DAVENPORT, Iowa — Kristy Schneeberger, a Democrat in eastern Iowa, said it was about time that Democrats in Congress moved to impeach President Donald Trump. “No one is above the law,” she said.
But for Schneeberger and many other Democratic voters around the country, the prospect of an explosive impeachment battle in Washington also left them nervous. They worried that impeachment could easily backfire on Democrats, galvanizing Trump’s supporters in next year’s elections and drowning out people’s concerns about health care, immigration and the economy.
Gun control is a top priority for Schneeberger, 60, because her four adult children, ages 26 to 37, are teachers worried about their students’ safety. But now, she said, “I think it’s just getting sidelined again.”
While politicians in Washington crowded microphones Wednesday to condemn or defend Trump and the prospect of his impeachment, more than two dozen voters across the country were by turns elated and wary, unsure and already exhausted, at the idea of an impeachment investigation that could consume the nation for months.
Republican supporters of Trump, as well as some moderates who had crossed over to vote for him in 2016, were generally unmoved by the possibility that Trump committed impeachable crimes. The new impeachment inquiry led by House Democratic leaders, they said, was just one more overblown political crisis that Trump could weather and use to rally his base in 2020.
“I think it is an absolute joke,” said Reggie Dickerson, 54, a pipe fitter and timber worker who lives in eastern Kentucky.
Dickerson and other supporters said they had stuck with Trump during the special-counsel investigation of Russian election-meddling and collusion, throughout revelations about hush-money payments to an adult film star and even during the release of Trump’s vulgar comments on the “Access Hollywood” tapes. The latest details about what Trump said to Ukraine’s president had not changed their minds.
“I’m like, yeah, boy who cried wolf,” said Donna Burgraff, an associate education professor and registered independent from Andersonville, Tennessee, who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 before swinging to Trump. “You’ve got to have something big, and I haven’t seen something big.”
For years, polling has shown that a majority of Americans have opposed impeaching Trump and considered it a theoretical topic that mattered less than real-life concerns like health care and job creation. Whether that will change, and what happens if it doesn’t, are some of many factors that will shape the political consequences for both parties.
In interviews with voters Wednesday, there was no clear or surprising shift in sentiment on impeachment; some Republican voters pumped their fists with bring-it-on energy, and some Democrats pronounced themselves vindicated but also uncertain about whether the House — let alone the Republican-led Senate — would ultimately act against Trump.
Still, some Democratic voters said the symbolism of the moment and the prospect of monthslong televised hearings into Trump’s conduct were satisfying enough. In Seattle, Zera Marvel hung an orange flag declaring “IMPEACH” from her front porch Tuesday.
“We actually need someone to put their foot down,” she said.
In states like Iowa, where voters have been deluged by presidential candidates this year, Democratic voters said that while they believed impeachment was warranted, they were also concerned the issue would swallow up everything else and potentially tarnish former Vice President Joe Biden if he is the nominee, in a replay of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server that dragged down her candidacy for president in 2016.
“If they prolong it into next year in July and August, when we’re in the heart of the conventions, that bothers me,” said Kevin Hansen, a farmer in Jackson County, south of Dubuque. “I’m just afraid that with the way Trump can flip the issues all the time, that this will come back to bite. Or there might be something else that turns up that may not be so favorable to Joe Biden if he’s the nominee.”
While some Democratic voters said Trump had abused his power by pressing Ukraine’s leader for an investigation of Biden, Republican voters largely dismissed the new details that poured out of Washington on Wednesday. “A nothingburger,” said Michael Bower, 38, of Seattle.
Trisha Hope, who has been to 23 Make America Great Again rallies around the country and compiled a collection of Trump’s tweets in a book, said that she saw “nothing improper” in the publicly released version of the call and that the formal move toward impeachment had strengthened her support.
“If anything, I have more respect for him now than I did then, to withstand everything he’s been put through, him and his family,” said Hope, a 55-year-old real estate agent in League City, Texas.
Even voters who were wavering on Trump were skeptical that impeachment was anything other than Washington antics. Mike Callaham, 72, a retired biochemist in Apex, North Carolina, voted for Trump in 2016 because he had come from outside the political system and seemed almost like a third-party candidate. But he has since soured on him — his constant use of Twitter and the endless stream of personnel changes.
Even so, Callaham, who usually votes for Republicans for president, has his doubts about the impeachment proceedings, which he believes distract from the real issues the country is facing, like immigration and infrastructure.
“I don’t really know what to think,” he said. “They’ve certainly been trying to impeach him since the day he was elected. What is Congress doing anyway?”
But for at least one erstwhile Trump supporter, the president’s behavior with the Ukrainian leader had gone too far. Reginald Johnson, 60, a retired forklift operator in Memphis, Tennessee, voted for Trump after supporting Barack Obama in 2008 but said he now favored the impeachment inquiry.
“I think it’s time for something to be done,” Johnson said. “I just don’t think it’s becoming of a president.” His actions set a dangerous precedent, he added, that other countries “can meddle in elections and do whatever they want to the United States without repercussions.”
Many Democratic voters saw impeachment as a high-risk political wager and said they were torn about whether their leaders had acted too hastily.
A national survey last month by the Monmouth University Polling Institute — before the Ukraine revelations emerged — found that voters opposed even beginning an impeachment inquiry by a 10-point margin. The pattern held when pollsters surveyed voters in New Jersey districts that swung to Democrats in last year’s midterms: Most voters said they did not want Trump to win a second term, but they also opposed removing him from office through impeachment.
“That’s what those Democrats in the flip districts are worried about,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Polling Institute. “The question is: Now that Congress is actually taking action, will this change public opinion? Does this one feel different? I’m not sure yet.”
Still, many liberals felt Democratic leadership had not been aggressive enough. Eric Brumfield, a 45-year-old real estate lawyer in Miami said the Democrats’ impeachment effort was “long overdue.”
“I think they could have done this within six months of his election,” Brumfield said. “It makes Richard Nixon look like a choir boy.”
But in the rapidly diversifying suburbs south of Denver where voters unseated a five-term Republican congressman in November, Soupany Saignaphone was still ambivalent.
She comes from a family of Laotian immigrants and said they abhorred Trump’s rhetoric about refugees and immigration and planned to vote against him in 2020. Her mother had just become a citizen and was getting ready to register to vote. But Saignaphone said impeachment was a dead end.
“This is not going to go anywhere,” she said. “It’s just a nuisance and a distraction.”
Voters of both parties who lived through Watergate or President Bill Clinton’s impeachment shuddered at the thought of enduring another all-consuming impeachment fight, only this time, one that will light up their phones and make their social-media feeds toxic.
Leticia Pelaez of Miami said the administration had forced Democrats in Congress to act by obstructing investigations and preventing officials from testifying. Still, she said she wished the country had avoided getting dragged into an impeachment inquiry.
“If you look back at any impeachment processes, they’ve all divided us even more,” she said. “And we are divided right now.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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