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Will Impeachment Change Opinions of Trump?

President Donald Trump outside U.N. headquarters in New York City, September 24, 2019 (Yana Paskova/Reuters)

 Robert Samuelson’s latest column on impeachment brought to mind Lincoln’s remark during his first debate with Douglas: “With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed.”

Samuelson notes that, if the House impeaches President Trump, at least 20 Republican Senators would have to vote with every Democrat to remove him from office. “For now,” he writes, “the Democrats have zero.”

That may be an overstatement. GOP senators criticize the impeachment process, while avoiding extended discussions of the president’s underlying behavior. Fifty of 53 Republican senators have joined Lindsey Graham’s call for the House to authorize its impeachment inquiry.

Republican opinion of Trump has to turn squarely against him for impeachment to succeed. What are the chances of this happening? Not great.

Samuelson acknowledges that public opinion is sticky. People don’t like changing their minds. “People define themselves by their beliefs. It’s who they are and want to be.” Their views of Trump are like hardened concrete. “At least for his core supporters, Trump has seemed remarkably adept at controlling the narrative of his presidency.”

Samuelson offers two examples of shifts in public opinion: same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization. The public changed its mind about both. But advocates of impeachment shouldn’t get their hopes up. The comparison between cultural issues and political figures is misguided.

The timeline for cultural change is much longer than the political calendar. It took decades for the public to accept same-sex marriage and pot. The rising generation is responsible for much of the difference in attitude.

House Democrats hope to vote on impeachment by the end of 2019. Absent some technological breakthrough, there is not enough time for a pro-conviction GOP youth movement to be born, come of age, and displace Senate Republicans.

The Democratic strategy, Samuelson writes, “is premised on the hope that further shocking revelations will alter the political climate. Trump’s image will be so shattered that Republican senators will feel free to join the revolt against him.” This assumes the aim of the Democratic strategy is Trump’s removal, and not simply weakening him ahead of reelection while putting at-risk Republican senators like Susan Collins and Cory Gardner in difficult positions.

The record is clear that not much Donald Trump does shocks conservative Republicans. They are prepared to tolerate a high degree of instability and dysfunction simply to prevent the Democratic left from gaining power. They would have to reject this bargain rapidly, wildly, stunningly, and decisively for the Senate to remove the president from office. As Lincoln said: Public sentiment is everything.


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