LAS VEGAS — Gregory Hafen II looked out at a small group of fellow Republicans and tried to hammer home just how wronged he thinks President Donald Trump has been. The impeachment investigation in Washington is a mere political attack, he argued. "It's witch hunt after witch hunt," he said, glancing occasionally at his notes.
Hafen, a Republican state lawmaker and the rural Nevada chairman of Trump's reelection campaign, had gathered with a small group of volunteers in a suburban Las Vegas public library to teach them to spread the word: "That's why we're here today, to encourage everyone to volunteer."
At doorsteps and protests, in phone calls and social media posts, Trump's campaign is marshalling its army of devoted followers to defend the president against the threat of impeachment. Certain the war in Washington only fires up Trump fans, the campaign is training volunteers how to stoke that frustration and channel it against Democrats. In battlegrounds states such as Nevada, the effort — dubbed "Stop the Madness" — has quickly merged with a canvassing campaign already making regular contact with voters ahead of next year's election.
"It didn't seem possible to get President Trump's supporters more fired up than they already were," said Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign's spokesman. "Democrats have done it with their sham impeachment proceedings,"
The effort reflects the Trump campaign's confidence that the impeachment fight will not only energize his diehard supporters, but also turn off voters weary of the fighting in Washington and willing to blame Democrats for the latest battle.
Trump's campaign isn't just waiting for voters to bring up impeachment — it's "owning it," raising it on phone calls and door-knocks across the country, said Rick Gorka, a spokesman for Trump's campaign and the Republican National Committee. The campaign and the RNC have spent more than $10 million in impeachment-related TV ads already, with more expected in the coming weeks as Democrats begin their open hearings.
The RNC says more than 75,000 new people have signed up to volunteer through its anti-impeachment website, and more than 100,000 new donors have given money to Trump since House Democrats announced the beginning of the impeachment proceedings in September.
Volunteers and staffers are regularly trained and provided with the party's current messaging. That's been a moving target, as Trump and the White House have shifted explanations for why he asked a foreign leader to investigate a political rival and whether it was an abuse of power.
When talking to Trump backers, canvassers have been echoing Trump's claim that he's a victim of another partisan attack, fueled but not by facts but by Democrats' years-long push to oust him from office. Trump's campaign believes this messaging is effective even for voters lukewarm on Trump, since many say they wish Washington would focus more on the issues important to them and less on investigations.
"We're turning this into a real rallying cry for the president's supporters," Gorka said. He added that they're also using it to win over some who are less supportive of the president, "but see this process for what it is, a political hit job."