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Republicans Struggle To Criticize Trump


Over the last year and a half, Republicans have struggled with whether or not to criticize the more controversial actions of President Trump and his administration. The president's handling of the Russia meeting in Helsinki has been a real test for them. After a week of woulds and wouldn'ts, double negatives and conflicting messages from the White House, Republicans in Congress offered a variety of criticisms of Russia, and a few had more direct reproaches toward the president himself. Republicans appear to be making calculations about their own popularity versus the president's. And there is an election in November. Doug Rivers is a chief scientist at the polling and data company YouGov. He joins us now to discuss the incentives - or lack thereof - for Republican candidates to criticize the president.

Mr. Rivers, welcome.


COLEMAN: Speaking as somebody who has seen a lot of data on a lot of races, what did you notice when you saw the range of responses last week?

RIVERS: Well, the public did not react as strongly as the Congress did, strictly among Republicans. So there was - Republicans in the electorate were somewhat mixed in their responses, in some cases majorities saying that Trump had done a good job in Washington, while most congressmen in Washington were critical or silent.

COLEMAN: We had one representative from Texas, Republican Will Hurd - went so far as to say in an opinion piece that the president was being manipulated by Russia. So if we assume that he's saying, A, what he feels, but, B, is politically aware, who is he trying to reach out to? Who is he wooing?

RIVERS: Well, I think a lot of Republicans would hope that their constituents would follow them, but what we've seen in most cases is that Republican voters have tended to follow Trump. The most striking I think is John McCain. You know, this is the man that was a Republican presidential nominee in 2008. His favorability ratings among Republicans now are down in the low 30s, and his favorability among Democrats is above 60 percent. So if you go against Trump, what you will see is that Republicans will not follow you, and it'll make you popular among Democrats. But that's not a good choice for a lot of Republican representatives.

COLEMAN: So what factors go into a candidate's decision to speak out about controversies facing this administration?

RIVERS: Well, the ones that have spoken out are largely the ones retiring. It takes guts for someone running for re-election in a Republican primary because the Republican base is quite Trumpy (ph). That doesn't make them popular overall because Republicans are, you know, under 30 percent of the electorate in the country.

COLEMAN: With primary season coming to a close, can we expect any change in the way that candidates will talk about President Trump?

RIVERS: I think people are watching the polls to see if - for weakness in Republican voters. So overall, Republicans are supporting Trump at about a 90 percent rate. But you can see portions of weakness. So for example, if you ask Republican voters, they're not strong approvers of the Mueller investigation. But on the other hand, what you see is that most of them say, we should wait for that report to come in. I think the public, in this case, is likely to follow up more slowly than representatives in Congress.

COLEMAN: That's Doug Rivers of YouGov. Mr. Rivers, thank you for joining us.

RIVERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.