Why this impeachment will simply give President Trump exoneration

Why this impeachment will simply give President Trump exoneration
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The second week of public impeachment hearings has concluded, with nine witnesses testifying before the House Intelligence Committee over three days. This has forced both parties to confront distinct realities.

For Republicans, it has become clear that a quid pro quo scheme with Ukraine very likely existed at the direction of the president, and by many measures was unethical and well below the standards of conduct that Americans expect from their elected public officials. For Democrats, it has become clear that the case for impeachment they have pushed forth is unlikely to convince any Republicans to remove Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt MORE from office, and that the impeachment vote will almost certainly fall along party lines.

Americans heard hours of testimony from several career national security officials and political appointees, including an amended testimony from the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, as well as from a deputy assistant secretary at the Defense Department, Laura Cooper. Sondland testified that Trump directly conditioned aid to Ukraine on a political favor, undercutting one of the main White House defenses that officials conducting this backchannel diplomacy with Ukraine had been freelancing rather than acting at the direction of the president himself.

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Further, Sondland testified that he had been working with the personal lawyer of Trump, Rudy Giuliani, on backchannel diplomacy with Ukraine under the “express direction of the president of the United States.” He said, “I know that members of this committee frequently frame these complicated issues in the form of a simple question. Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes” on that.

Just hours after his testimony, Cooper filled in further details, telling the panel that on the day of the phone call when Trump asked the Ukrainian president for a favor, Ukrainian officials had reached out to her Defense Department office aware that there was some issue with the release of military aid. “I would say specifically, the Ukrainian embassy staff asked what is going on with Ukrainian security assistance,” Cooper testified.

While it is now undeniable that Trump and his inner circle had engaged in improper conduct, and these hours of public testimony have contributed in numerous ways to framing the Democratic impeachment narrative, the actual impact that the inquiry will have on the president remains unclear. However, we can say with near certainty that Trump will not be removed, and that impeachment is turning into a political loser for Democrats.

According to an Emerson College poll released this week, support for impeachment has flipped against Democrats. Last month, 48 percent of Americans surveyed supported impeachment, while 44 percent opposed. This month, 43 percent are in support and 45 percent are opposed. The most seismic shift was among independents, who oppose impeachment 49 percent to 34 percent. This marks a stunning reversal from last month, when these voters supported impeachment 48 percent to 39 percent.

Democrats have failed to truly shift public opinion and build a national consensus that Trump deserves to be impeached and removed from office. After two weeks of public testimony and depositions, Democrats were unable to persuade Representative Will Hurd of Texas, a moderate Republican that many Democrats had hoped would cross party lines and come out in favor of impeachment. At the hearing, he said he had “not heard evidence proving the president committed bribery or extortion.”

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Indeed, the impending articles of impeachment will certainly be voted on along party lines, thus making it impossible for Democrats to achieve the majority required for conviction in the Senate. Once this process comes to a close, Democrats will essentially be handing Trump an exoneration, adding fuel to his claim that Democrats are solely focused on their smear campaign against him instead of trying to work with him.

In the coming weeks, it will be crucial for Democrats to consider the political implications that this inquiry will have on the election next year. When the first votes are cast, it will be issues like health care, economic equality, climate change, and gun control that drive people to the ballot box. If Democrats are going to be successful in 2020, they will have to pivot from impeachment and focus on the core issues that everyday Americans are concerned with or risk another four years of Trump.

Douglas Schoen is a former pollster for President Clinton. He is a political consultant and the author of “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.” You can follow him online @DouglasESchoen.