After weeks of public hearings, I’m ready to take a stand on impeachment. Well, not quite. Actually, there are more than a few pieces of the impeachment coverage, arguments, and narrative that are driving me crazy. And writing a few hundred words seems like a semi-healthy way to attempt to set the record straight.
Impeachment is not a game-changer until proven otherwise. I’m skeptical that impeachment will fundamentally alter the electoral landscape, in part, because it has not dramatically swayed voters’ opinions of the president so far. According to Friday’s RealClearPolitics average, President Donald Trump’s job approval rating was 44 percent compared to 54 percent disapprove. On Sept. 24, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the formal impeachment inquiry, it was 45 percent approve and 52 percent disapprove. Maybe something can be historic and politically insignificant at the same time.
Nothing matters, until proven otherwise. The media tends to treat every news event as a game-changer, when we should have the opposite instinct. Again, compared to the current 44-54 job rating, little has changed since Jan. 1, when the president’s rating was 43 percent approve and 52 percent disapprove. That’s virtually no lasting movement after a formal House impeachment process, public impeachment hearings, a government shutdown, the Mueller Report, the Nationals’ World Series victory, unidentified Sharpie usage, and a decreasing unemployment rate.
Be skeptical of impeachment polling. Setting aside the variation in question wording, it’s simply too early to tell how people will feel about a political event before said event is completed. Polling conducted after the process is complete will be more relevant. And even that data should be digested carefully because impeachment is not likely to be the top voting issue for most Americans.
Two things can be true at the same time (a). Some Democrats have wanted to block and remove Trump from the first day he took office and Trump abused his power by asking a foreign government to get involved in a future election. These don’t have to be mutually exclusive events.
Two things can be true at the same time (b). Hunter Biden’s appointment to the board of Burisma was inappropriate, and Trump abused his power by asking a foreign government to get involved in a future election. These don’t have to be mutually exclusive events.
Two things can be true at the same time (c). The FBI acted inappropriately when seeking surveillance warrants related to allegations of Russian involvement in the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, and Trump subsequently abused his power by asking a foreign government to get involved in a future election. These don’t have to be mutually exclusive events.
It’s not a transcript. The memo of the July 25 phone call between Trump and the president of Ukraine is not a transcript. It says so on the first page of the document released by the White House. “CAUTION: A Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation (TELCON) is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion.” Republicans have elevated this document to a status equal to the Ten Commandments when it doesn’t guarantee the president didn’t say something else potentially illegal. Because it’s not a transcript.
Vice President Joe Biden and/or Hunter Biden will not be witnesses. A Senate majority is required to approve and call witnesses for a Senate impeachment trial and Republicans have a Senate majority. But we shouldn’t assume all Republicans are on the same page. Even though House Republicans fantasize about Bidens on the witness stand, that would require some GOP senators who have served with the former vice president to call their former colleague and friend (or his son) to be interrogated during a trial. Not going to happen.
Winning an election is not a blank check for future behavior. The 2016 election results are not a compelling excuse for the president’s behavior and don’t justify future wrongdoing. In this case, those results just mean more people voted for Trump. And even that is not true. Republicans love to cite the 63 million people who voted for Trump in 2016 as “the will of the people” when more than 65 million people voted for Hillary Clinton. This is not hard to look up. Republicans should use the Electoral College in their talking point, or abandon the talking point.
Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.