americans say they approve of the job congressional Republicans are doing to hold the Trump Administration accountable, compared to 53 percent who disapprove.

Asked what concerned them the most about congressional Republicans response to the Mueller probe, 47 percent of people said it was “putting politics over country.”