Donald Trump Jr. stands onstage with his father, Donald Trump, after Trump’s debate against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, Sept. 26, 2016. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo)
It’s been less than a week since America first learned of the existence of an email that seemed to clearly demonstrate the willingness of some in the Trump campaign to accept the assistance of the Russian government in their effort to win the 2016 presidential race. In black and white, Donald Trump Jr. is offered the opportunity to meet with a lawyer connected to the Russian government who can provide “documents and information that would incriminate” Hillary Clinton. That information, Trump Jr. is told, “is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
“If it’s what you say [it is] I love it,” Trump Jr. replies.
If opponents of President Trump were hoping that this was a smoking gun that would tilt support away from him, though, a new Post-ABC News poll released on Sunday will quickly disabuse them of that idea.
By a more than 2-to-1 margin, Americans told our pollsters that they viewed the meeting as inappropriate.
As you likely expected, there’s a big split by party. Democrats view the meeting as inappropriate by a 76-point margin. Independents are also much more likely to consider the meeting inappropriate. On net, Republicans say that it was appropriate, but by a fairly narrow margin.
Responses to the question correlate strongly to how people feel Trump is doing as president. More than 6 in 10 of those who strongly approve of Trump’s job performance also think the Trump Jr. meeting was appropriate. Among those who strongly disapprove of Trump, 90 percent think the meeting was inappropriate. Interestingly, those who only somewhat approve of Trump’s job approval are also 20 points more likely to believe that the meeting was inappropriate than appropriate.
It’s hard to say precisely how much support for Trump colors views of his son’s meeting, but it’s clear that, at the very least, there’s a strong connection.
Which brings us back to the question of collusion — that is, whether Trump’s campaign actively and successfully worked with the Russians to submarine Clinton. The email is clear evidence of a willingness to work with the Russians by at least one member of the campaign. But did the effort go beyond that?
Most Americans think that the Russians did try to influence the campaign. About 4 in 10 Americans think Trump’s campaign aided them in that effort.
Here, too, there’s a correlation between views of Trump and views of Russian meddling. A majority of those who approve of Trump’s job performance feel as though Russia didn’t try to influence the election.
What’s remarkable, though, is that we asked the same question about Russia in April. The figures have barely budged (considering margins of error).
It’s hard to delineate all of the things that have changed since that poll: The firing of James Comey, the appointment of the special prosecutor, reports about Trump hoping to intervene for Michael Flynn, the revelation of classified information in a meeting with the Russians — not to mention the Trump Jr. emails. But only a small change in the percentage of people who believe Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians.
That holds regardless of views of Trump’s job performance. In April, people who approved of Trump didn’t really think Russia tried to meddle; now, the same is true. There are fewer people who now approve of Trump’s job performance — six percentage points fewer — which could be in part a function of belief that his campaign worked with the Russians. Other than that, though, how you felt about Trump and Russia in April is pretty much how you feel about it now.
It does raise the tacit question with which we began, though: Would any new evidence convince Trump supporters of collusion? We’re in the weird position, one week after the release of the Trump Jr. email, of already seeing that shockingly unexpected document as part of the background fabric of our political discussion. We’ve learned repeatedly over the last two years that once something makes its way there, we see only a very familiar tapestry.