AOC: We shouldn't let polls showing public opposition to impeachment stop us from doing it

It’s easy to ignore national polling when you represent a D+29 district that hasn’t elected a Republican since you were an infant, I guess.

Having said that, even freshman Dems from purpler districts have swung around towards supporting an impeachment inquiry this week. And her view of whether representatives should do what they think is right versus what’s popular is surely correct. Few policy reforms in modern American poll as well across the board as expanded background checks for gun purchases, but gun-rights advocates have earnest concerns about whether those checks will lead to a national gun registry. They’ve dug in knowing that 90 percent of the public disagrees with them, accepting that they’ll be punished at the ballot box if that 90 percent cares *that* much about their opposition. That’s the right thing to do. They’re not morally obligated to support what they believe to be bad policy just because a majority of the public sees it differently. Ocasio-Cortez is taking the same approach to impeachment. Democrats are going to exercise the power they were granted by voters last year, and if there’s a backlash then there’s a backlash.

Ironically, there’s no more famous exemplar of that approach than the Democrat who’s been most reluctant to impeach: Nancy Pelosi, who decided 10 years ago that passing ObamaCare was worth losing a majority over. Dems increasingly seem inclined towards the same view in impeaching Trump. The difference being, of course, that ObamaCare remained on the books after the Democratic House majority disintegrated; a miscalculation on impeachment could result in the current majority being swept away *and* Trump winning another four-year term. There was no “total backfire” scenario for Dems in the ObamaCare case, in other words. There is now.

We’re still waiting for the major pollsters to cough up some data on Ukraine and impeachment, but in the meantime this online SurveyMonkey data will have to tide us over:

Respondents were asked, “What should the consequences be for a public official who encourages a foreign power to intervene in an upcoming domestic election in their favor?” before they were asked about more in-depth detail of the impeachment inquiry…

49% said “I think that merits investigation and possibly removal from office.”

That majority in favor of serious consequences for that hypothetical action holds among those who said that their political beliefs were conservative: 26% said it’d merit investigation and possible discipline, and 25% said it’d merit investigation and possible removal.

People were also asked if the House should impeach Trump and 45 percent answered yes — but just 33 percent were “extremely” or “very” familiar with the Ukraine allegations, which means the pro-impeachment group here is likely the same group that’s been in favor impeaching Trump for matters various and sundry all along. My gut says support for impeachment in next week’s polls will settle at around 47 percent or so, with Democrats unanimously in favor, Republicans unanimously against, and independents interested but squeamish. But I don’t know: Even a smallish number of defections among Republicans could tip overall public support into majority territory given how overwhelmingly supportive Democrats are likely to be.

There are interesting op-eds floating around today trying to gauge how bad impeachment will prove to be for Democrats. Republicans tried it in 1998 and ended up losing House seats that fall, a rare case of the minority party performing badly in a midterm. But of course Republicans went on to win the White House two years later by vowing to “restore honor” to the White House, notes Ryan Beckwith. And given how hyperpolarized the two parties are, and how eager MAGA Nation already is to vote next fall, there’s a logical limit to how much more “energized” righties might be by an impeachment backlash. If you’re already prepared to crawl over broken glass to vote Trump in order to punish Democrats for the Kavanaugh saga and to send a message that socialism is evil, sprinkling a little impeachment in the path too isn’t going to have much of an effect.

Ron Brownstein dug deeper into the politics of the 1998 impeachment saga and found another reason to think the risk is smaller for Democrats than is popularly believed:

Even more relevant to today’s political calculations than these overall results may be the experience of House Republicans who represented districts that voted for Clinton in 1996, the equivalent of today’s Trump-district Democrats. In an era when voters split their ballots more often, there were many more of these split-district members: Ninety-one of the House Republicans in office in 1998 represented seats that backed Clinton two years earlier. In a three-way race involving GOP nominee Bob Dole and the independent Ross Perot, Clinton had won a majority of the vote in 30 of those seats and a plurality in 61 more…

[O]ver two election cycles, voters ousted just seven of the 91 Republicans from Clinton-supporting districts who had voted on impeachment. (A few others retired over those two cycles.) Jacobson says Clinton’s impeachment, while unpopular, still probably hurt Democrats somewhat more than Republicans in 2000, though it didn’t have a big impact either way. “You can argue at the presidential level it was an issue, in the sense there was some Clinton baggage—Clinton fatigue, as people talked about it,” he says. “But it did not reverberate down the ticket at all.”

It’s true that Republicans lost a few House seats in the 1998 election, notes Brownstein — but they didn’t lose their House majority. Clinton was more popular then than Trump is now too. And the Democratic defense at the time, that “lying about sex” wasn’t the sort of abuse of power that impeachment is designed to address, isn’t available to the GOP today in a case in which Trump is accused of leaning on a foreign government to investigate a top Democratic presidential candidate for corruption. For all the sturm and drang surrounding the topic today, it may be that impeachment ends up in hindsight as just another political speed bump in the Trump era en route to the 2020 election. It’s just another day at the circus: Trump is accused of something bad, Democrats are outraged, there’s a lot of heavy-breathing media coverage, Trump rants at length on Twitter, then eventually we move on to something else while the president’s job approval remains stuck in the mid-40s. The only difference this time is that there’ll be a formal impeachment vote and an acquittal by the Senate. God only knows what new strangeness awaits us next year that’ll make the impeachment of the president of the United States seem by comparison like a distant memory, and not a particularly big deal.