This Thanksgiving, Trump supporters should have given thanks that Democrats’ impeachment obsession is backfiring. Indeed, it could prove to be the biggest political blunder in modern times.
After two weeks of hearings, Democrats have utterly failed to make their case to the American people. When the hearings began, supermajorities agreed that the president had done something wrong, but only a minority said his misconduct warranted removal from office. The hearings were supposed to boost support for removal. Instead, most polls show no significant movement in the Democrats’ favor, while some seem to have even moved in Trump’s direction.
For example, in October the Quinnipiac poll showed that 48% of Americans supported Trump’s removal, while 46% were opposed. Today, after the hearings, the reverse is true—support for removal has slipped to 45% while opposition has grown to 48%. In the key swing state of Wisconsin, a Marquette poll shows that since the hearings got underway, opposition to impeachment and removal has nearly doubled—from a seven-point margin in October to a 13-point margin today.
The failure to increase support for removing Trump is a big problem for the 31 vulnerable Democrats who are spending the Thanksgiving recess back in the Trump districts where they were elected. They won their seats not by advocating impeachment, but by promising to address kitchen-table issues. Now they are being barraged by millions in ads calling them out for their failure to do so. At coffee shops and town hall meetings this week, voters going ask: What happened to all those promises to lower prescription drug prices, improve infrastructure and expand trade? Why is nothing getting done? They won’t have a good answer, because nothing is getting done.
In Washington, the pundit class measured the wall-to-wall impeachment coverage by whether it advanced the case against the president. But in these swing districts, each day’s hearings again proved Republicans’ point that Democrats are focused on the wrong thing—obsessed with removing the president instead of making progress for working families.
Some Democrats seem to understand this. Last week the party held the first presidential debate in American history to take place during a presidential impeachment. Yet despite the best efforts of MSNBC’s moderators, none of the candidates wanted to talk about impeachment. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., went so far as to warn that “we cannot simply be consumed by Donald Trump because if we are, you know what? We’re going to lose the election.”
He’s right. Voters have been warning Democrats for months. In April, polls found 80% of Americans wanted “congressional representatives working more on infrastructure, health care, and immigration” than on “investigations of President Trump.” Few Democrats listened. Then in June, The Washington Post reported that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee focus groups of voters in swing states found the battles with Trump “overshadowing the party’s agenda, threatening its grip on the House in 2020.” Few Democrats listened.
Now, the realization is setting in on Capitol Hill that impeachment might have been a mistake. This week, Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., said publicly what many Democrats are saying privately: “I don’t see the value of taking him out of office,” she told a Michigan radio station, “I want him censured. I want it on the record that the House of Representatives did their job and they told this president and any president coming behind him that this is unacceptable behavior.”
I argued earlier this month that the smart move for Democrats would be to drop impeachment and censure Trump, instead. But now it’s too late. Censure today would be seen as a sign of weakness, a signal that Democratic leaders might not be able to muster the votes for impeachment. Indeed, they might not. Only two Democrats voted no on authorizing an impeachment inquiry, but voting to allow an inquiry is different from actually voting to impeach the president. After sticking their necks out to authorize hearings that failed to move the needle in favor of removal, will those 31 vulnerable Democrats in Trump districts really vote to remove him from office? They might have to choose between delivering a historic defeat to their party in the House on impeachment, or suffering defeat at the polls next November.
The impeachment hearings have had only one significant effect: energizing Republican voters. A Senate trial would only compound the damage. Democrats would be wise to listen to the voters, stop the impeachment drive, and start getting something done for the American people—or they might regret it on Election Day.