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RNC members said regular voters don't care about Comey's firing

The controversy was "barely mentioned" at an RNC gathering in California

(CNN) —  

More than 2,200 miles away, President Donald Trump was under siege Thursday over his White House’s constantly-changing rationale for firing the FBI director who was investigating his campaign.

A few hundred feet away, protesters were marching on the beach, denouncing Trump and local Rep. Darrell Issa over GOP lawmakers’ push to undercut Obamacare’s protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

But inside the Hotel Del Coronado, where 168 Republican National Committee members and their guests – including first daughter-in-law Lara Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke – gathered for their spring meeting Thursday, Trump’s troubles were met with a shrug.

The first clips of Trump’s interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, in which he was grilled over his firing of James Comey, aired as RNC members were in a rules committee meeting Thursday.

Hours later, though, RNC members said they weren’t sweating the Comey controversy.

“It’s barely been mentioned in any of the meetings with any of the members,” said Terry Lathan, the Alabama Republican Party chairwoman.

“And every time it has been, it has been overwhelmingly, ‘He needed to go,’” Lathan said. “It’s been consistent. There’s not been any hand-wringing.”

“I don’t think that I’ve seen anything that’s problematic yet for the President or the Vice President,” said Kyle Hupfer, the chairman of the Indiana Republican Party – a state where the GOP will attempt to knock off Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly in 2018.

Tamara Scott, an RNC member from Iowa, said she takes Trump’s word that he isn’t under investigation – citing the President’s dubious claim about his conversations with Comey – and said she sees the issue as ginned up by a hostile political press.

“I’m concerned about good media and fair press,” she said.

Republicans aren’t oblivious to Trump’s struggles. One high-ranking GOP official conceded that some top Republicans begin each day fearing what new self-destructive sideshow Trump could create. Another, pointing to the anti-Trump furor in the progressive base and the huge turnout at town halls, said that “our guys are getting demolished” by an energized Democratic Party.

Still, very few would openly criticize Trump’s job performance beyond casting controversies like the Comey firing as an unhelpful distraction.

“As someone who wants to win elections in California, I want every single day to be about making good on our promises, preferably. That being said, we don’t always get that opportunity,” said Ron Nehring, the former California Republican Party chairman.

However, Nehring said Trump gets “tremendous benefit of the doubt” and “tremendous leeway” with Republican voters.

And Nehring contended that controversies like Comey’s firing don’t resonate outside the beltway – especially compared to issues such as health care that touch individual voters directly.

“We’ve seen that disconnect, right? Every day that something unexpected comes out of the White House, we see people freaking out,” he said. “And then outside of Washington, it doesn’t really have that big of an impact, because most people don’t make a living day-by-day on every single development in the three coequal branches of government.”

Despite the optimistic view, recent polling shows Trump is damaged.

A Quinnipiac University survey found that 82% of Republicans support Trump’s performance – while 90% of Democrats and 63% of independents disapprove. That means Trump’s base is largely behind him, but he’s bled enough support that his approval rating is just 36%.

Mark Brody, a North Carolina state representative, said Democrats are trying to “set the tone and the momentum” for the 2018 midterms, “and we are standing steadfast behind our President and saying, ‘Keep up the good work.”

As for what Comey’s firing, the health care battle, and more mean for the 2018 midterms, “we have to play these out,” he said. “I don’t think we’re down the road far enough.”

“I don’t see them being problematic” in the midterms, said Robin Armstrong, an RNC member from Texas.

“The Comey issue is kind of a yawn,” he said. “I don’t think most people really care about it, to be honest with you. I think regular voters just don’t care.”