It's essentially impossible to argue that it's been a good stretch of news cycles for the president, as the public has watched people in his orbit getting indicted, sentenced, and accused of further misconduct over recent weeks. The conventional wisdom among the political class is that Robert Mueller's endgame is drawing near, and that a constricting noose is getting closer to the president's political neck. But a fresh CNN poll produces a somewhat counterintuitive statistic: Since September, public support for impeachment has fallen considerably, particularly among independents. Some conservatives are celebrating:
CNN Impeachment Poll Backfires, Proves Growing Support for Trump https://t.co/cFhdcXrJTv— Sarah Palin (@SarahPalinUSA) December 17, 2018
Half, 50%, say they don’t feel that Trump ought to be impeached and removed from office, while 43% say he should be. Support for impeachment has dipped some since September, when 47% favored it, and is about the same as in a June poll (42% favored it then). Support for impeachment of Trump remains higher than it was for each of the last three presidents at any time it was asked. It’s on par with President Richard Nixon, who 43% of Americans said should be impeached and removed from office in a March 1974 Harris poll. The shift on impeachment comes mostly from political independents. In September, they were evenly split on the question, with 48% behind impeachment and 47% opposed. Now, 36% favor impeachment and 55% are opposed.
What explains this movement? I brainstormed a few theories, then read Allahpundit's post, which beat me to nearly every punch. My primary suspicion was that this is polling noise, based on the sample -- but that wouldn't necessarily explain the fairly dramatic shift within the independent voter demographic. Another plausible factor is that indies, who shifted heavily to the Democrats in November, strongly favored putting a check on the president. They may have felt like they didn't have one back in September, but after the opposition party flipped the House by a substantial margin, some of these Trump-skeptical swing voters may feel more satisfied that a healthier equilibrium has been restored. They wanted more accountability; the election delivered it to them, making an extreme step like impeachment look less attractive.
Then there's the possibility of investigation burnout -- and the notion that the aforementioned cacophony of ugly headlines might actually be benefiting Trump in certain respects. Think of it this way: If you're a voter who isn't a hardcore partisan and doesn't closely follow every political twist and turn (i.e. most people), your expectations-related threshold for impeachment talk likely starts and ends with Russia and collusion. So if you're suddenly hearing a lot about Trump's 'hush money' payments to former lovers, which may or may not be campaign finance crimes, that may smell like mission creep to you. Add in new developments about a possible probe into the spending practices of Trump's inaugural fund, and maybe Trump's "witch hunt" carping starts to sound a little bit more justified. AP's take:
Impeach Trump if there’s proof that he conspired with the Kremlin to influence the election? Sure. Impeach Trump because his sleazy lawyer engineered a few mistress payoffs for him and then they hid it from the FEC? Nah. Plus, the more that non-Russiagate criminal investigations mushroom around Trump, the more his “witch hunt” cry may resonate. Investigating him and his campaign for possibly plotting with Putin is one thing, investigating his campaign and his business and his private life and on and on and on, with various federal and state prosecutors all digging through his trash and Democrats vowing to subpoena everyone and everything, makes it look like the establishment is out to take him down by hook or by crook.
Precisely. Impeachment overreach can really damage the aggressors and help the perceived victim. Just ask Newt Gingrich (whose apparent non-denial on the COS question may have, in fact, been a denial) or Bill Clinton. All that being said, President Trump's public reaction to some of the recent revelations are profoundly unhelpful to his own cause. Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, who has often defended the president and critiqued the investigations against him, seemed especially irked by Trump's weekend tweet attacking Michael Cohen as a "rat" and urging the FBI to "break into" the DNC -- foolishly conflating the Bureau's executions of search warrants with an unlawful raid:
Sir, in mobster lingo, a ‘rat’ is a witness who tells prosecutors real incriminating info. Perhaps a different word? Searches of lawyer’s offices common enough that DOJ has a procedure for them. Here it yielded evidence of crimes you said he should be jailed for. You should stop. https://t.co/EV1txBYrhz— Andy McCarthy (@AndrewCMcCarthy) December 16, 2018
Taking advantage of potential public sympathy rooted in opponents' undue overreach requires restraint. Is Trump capable of that? Unhinged "Rat" tweets and the like are counter-productive and self-inflicted gifts to the Resistance. And 'round and 'round we go. Your move, Nancy & Company.