GOP leaders dismiss Comey firing as fleeting political drama
By Elliot Spagat
CORONADO, Calif. — Chaos is President Donald Trump’s style, yet as long as the Republican delivers on health care, taxes and tapping a new FBI director as solid as his Supreme Court pick, GOP leaders say everything will be just fine.
While Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey roiled Washington, Republicans who attended the national committee’s spring meeting outside San Diego this week defended the president’s actions and insisted that they would have little political impact on midterm elections next year.
Even Trump’s Friday morning tweetstorm warning Comey that he had better hope there are no “tapes” of their private conversations and threatening to cancel White House media briefings failed to dent his support among several GOP leaders.
Peter Goldberg, an Alaska committeeman, said Trump’s latest tweets about Comey are “just a distraction” and that reaction to the firing is like “a bee buzzing around your head. It’s going to go away. I think it’s going to disappear.”
Goldberg, who grew up in New York, said he understood Trump’s style of governing.
“Even during the campaign, some people might have thought of him as brash and I just thought of it as just an average New Yorker. It wasn’t bad, it’s just part of the culture where he was living.”
Republicans said the issues that Trump campaigned on — repealing the Affordable Care Act, cutting taxes and boosting border security — would determine if the party keeps control of both houses of Congress.
Trump addressed the crowd in a five-minute video, telling them their support will help Republicans keep control of the House next year and make gains in the Senate.
“I’ll be going around to different states. I’ll be working hard for the people running for Congress and for the people running for the Senate. We could pick up a lot of seats, especially if it all keeps going like it’s going now,” the president said.
Ron Nehring, a former committee member and former California Republican Party chairman, said Comey’s firing was far more important to journalists and Washington insiders than voters.
“Every day that something unexpected comes up out of the White House, we see people freaking out and then outside of Washington it doesn’t really have that big of an impact,” he said.
Dirk Haire, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, said every president brings a new style.
“President Trump’s style is chaos,” Haire said. “Would I personally like that? No, it would drive me nuts. That’s just the way he operates.”
Among leading talk radio conservatives on Friday, criticism was directed at the news media for the use of anonymous sources on the story, not Trump. Laura Ingraham tweeted that the reporting was “false,” while Hugh Hewitt said Comey’s successor was what mattered.
Hewitt did critique Trump’s suggestion that the White House cease holding briefings. Trump “needs more direct on-the-record” contact with the media, “not less,” Hewitt posted on Twitter.
The harshest criticism came from conservative Erick Erickson, who described Trump as “self-immolating.”
“The overwhelming majority of Trump voters will double down in their support of Trump,” Erickson wrote on his website Friday morning. “Many of us see this as unhinged, suspicious and headed toward impeachment-level.”
At the RNC meeting, Kris Warner, a West Virginia committeeman, predicted that Comey’s successor will put to rest any voter misgivings about Trump’s handling of the FBI, holding up the president’s selection of Neil Gorsuch for a long-vacant seat on the Supreme Court as an example.
“I expect nothing short of someone beyond reproach and (it) will be exactly what the country needs,” said Warner, a Trump delegate at last year’s party convention. “Look at his Supreme Court pick. Very impressed with that, and I would expect him to do the same with the FBI.”
Party leaders said Trump was right to fire Comey, or at least that he had a right to do it.
Kyle Hupfer, chairman of the Indiana Republican Party, said picking the FBI chief is a president’s prerogative, despite tradition that the post be held for 10 years regardless of who occupies the White House. He said backlash to Comey’s dismissal was “not resonating” with Indiana voters.
David Bossie, a Maryland committeeman who was Trump’s deputy campaign manager during the final leg of last year’s race, conceded the news could have been better explained.
“I think the White House communications shop needs to do a little better, and I think they’re going to get better at what they’re doing,” he said. “I think we had some mixed messages out there that didn’t help matters at all. But the president made the decision to fire Jim Comey. How that happened and the semantics of the timeline, people can debate over the next couple days.”
On Thursday, about 300 protesters marched on the beach, chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go!” They were kept a good distance from the iconic Hotel del Coronado, where some party members looked out from a patio bar.
Associated Press writer Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.