Last week, I lamented about how the political press is incapable of conveying the gravity of a historic clash between two co-equal branches of government–one that has the potential to redefine a president’s powers and immunities going forward–in large part because most reporters are trained to cover political conflicts on the eve of an election first and foremost in the context of the horse race. So yesterday’s big impeachment news was that 70 percent of Americans believed Trump’s “actions tied to Ukraine were wrong” and a slim majority favored removing him from office, according to an ABC News/ Ipsos poll, and today we learn that “the first week of the House’s public impeachment hearings into President Donald Trump did not move public support for the inquiry in Democrats’ favor, according to a new Morning Consult/Politico poll.”
Meanwhile, an NPR headline blares, “Americans Overwhelmingly Say Impeachment Hearings Won’t Change Their Minds.” That oversells the key finding from the latest NPR/ Marist college survey: “65% of Americans say they can’t imagine any information or circumstances during the impeachment inquiry where they might change their minds about their position on impeachment. And 30% say yes, it’s possible.”
You will never go broke betting on hyper-partisanship and media siloing leading people to entrenched positions that aren’t movable by new facts. The conventional wisdom is probably correct that as long as the conservative media have Trump’s back, his base will remain and Republican Senators will acquit him if the House impeaches.
At the same time, this conclusion leads to an unhealthy and perhaps inaccurate cynicism. If nothing matters in the end, then why bother paying attention to these hearings? And if you’re a journalist, why not focus your reporting on the horse race or complain that impeachment lacks “pizzazz”? It can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy by signaling to the majority of Americans who haven’t tuned into the hearings that they’re just typically dull partisan squabbles that aren’t worth considering.
Setting aside the obvious–that we’re in totally uncharted waters here–there are three reasons why the conventional wisdom about public opinion on impeachment may prove wrong or why the media’s obsession with polling obscures an important point.
First, a lot of people appear to have an open mind. Even if we assume that the 30 percent of the public who told Marist College pollsters that their opinions of the case could be changed is twice the actual number because people think that they should be open to new information, that would still mean that 15 percent of the population are persuadable. Witnesses tend to bring others forward to testify, and the weight of evidence against Trump is likely to continue to grow over the next couple of months. It’s premature to conclude from a handful of early surveys that the needle won’t move.
Second, while I’ve been critical of the media’s almost singular focus on the politics of impeachment, obviously they matter. And given how closely divided the country is, there’s no reason to expect the kind of massive shift in public opinion about impeachment that we saw during the Watergate hearings, nor is such a shift necessary to dramatically impact the calculus of next year’s elections. In 2016, Trump lost the popular vote by almost three million, but won the Electoral College by eking out victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by margins of less than one percentage point. Everything else being equal, a shift of just a few percentage points against Trump would likely have a huge impact on next year’s results up and down the ballot.
Finally, the impeachment of Donald Trump is not a partisan witch hunt–it’s a serious conflict over the separation of powers, the Framers’ central bulwark against tyranny. Court cases now pending will create precedents that will guide future American governments. And while we’re witnessing the first draft of history being written, it won’t be the last. Historians will have their say. And once freed from the fiery partisan emotions of the day, what happens now will likely impact how future generations view the relationship between Congress and the White House. Public opinion will shift and evolve over time in ways that we can’t predict and that surveys can’t measure. It really should be a small part of this story.
Expect MAGA dead-enders to become even more dangerous as Trumpism proves to be a spent force
Last week, I walked over to Black Lives Matter Plaza in front of the White House to clear my head and draw some inspiration. When I arrived at the north end of the square, the line of people waiting to climb up a stepladder so they could get a better picture of “Black Lives Matter” painted on the street in bright yellow letters heartened me. They were so obviously proud and energized by DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s act of defiance against Donald Trump itself, but also I expect by what that act represented: That the people still own this nation and still have power to move it where it needs to go.
Trump ignores First Amendment, threatens protestors, stokes violence for his Tulsa MAGA rally in am Twitter rant
In a series of incendiary tweets Friday morning President Donald Trump appeared to be attempting to create a scenario where his supporters will battle "any protestors" who come to Oklahoma to attend his MAGA rally.
After claiming victimization, the President targeted protestors – while wholly ignoring their First Amendment rights and suggesting the law is different in Oklahoma than it is "in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis."
He then tried to declare strength, by lying about his approval rating and the support of his base, while bragging that Republicans are already lined up to attend his Saturday rally.
Trump team’s outreach to black voters is both comical and grounded in delusion
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany offered one of the greatest self-owns in recent memory. Asked about Utah Sen. Mitt Romney marching with Black Lives Matter protesters, McEnany, who never answers questions directly, bragged about the 8 percent of African-American votes Trump won in 2016, and claimed that Romney had only won the support of 2 percent of blacks in 2012. Of course, this was a lie--Romney's 6 percent was well within the margin of error of Trump's 8 percent four years later. But it was her lack of self-awareness in touting such marginal support from any group of Americans that stood out. Democrats have consistently won 20 percent or more among their worst demographic, white Evangelical Christians.