Quantcast
Connect with us

Investigations usually hurt a president’s public reputation – but Donald Trump is different

Published

on

Will the House impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump ultimately have any effect?

Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi had long resisted calls for impeachment, arguing that it is “just not worth it.” However, the Trump administration’s initial refusal to release to Congress documents concerning the intelligence community whistleblower’s complaint about the administration’s treatment of Ukraine encouraged the Speaker to cross that line.

ADVERTISEMENT

We have explored the relationship between hearings into alleged executive branch misconduct and public opinion in our 2016 book, “Investigating the President: Congressional Checks on Presidential Power.”

Investigations often damage a president’s reputation in the public eye – but that may not matter to a historically unpopular president like Trump.

A check on the presidency

The power to oversee the executive branch is among Congress’ most important powers. Investigations have historically afforded Congress a meaningful check on an increasingly powerful presidency.

Perhaps the most important way that investigations check presidential power is by lowering public support for the president. By eroding the president’s reserve of political capital, investigators can change how politicians behave, both in Congress and in the White House.

ADVERTISEMENT

This can create momentum for new legislation, encourage presidential concessions, or simply weaken the president’s political position with broad consequences.

In our book, we built a comprehensive data set of all congressional investigations of the executive branch from 1898 through 2014.

We then merged it with presidential approval data, which first became regularly available in 1953, to see how investigations affected approval ratings from Eisenhower to Obama.

ADVERTISEMENT

Even after statistically accounting for the possibility that low approval ratings might also encourage Congress to investigate an administration more aggressively, we found that investigations systematically eroded public support for the president.

Historically, every 20 additional days of investigative hearings cost the president roughly 2.5% in the polls.

So a short-term investigation is survivable. But a long-term investigation could seriously diminish the president’s political capital and even threaten his or his party’s electoral fortunes.

ADVERTISEMENT

How Trump is different

Will the current impeachment inquiry have the same corrosive effect on support for President Trump? The allegations of abuse of power are more serious than those driving many of the investigations in our historical data.

However, there are reasons to believe that support for Trump may be more resilient.

President Trump’s approval rating has been remarkably stable over the past three years. This suggests to us that the power of events to move public opinion has diminished substantially.

ADVERTISEMENT

President Trump has had both a lower ceiling -– his first term approval ratings were historically low, given the strength of the economy – and a higher floor than his predecessors.

What’s more, partisan lines have hardened to an extent that is arguably unparalleled in the past century.

Here’s how that partisanship is relevant: There is nothing unusual about the members of a president’s party defending him in the face of accusations of wrongdoing. But in past cases, there generally was a reasonably sized faction of members of the same party in Congress who were willing to take on the president when his administration’s actions were particularly egregious.

ADVERTISEMENT

In today’s intensely polarized Congress, it is unlikely that there is any revelation that would persuade more than a small handful of Republicans to turn on President Trump. Absent this, public opinion is unlikely to move.

At the same time, many congressional Republicans are standing by Trump because they believe that is what their voters want. Staunchly partisan voters encourage elites to toe the party line and use more inflammatory language. That, in turn, only reinforces voters’ inclination to stick with their party.

Checks and balances

Investigations offer Congress a tool to push back against presidential power when it cannot legislate.

However, for investigations to succeed and produce meaningful political or policy change, they usually must be able to shine a light on administration misdeeds and move the needle of public opinion. To do so, investigators must have access to the information they require.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Trump administration has refused to cooperate with congressional subpoenas and requests for information, and continues to receive the unconditional support of most Republicans for the president. That suggests that the impeachment inquiry, like other investigative efforts of the 116th Congress, faces severe obstacles that earlier investigations had not confronted.

The kinds of revelations that in the past surely would have been sufficient to move the public and elected officials may no longer be sufficient. The question is whether the revelations in Trump’s case will surpass the barriers imposed by today’s intensely polarized politics.

[ Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get a digest of academic takes on today’s news, every day. ]The Conversation

Douglas L. Kriner, Clinton Rossiter Professor in American Institutions, Cornell University and Eric Schickler, Co-Director of the Institute of Governmental Studies, University of California, Berkeley

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

ADVERTISEMENT


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

2020 Election

GOP giving up trying to reclaim House seats as 2020 wipeout looms: report

Published

on

Faced with a ticket likely headed by an unpopular president and watching the Democrats rake in campaign cash ahead of the 2020 election, the Republican Party is conceding they will not win back the House by reclaiming seats they lost in the so-called 2018 "blue wave" election.

According to a report from Politico, Democratic candidates have been stockpiling massive amounts of cash to wage war in what is expected to be a high turnout election with Donald Trump as the face of the Republican Party and seats that the GOP thought they might have a shot at now appearing unattainable.

Continue Reading

2020 Election

Trump impersonated a CNN anchor — and a US president — during epic meltdown at Texas speech

Published

on

President Donald Trump offered multiple impersonations during a campaign rally in Dallas, Texas on Thursday.

Trump showed the crowd his impersonation of a president of the United States -- and a CNN anchor.

"No guns. No religion. No oil. No natural gas," Trump said. "Abraham Lincoln could not win Texas under those circumstances. Couldn’t do it."

In fact, Abraham Lincoln could not win Texas when he ran for president as the state refused to print any ballots with his name.

He then showed the audience two impersonations as part of his 87-minute speech.

"I used it to say, I can be more presidential. Look," Trump said, as he shuffled awkwardly on stage.

Continue Reading
 

2020 Election

WATCH LIVE: Beto O’Rourke holds ‘Rally Against Fear’ to counter Trump’s re-election rally

Published

on

While supporters of President Donald Trump gathered on Thursday in the American Airlines Center Dallas, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke held a "Rally Against Fear" less than 15 miles away in Grand Prairie.

O'Rourke's presidential campaign said the rally was to "directly confront Donald Trump’s dangerous hatred and division on the night he tries to spread it across the battleground state of Texas."

"We will not be defined by this president’s fear, his hate, or the differences between us that he tries to exploit but instead by a renewed sense of hope and a unified vision for the future of our country. In this moment of smallness, paranoia, and division, Texas is going to lead the way with our strength, our courage, our diversity, and the big, bold, ambitious things we want to achieve together," the campaign said.

Continue Reading
 
 
Help Raw Story Uncover Injustice. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1 and go ad-free.
close-image