Turns out Donald Trump was right when he said he could "shoot somebody and wouldn't lose any voters." That was made clear to me after revelations that showed, at a minimum, Donald Trump Jr. was game to collude with the Russians. Whether he did so remains a subject of conjecture, but to any rational observer, last week was the most troublesome since the Russian meddling issue first came to light. Who could have imagined there would actually be an email to someone named Trump offering "very high level and sensitive information" able to "incriminate Hillary" as part of "Russia and its government's support" of Trump over Hillary?
But not even these revelations will impact his standing with his base.
A succession of stories in the New York Times brought these new developments to light. The first reported that Donald Jr. "arranged a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin." Trump Jr.'s explanation was that the meeting focused on adoption policy. One day later, the story became more ominous. Turns out that in advance of the meeting, Donald Jr. was "promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton." By Monday, worse still. Not only was the meeting with a Russian national who'd promised dirt on Clinton, but prior to the meeting, Trump Jr. was "informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father's candidacy."
That morning, I sat behind my microphone for SiriusXM's POTUS channel and spent about 20 minutes not only summarizing the Times' coverage but also providing balance with reference to a New York Post piece by Michael Walsh that said it was all a "nothingburger." Once concluded with my monologue, I spied my caller screen and wasn't surprised to see that every one of my 10 telephone lines was lit up. The first to have logged a call was "Brad from Iowa," who had told my screener that he was "ashamed" of me for having brought up the story. Intrigued, I punched up his call.
"I thought you were better than this," he said with scorn in his voice. Brad didn't think the subject rose to the level of public discussion. My response was to ask whether it was significant to him that the campaign triumvirate of Donald Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner had all sat down with someone who'd been represented as someone from the Russian government in possession of opposition research about Clinton?
"Big deal? No, not at all," he replied. "Who cares about dirt on that old hag Hillary?"
My callers come from the "lower 48" and usually represent a nice cross section of the country, both racially and politically. We promote the program by saying "angry is over," a reflection of the different tone I try to set from terrestrial radio. We often disagree, but with a modicum of decency. Not Monday. Things became progressively nastier.
The second caller was Raphael from Vermont, and he agreed with Brad.
"With the media, the Justice Department, the DNC, and the Trump administration, the Trump administration is the least corrupt among all four entities."
I quickly scanned my caller board to see if any others on hold shared the views of the first two callers. I found one more in Chris from Vermont.
"Hey man . . . you know all this reporting on Russia, and all these, you know - CNN, New York Post, New York Times - these guys, they have zero ounce of credibility. I say zero, it's negative zero. I mean, they are just terrible. It seems all they do is treat Trump as a punching bag."
I was floored and fascinated. Seven other callers stood ready to condemn Donald Jr., but I was much more interested in hearing from those who were completely dismissive of the Times' revelations. So on my direction, my producer excused all those on hold, and I invited only supporters of the president to call. After a short commercial break, every line was again illuminated with nothing but Trump supporters.
Doug from Ohio: "The FBI director, the CIA director, and a whole bunch of other people down the line have all said under oath that Russia didn't impact any votes, so at this point it just seems like a witch hunt after President Trump . . . but if we go back not so long ago we have Hillary Clinton. She took some shady meetings and she had people around her that took meetings, Obama has a Muslim Brotherhood. . . ."
Joe from southern Illinois: "I'm just tired of hearing about the bank robbery a year later. I just feel like some of the media outlets get so in the weeds with some of these stories that it just disinterests me after a while. So even if it's true . . . it eventually didn't affect my vote at the ballot box."
Lance from Illinois: "Even if it's true, even if when President Obama was confronted by his intelligence agency that the Russians were involved, it's not important what Donald Trump thought at the time because he wasn't president at the time - it's important what President Obama thought at the time."
I told Lance that Trump was trying to have it both ways - blaming Obama for not acting on something he doesn't believe even occurred. Lance rose his voice when saying:
"He didn't do anything about it before the election! He publicized it, Michael!"
Floyd in Mississippi: "I don't think this is a 'nothingburger.' I think I would call it a 'dinky-burger.' "
The groans of a pitbull were plainly audible in the background when Mark in Massachusetts called:
"As far as Russia goes, I couldn't care if we found out Vladimir Putin was Trump's long-lost brother. I personally would be very happy with that because we could use a man like Putin in this country. He's not a communist, he's a Christian, and if you don't understand that, why don't you talk about Israeli interference in our election. . . . Russia is our friend. I don't care whether they colluded if they had dirt on Hillary Clinton. . . . Unfortunately, it's not enough. The only thing I'm angry about Trump is he hasn't arrested that witch yet. She should be in cuffs, in an orange jumpsuit. She is a criminal!"
On it went. Ray in Delaware. Mark in South Carolina. Michael in Illinois.
After my program ended, my producer made a three-minute montage of just a few of these calls and I put it on my Facebook page. Within 48 hours more than 100,000 people had listened to the audio. They, too, must have been amazed.
Michael Smerconish can be heard 9 a.m. to noon on SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124. He hosts "Smerconish" at 9 a.m. Saturdays on CNN. @smerconish