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What Do Republican Voters Think About The Impeachment Inquiry?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Two realities are shaping the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. One reality is the facts - the largely undisputed record of the president's efforts in Ukraine to get investigations that he wanted. Another reality is the politics - what voters think of a process run by their representatives. David French is following the story from his home in a red state. He is a conservative writer, a critic of the president and a resident of a state where the president captured 60% of the vote in 2016. He joins us from Franklin, Tenn.

Mr. French, good morning.

DAVID FRENCH: Good morning.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should note that nationwide polls show more people favoring this inquiry than opposing it. But when I look at the polling, from a lot of red states, really, the numbers flip. More people oppose it.

FRENCH: Absolutely. Let me put it this way. I think the best way to describe it is if you're a politician in a red state, particularly a state like Tennessee - which would be one of the last to abandon Trump, honestly - if you're going to support the impeachment inquiry, you should consider whether or not you want to continue your political career. 'Cause it would be, I think, fair to say, a career ender for a lot of people.

INSKEEP: Do you imagine - I mean, we don't want to get into the heads of lawmakers and assume they're hypocrites or not saying what they really feel, but do you imagine that this does influence the way that a lot of red-state lawmakers are approaching this inquiry?

FRENCH: Absolutely. Especially post-2018 in the House, where, you know, in the swing districts, by and large, Republicans were routed. So all you have left in the House right now are the hardcore GOP districts where you're going to face a primary challenge if you oppose the president. And so, you know, for a lot of members of the House, this is the kind of thing where they're sitting there and asking themselves if they want to continue their political career.

And then some of them, of course, are absolute supporters of the president by conviction, anyway. But even those who aren't, I think, are intimidated by the political surroundings.

INSKEEP: Well, report - since it's so important, report for us what you hear from your friends and neighbors. I want to note, you're not only in a red state, you're in a red county that voted big for President Trump. And so when you listen to your neighbors, does it sound like the president's current strategy, the way he's defending himself, is working for the people he wants to reach?

FRENCH: Yeah. That's a really good question. So I live in a suburban county of Nashville, which means it's a little bit different from the core base of the president. So my parents live in a rural - very, very rural county. And the folks there are completely swayed by the process arguments, by the fairness arguments, that this is just the soft coup from the deep state. I would stay where - say where I live, there's more of a embarrassment about him, to be honest, but a belief that whatever his flaws, the Democrats, particularly on a policy basis, are worse, and the Democrats treat him unfairly.

So I do think the process arguments that the president has been emphasizing have penetrated. People do believe that it's unfair, the process is unfair but, especially in the suburban areas, are very uncomfortable with the merits with what actually happened.

INSKEEP: Now, with that said, I just want to note this is Veterans Day. You're a veteran, by the way. Happy Veterans Day. Thanks for your service.

FRENCH: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Key witnesses here are also veterans. I think of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who received a Purple Heart. I think of William Taylor, who served four years as a U.S. Infantry officer. These are the people who are stepping forward and giving the facts as they see them, which are damaging to the president. And you're in a region, the South, that is traditionally very pro-military. Are people supportive of the witnesses?

FRENCH: Well, this is one the most disturbing and disappointing things to me. There's long been a pattern - and President Trump established this when he was candidate Trump. I mean, he mocked John McCain for being captured. He mocked a Gold Star family. So there has been a pattern here that veterans are honored in the political world, unless they're perceived as stepping into the political fray against the president. And then at that moment, they shed their respect in many ways.

And I think that's one of the most sad and distressing things about being in Republican stronghold areas in the time this - under this president, is to watch some of these long-held principles just fall away in support and in service of this president who, by the way, dodged a draft.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, why do you say that Tennessee would be one of the last states to abandon President Trump?

FRENCH: Well, you know, the populist South is, I would say, by percentage, by conviction, by temperament, is absolutely core to his support. It is the absolute bedrock of his support. And as you saw in the Alabama-LSU game, this is a place where, when his name's announced, people cheer resoundingly.

INSKEEP: David French, thanks for your insights. Really appreciate it.

FRENCH: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: David French is a writer and senior editor at The Dispatch, and he joined us via Skype from Franklin, Tenn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.