Last week, videos went viral of people expressing anger and dismay over the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act during the town hall in Tennessee, a state Trump won by a double-digit margin. So did footage of an angry crowd yelling “Do your job!” at Republican congressman and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz at a town hall in Utah.
One challenge facing red-state activists is that their GOP lawmakers may dismiss dissenting viewpoints as the shouts and murmurs of an angry fringe. Chaffetz, who has faced pressure to investigate Trump, told The Deseret News that the confrontation he faced during his town hall was “bullying and an attempt at intimidation.” Trump himself seemed to dismiss the recent protests during a press conference on Thursday. “They fill up our rallies with people that you wonder how they get there, but they’re not the Republican people that our representatives are representing,” he said.
That kind of reaction to protests against the administration’s agenda could provoke even more backlash. “People are incredibly angry right now, and at this point that anger is a gift, to be quite frank,” said Donald Aguirre, a 33-year-old co-founder of Utah Indivisible, a group that describes itself as “the resistance to the Trump agenda” and helped organize people to show up at Chaffetz’s town hall. “The more people try to brush us aside or fail to take our concerns seriously, the more motivated we’ll become.”
As a result of that activism, elected officials may grow increasingly reluctant to show up in public settings where confrontations caught on tape can ricochet across social media. There are already indications that lawmakers are looking for ways to get their message out without the risk of facing a hostile crowd. “After outpourings of rage at some early town halls,” Vice reported on Thursday, “Republicans are ducking in-person events altogether, opting instead for more controlled Facebook Live or ‘tele-townhalls,’ where questions can be screened by press secretaries and follow-ups are limited.”
In Arizona, Republican Representative Martha McSally declined to participate in an upcoming public forum organized by activists concerned about Trump’s agenda, calling the event “a political ambush” earlier this month. “Congresswoman McSally has been incredibly open and accessible to her constituents and she will continue to be,” her spokesman Patrick Ptak said in a statement, noting that she has held more than 30 town halls since taking office and met with the activists in her Tucson district office last Friday to “hear their thoughts and concerns.”
The refusal left 49-year-old Democrat Marion Chubon, one of the activists McSally met with, disappointed but undeterred. She recently formed a group called McSally Take a Stand to encourage her congresswoman to speak out against Trump. “I’m not here to disrupt government, or cause a scene,” Chubon said in an interview. “It just feels like we’re going in the wrong direction as a country right now, and we have to resist going backward on all the progress we’ve made.”