White House

Many Trump voters unruffled by reports of Russian hacking

President-elect Donald Trump during a rally at the Giant Center, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, in Hershey, Pa.
President-elect Donald Trump during a rally at the Giant Center, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, in Hershey, Pa. AP

To Sylvanus Beahm, a retired steelworker from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the allegations that Russia meddled in the November election to hurt Hillary Clinton are a load of bunk, peddled by sore losers.

“Those Democrats just don’t want to stop, do they?” said Beahm, 84, himself a registered Democrat, but one that voted against his party’s nominee in November.

“Someone’s trying to find another reason why she got beat instead of listening to the people,” Beahm said Friday. “That’s who beat her: the people. Not Russia, not China, not Mexico.”

In nearly a dozen interviews with Donald Trump supporters who were part of polling done by McClatchy and the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, the sentiment was clear: They see coverage of the issue as an effort to delegitimize Trump.

Beahm is unmoved by reports that Russian-directed hackers reportedly pilfered Democratic National Committee emails to sabotage Clinton, saying he won’t be convinced, without proof.

“What does he want? Another election?” said Beahm, a Korean War veteran who called a reporter back as President Barack Obama spoke at the White House about Russia. “It’s over. She got her butt beat. The people spoke.”

In a political world where Trump voters include some of the most conservative strands of American thought, the lack of alarm over the likelihood that Russia hacked into an American political party’s computers with the hopes of influencing an election’s outcome is surprising, maybe even startling.

I’m not going to sit there and let Vladimir Putin decide how I’m voting.

Trump voter Dawn Foley

Obama expressed that sense during his news conference Friday, noting at one point that a recent poll showed 37 percent of Republicans had a favorable impression of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave,” Obama said, blaming such a development on the anti-Democratic fervor that has driven Republicans in Washington for eight years.

And nothing in the phone interviews suggested that Trump voters would have a change of mind, even if it is publicly confirmed that Russia did launch a cyberattack against Clinton. In any case, Trump supporters said, it didn’t make a difference in the outcome of the election.

“People are trying to shoot Trump down before he’s even in office,” said Jimmy Swan, a Columbia, S.C., retiree. “I think people are blowing this out of proportion.”

That was the opinion even of those who expressed concern that Russia had hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s computers, like Dawn Foley, a 54-year-old Trump supporter from Georgia. Whatever the Russians did, it had little to do with the outcome of the election, she added.

“If they changed votes, that’s a big deal,” she said. “But I’m not going to sit there and let Vladimir Putin decide how I’m voting, and I don’t think most Americans are going to allow Russia to make that decision for them.”

She accused Democrats of breaking their promise to accept the results of the election.

“Everyone wants to point a finger when they lose,” Foley said. She added that the leaked emails seemed only to further underscore that Clinton could not be trusted: “Her integrity was bad from the beginning, and it just seemed like it got worse.”

Like other Trump supporters, Foley said she supports the incoming president’s assertion that the U.S. should attempt to improve relations with Russia.

“Why not try to work with people instead of against them?” Foley asked. She suggested Trump’s strategy may be to “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

“He’s not a stupid guy, he wants to keep Vladimir Putin close because he wants to know what’s going on,” she said. “He’s a businessman. He knows what it takes to get the job done and that includes knowing all you need to know about people. I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.”

Some Trump supporters did acknowledge second thoughts about Trump’s choice for Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson, the Exxon-Mobile chief executive officer who has had close ties with Putin and has said his company did not support the U.S. sanctions that were imposed against Russia after it seized Ukraine’s Crimea.

But Michael Hilbrant, 45, of Pensacola, Florida, said he believes Trump will always have U.S. interests at heart.

“If he finds someone in a position not acting on our behalf, I think he’s going to fire him and put someone else in the position to do the job,” Hilbrant said.

Hilbrant, too, said he was mostly unmoved by the specter of Russia hacking, suggesting Clinton and her campaign “should have been a little more careful of what they were saying in their emails.”

He said he also questioned how troubling the Russian intervention was when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for an investigation.

“It would be more legitimate had Nancy Pelosi not stepped in,” he said. “She tries to use everything for politics.”

Karianne Rondeau, 39, of Spruce, Michigan, said she found it more alarming that Democrats are “spouting off these things as facts and truth.” She said it remains unproven that the Russians were behind the hacking, although Obama said Friday that Russia was responsible.

“Just because the Democrats and the mainstream media say it’s so doesn’t mean I believe it,” she said.

A self-described conservative and a Republican voter, Rondeau said she’s not opposed to Trump’s seemingly more friendly approach to Russia.

The Obama administration opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea, she said, but was unable to prevent it.

“They were overstepping in Crimea, but what did the Obama administration do?” she said. “They obviously didn’t have a good enough relationship with them so maybe if we at least have more of a relationship of some kind maybe they will not be the bullies of the world.”

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark