WASHINGTON -- Ask Republican lawmakers about the specter of protests in their districts next week, and they'll likely shrug off constituent outbursts as "manufactured" or "scripted."
The GOP is largely adopting the Democratic posture from the summer of 2009 that angry voices at town halls don't represent a political threat. That may be true. The question is how Republicans now, and Democrats back then, arrived at that conclusion.
Even as some GOP lawmakers move to hold their constituent forums online or over the phone instead of in-person, they insist they're not worried.
In a Wednesday letter to Republican chiefs of staff, Matt Gorman, communications director at the National Republican Congressional Committee, dismissed recent protests that have erupted at town halls across the country.
"Don't be fooled by this incredibly vocal minority that is attempting to drown out the millions of voices that have -- since its passage -- called for Obamacare's repeal," he wrote.
Unlike the tea party, Republicans say, this year's protests are a strictly partisan reaction to the 2016 election, with Democrats targeting Republicans.
"I don't have scientific methodology to say that or prove that to you," said FreedomWorks' Jason Pye, whose tea party-aligned group is organizing its own protests to encourage lawmakers to repeal the 2010 health care law.
"But based on the emails I'm getting from groups on the left -- I subscribe to them all -- I doubt this is an organic movement," Pye said.
To Republicans, the conservative bent of the districts where some of the most vociferous protesting has occurred is proof that GOP lawmakers have nothing to worry about. Tennessee Rep. Diane Black encountered tough questions last month, but both she and President Donald Trump won her district by nearly 50 points last fall.
"There's a huge difference between political theater, which people are paid to create, and the actual feelings of constituents, which show up in surveys and election results," said longtime GOP operative Mike Shields, who recommends members do "tele-town halls" because they can reach more people.