CNN reports that in a private meeting this week, top Democrats conceded that the polls on impeachment were unlikely to shift, and that their basic message is failing to break through for huge swaths of Americans. This is very close to admitting that their ultimate goal, of removing president Trump from office will not be achieved.
The reason this would mean game over for the removal effort is that only a significant uptick for impeachment in polling, especially among Republicans who have been rock solid in support of Trump, could lead to GOP votes to convict in the senate. This may sound cynical, but why should Republican senators defy the wishes of the vast majority of their voters based on the Democrats’ vague and shifting arguments?
Even more telling than the concession that polls won’t be moving is the admission their messaging is failing. This can only really mean one of two things. Either Adam Schiff and his inquiry have failed to prove Trump engaged in impeachable and removal offenses or the 44 percent of Americans who oppose impeachment are too stupid, or brainwashed to accept the case for impeaching Trump.
It’s pretty clear which of these two things Democrats think is going on. Rep. Steny Hoyer had this to say, “And sadly, apparently, Trump was perhaps right when he said of his own supporters that he could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue and they would not require any accountability.”
Rep. Jim Himes added, “Abuse of power is not necessarily a concept that most Americans run around thinking about…The point is we are all working to try to make a fairly unusual concept to most Americans — abuse of power — understandable.”
The Democrats think that they have the goods on Trump, but that millions of voters are too thick-headed to understand what “abuse of power,” the latest strand of spaghetti to be thrown against the wall after “quid pro quo,” “extortion,” and “bribery,” means. But impeachment charges are kind of like jokes, the more you have to explain them, the less effective they are.
To make matter worse for Democrats, not only are they failing to move the needle among Americans, they are struggling to make them care at all. TV ratings for the impeachment hearings on Wednesday were sharply down from those during the James Comey, and Christine Blasey Ford testimonies. Axios has a good breakdown on the myriad reasons this might be the case, but clearly last week’s argument from Democrats that the power of television would be a game changer is falling flat on its face.
When we read the history of the Nixon impeachment, or for the older among us, remember it, it seems like a television spectacle second only to the moon landing. A tuned in America hung on every word. It’s important though, to remember in 1974 impeachment hadn’t happened in a century, and more importantly, half the only dozen or so channels people had were showing the hearings.
As a side note, it may be that we can now set the dates of television’s dominance of political messaging from 1960, and the Kennedy, Nixon debate, to 2016 and the election of Trump. Now the Internet, of which television is just a part of, has taken over that dominant role.
The upshot is that Democrats know this isn’t going well, or at least as well as they had hoped. And yet, they appear to feel that if they have gone this far they have to see it through. They will have a day or two to celebrate with the base the symbolic victory of impeaching Trump, the top policy position of the party for three years now. Then they can pivot to calling every GOP senator who doesn’t vote to convict, a corrupt hack.
Meanwhile the show goes on, at least for a little while longer. And while it might not be must watch TV, the result of this effort will help to define the 2020 race for president. Right now, the White House has every reason to be just fine with that.