Impeachment moved nobody but threatens trouble for Democrats

While the conflict with Iran has recently led the news, for the previous five months, impeachment dominated the news and obsessed the chattering classes. Left-leaning pundits and hardcore Democrats were certain that impeachment would destroy President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign MORE — but the polling numbers say something very different. Impeachment has changed nothing.

Trump’s RealClearPolitics approval average has gone from 43.8 percent at the end of July to 45.2 percent today. His polling average against his top rival (former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Trump says impeachment lawyers were 'really good' MORE) has improved, if slightly. The last five head-to-head polls give Biden a 48.5 percent to 44 percent advantage, against a 51 percent to 44 percent advantage in July.

These improving numbers for Trump do not mean that impeachment has benefited him; in fact, the proportion of voters who support impeaching Trump has gone up. According to polling averages calculated by the site FiveThirtyEight, opposition to impeachment exceeded support from March through the end of September 2019. In July, an outright majority opposed impeachment; however, support for impeachment is now greater than opposition and has remained so since September.

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How can this be the case if impeachment is the towering moral test breathlessly covered day after day? Simple: The public views other issues as more important.

Politico and Morning Consult found in November that impeachment was next to last on issues of importance for the public — and there is little likelihood impeachment is going to climb in importance. Since Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Justices won't fast-track ObamaCare case before election | New virus spreads from China to US | Collins challenger picks up Planned Parenthood endorsement Why Senate Republicans should eagerly call witnesses to testify Trump health chief: 'Not a need' for ObamaCare replacement plan right now MORE (D-Calif.) announced the start of the impeachment inquiry, Trump has negotiated a modest initial trade deal with China. Household income is rising, with a larger proportion going toward lower-income households. Unemployment remains low, and the stock market rose nearly 30 percent in 2019.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Hillary Clinton tears open wound with her attack on Sanders MORE (D-Mass.) can claim all she wants that the Iran crisis was engineered by Trump to distract from impeachment, but the fact is that impeachment is not — and has not been — a top priority for the public. Whether or not Trump was trying to distract from impeachment (and there is no evidence to support that contention), he certainly didn’t need to.

Impeachment is and always has been about satisfying the demands of Democratic voters who detest Trump. Democratic voters not only favor impeaching Trump 84 percent to 11 percent but also oppose Trump by similar margins on job approval (91 percent disapprove) and practically all significant issues. For the top issues outside the economy, Democrats disapprove of Trump by an average of 80 percent. On the economy — Trump’s best issue — Trump’s Democratic disapproval is still 67 percent. Anything that Trump does will be opposed, and any action that strikes at Trump will be supported. Any Democratic member of Congress who opposes impeachment is almost certain to lose their party primary.

Republican voters similarly support Trump on all significant issues and oppose impeachment in numbers that essentially mirror Democratic numbers. Republican voters oppose impeachment 81 percent to 13 percent. Remarkably, they approve of Trump on the top five policy issues by the exact mirror opposite of the Democratic average (GOP approval average: 80 percent).

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Impeachment is only going to get worse as an issue for the Democrats.

From the start, Trump was not going to be removed from office. While impeaching the president requires only a majority vote in the House, removal requires a two-thirds majority (67 votes or more) in the Senate — an absolute impossibility. The squabbling over the structure of the trial in the Senate is inane and pointless. No matter how the trial proceeds, Trump will be acquitted, and voters on the fence about Trump will consider impeachment to have been a massive waste of time.

Furthermore, the delay in forwarding the articles of impeachment to the Senate just pushed impeachment into the election year. It’s easier than ever to make the argument to independent voters that the decision to keep or remove Trump should rest with our roughly 135 million active voters, not 100 senators.

Congressional Democrats have done what their voters wanted — they impeached Trump. The longer they drag the process out, the more trouble they are creating for themselves.

Keith Naughton, Ph.D., co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, is a public affairs consultant who specialized in Pennsylvania judicial elections. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711