Dems privately admit: Public opinion on impeachment probably isn't going to shift much

Dems privately admit: Public opinion on impeachment probably isn't going to shift much

You serious, bro?

They were holding out hope that impeachment *might* meaningfully move the needle?

I got my best laugh of the day from this Gallup poll published a few hours ago. It measures how Republican and Democratic opinion has fluctuated on whether a president’s moral example is important. You will not, perhaps, be surprised to learn that Democrats thought character mattered less when Bill Clinton was in a political jam and Republicans decided it mattered less once they had embraced Trump.

We’re a nation of hacks that’s grown hackier over time as partisan polarization has intensified. I can’t begin to imagine what sort of massive cultural changes would be required to get Americans to a place civically where there’s bipartisan willingness to keep an open mind on impeachment. You’d have to abolish the Internet, just for starters.

Anyway. Yes, lest there was a shred of doubt, the needle won’t be moving much as the Ukraine impeachment saga plays out. I think there’s a small chance of a shift if Democrats come up with something hot to show that the Burisma probe really was all about the election in Trump’s mind. Maybe Mick Mulvaney or John Bolton has something. But barring that, things won’t change a lot. And even if the Dems did produce an ace in the hole, I don’t think the numbers could ever shift enough to put real pressure on Senate Republicans to remove him.

In a private meeting this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her top lieutenants were skeptical about the prospects of a dramatic shift in opinion even as public impeachment hearings began this week, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. The upshot, the sources said: Democrats need to move forward with impeachment proceedings even if the politics are murky, noting that even during Richard Nixon’s presidency most of the public was divided until soon before he was forced to resign.

“Well, I think there are hard views on both sides,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told CNN when asked if he thought the public’s views would shift dramatically. “And sadly, apparently, Trump was perhaps right when he said of his own supporters that he could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue and they would not require any accountability.”

“Abuse of power is not necessarily a concept that most Americans run around thinking about,” said Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. “The point is we are all working to try to make a fairly unusual concept to most Americans — abuse of power — understandable.”…

A Democratic aide said in today’s political climate, there’s “too much polarization” and Trump’s base is unlikely to move, making it harder to shift public opinion.

The chatter today about “bribery” is obviously aimed at trying to solve this problem. “Bribery” hits the average person in the gut harder than a comparatively esoteric term like “quid pro quo” does. The numbers are daunting for Pelosi, though. If you look at Trump’s job approval in the RCP average, he’s only a point or so off from where he was in late September, when the Ukraine business began to explode. He did drop several points over the course of October but his numbers have rebounded in the last three weeks or so, as the impeachment inquiry has picked up.

What about polls having to do specifically with impeachment? FiveThirtyEight is tracking those. They’ve actually moved slightly towards Trump as the process has advanced. In early October, support for the impeachment inquiry was around 10-11 points greater than opposition to it. Today the margin is between six and seven points. On the more important question of whether Trump should be impeached (or impeached and removed), Americans are in favor but by a narrower spread of just two to three points. That’s barely budged since the start of October; the parade of Democratic witnesses and leaks about their testimony hasn’t changed anything. Moreover, this is what national polling looks like. As we’re periodically reminded, the truly important polling is in the battleground states. And although data there is scant, what we have doesn’t look great for Democrats either.

If you prefer less scientific, more Trumpy data, we can do that too. TV ratings for the Bill Taylor/George Kent testimony are in. The audience yesterday was 32 percent smaller than it was for James Comey’s testimony when he appeared before the House after being fired as FBI director. Impeachment over Ukraine isn’t drawing massive interest yet, and might not ever unless someone drops a bombshell.

It’s not a disaster, Democrats might tell themselves. So long as the numbers in battlegrounds stay more or less evenly split, they probably won’t be punished for this next fall. The public’s attention span is short and the news cycle moves at light speed in the Trump era. There will be new scandals next year, as surely as we sit here. Maybe something will happen to make some lukewarm impeachment opponents appreciate the effort with the benefit of hindsight. But as far as impeachment dramatically shifting support towards the Dems? Ah, no, of course that’s not going to happen in a bitterly divided country. And of course Trump won’t be removed from office by the Senate. The only way Republican voters would tolerate that is if they became convinced that Trump is sure to lose in 2020 and abandoned him because of it — but the only way he’s sure to lose is if they abandon him first. Quite the chicken-and-egg problem if you’re Susan Collins or Cory Gardner, who may be personally inclined to send Trump packing but realize that it would be electoral suicide to do so.

As your exit quotation, here’s Nikki Haley today on CNN. She’s defended Trump at every turn lately, especially on impeachment, but she’ll probably eat sh*t from MAGA-ites for this because the whistleblower is the lead villain in the Trump narrative. (After Adam Schiff, I mean.) They shouldn’t forget to save some scorn for Ivanka too.

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