So, the much-anticipated House impeachment inquiry goes public today. The country will be able to watch and listen as diplomats testify in open hearings and answer questions from Democrats and Republicans.
Each side has developed a strategy. Democrats want to show that President Trump broke the law by trying to force Ukraine to gather dirt on Joe Biden that could impact the 2020 election. Republicans argue that Trump had genuine concern about Ukrainian corruption and that his interest in withholding military aid was reasonable.
It’s live television and there are likely to be newsworthy moments, especially as congressional questioners try to generate sound bites, which they are wont to do. However, barring a smoking gun, it is unlikely public opinion is going to shift dramatically.
Americans are divided on impeachment. FiveThirtyEight’s impeachment polling tracker shows that 47 percent believe Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 45 percent are against. The poll also shows that Democrats have “picked off most of the persuadable voters when it comes to impeachment support,” so there’s not much room for movement toward removal.
Investigative hearings can damage a president. FiveThirtyEight cites research by Douglas Kriner and Eric Schickler showing that Richard Nixon’s approval rating fell significantly during the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973. But America was captivated by those hearings—three out of four Americans watched—and it’s unclear if the Trump impeachment hearings will have the same appeal.
Trump’s overall approval rating ranges from the low to mid forties and it doesn’t move much. “Trump has proven surprisingly resilient in the face of House Democrats’ investigations so far,” FiveThirtyEight reports. “Although his approval rating is hovering around… 41.3 percent, it hasn’t dipped below 40 percent.”
So, Trump’s core support, although below fifty percent, is virtually unshakable. It is doubtful Democrats will be able to cut into that core support during hearings that Trump has repeatedly labeled as a “witch hunt.”
Kriner told FiveThirtyEight that much is already known about the Ukraine phone call, so the hearings could be short on the kind of drama that would change public opinion.
“There are advantages to having dramatic moments where unexpected things are said,” Kriner said. Frankly, it’s just hard to know what would change the minds of the people who are still on Trump’s side.”
Meanwhile, another poll shows many Americans don’t even trust the process. “About four-in-ten (43 percent) expect the Republicans in Congress will be fair in handling the inquiry, while slightly more (47 percent) say the same about Democrats in Congress,” Pew Research reports.
All this suggests an exercise that will push Americans of differing political views even farther apart, rather than reveal facts that would build consensus about whether Trump should be impeached. It seems people have already made up their minds.
The Latin phrase most often associated with the impeachment inquiry is quid pro quo, but a more appropriate one is alea iacta est—the die is cast.