President Donald Trump's administration is in crisis, consumed by fears of what Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russia's meddling in the election, might find. Everyone's lawyering up — even the lawyers have lawyers.
But here in rural Iowa you might never hear about any of that. What I do hear from my conservative friends — most still ardent Trump supporters — is a collective yawn at the Washington maelstrom. Few care about his tweets — even about Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough and the CNN body slam.
Here, conservatives celebrate the successes in Trump's short time in office: a conservative Supreme Court justice now seated; Mexico and Canada back to the trading table; red tape cut; the EPA hamstrung; climate change nonsense tossed aside. It's exactly what they elected him to do — victory after victory in a bigger battle than just policy, a battle for America's soul.
For many conservatives, they support Trump because he's their de facto leader in a cultural war. Liberals mock Christianity and demean Christian morals. Conservatives respect our police and military, while liberals romanticize street thugs. Conservatives' tax dollars help pay for public schools and colleges that indoctrinate liberal values. Out here some conservatives aren't even calling them "public" schools anymore. They call them "government schools."
They bend over backward to justify everything Trump does, largely because they don't believe what anyone in the news media is telling them, except for maybe Fox News. A prominent businessman here, for example, views the "whole fake Russian story" as "a coup attempt by the media."
Now, they're not entirely blind to the damage Trump is doing to the Republican brand. Democrats are energized, and though Trump's base is holding, "soft" Trump voters are slowly sinking his approval numbers. One friend who twice voted for Barack Obama now sees World War III on the horizon and deeply regrets his vote for Trump.
Trump has been in office only about six months and yet is already under investigation by congressional committees and the special counsel, Mueller. This fact alone should make every Republican nervous.
The country needs to see these investigations through. Regardless, my conservative friends should ask themselves, what has Trump accomplished that a President Mike Pence couldn't have, without all of the drama? And what matters more: Trump or their conservative values? Here, I believe it's the latter. Trump, after all, was runner-up to Ted Cruz in the Iowa caucuses.
I see only one thing that might give my conservative friends pause about turning against Trump — Fox News. After all, it helped create him. Most people here watch Fox News, and have for a generation.
Fox News is always on the TV in diners and other restaurants. In bars, if there isn't a game on, Fox News is there. If there are a couple of televisions or more, one will most likely be tuned to Fox. And it's not only TV. It's radio.
I once grumbled to a friend that I didn't think Fox was "Fair and Balanced" at all. He started to argue with me, then thought better of it, saying, "But at least they try — no one else does."
To me, only that network has the power to convince conservatives that, if one or more of the investigations raises the question of impeachment, it's in the best interest of the party and the conservative agenda to dump Trump.
Sean Hannity and other Fox hosts could provide cover for congressional Republicans to consider impeachment. If you believe that impeachment is a political and not a legal question, they need that cover. Right now, Hannity might have more power over an impeachment process than Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell.
Even if the investigation turns up clear evidence of presidential misconduct, I believe it would be impossible for the party to consider impeachment without Fox's support. The first Republicans to even mention impeachment would probably be vilified by Fox and find themselves facing an angry constituency and a primary opponent next election. Yet if Fox turns, it's inevitable. For reasons I do not understand, that network has that kind of power among most of the conservative rural voters I know.
Trump has proved to be more of a liability than an asset in bringing about the changes conservatives want, and I suspect congressional Republicans know that. After all, whom would they rather work with, Trump or Pence?
If, in fact, Trump is, one way or another, removed from office, or takes the hint and resigns, maybe he will prove to be an effective bulldog for conservative causes from the sidelines.
Or they can let him fade away as a historical embarrassment like Warren Harding or Richard Nixon. Even if Trump goes down, the war for the soul of America will continue.
Robert Leonard is the news director for the radio stations KNIA/KRLS. © 2017 New York Times