Despite a furious media-supported propaganda campaign, the Democrats’ vaunted impeachment drive against Donald Trump appears to have stalled.
Last week, a major national poll found that independents have turned sharply against impeachment, giving Trump the edge among voters overall.
The poll conducted by Emerson College found 45 percent of all registered voters are opposed to impeaching the president, against just 43 percent who support it.
That’s a 6-point swing in support from October when 48 percent of voters supported impeachment and only 44 percent opposed.
But the shift in opinion among independents, a critical swing voter group that could determine the outcome of the 2020 election, is even more pronounced.
A month ago, 48 percent of independents polled supported impeachment, against 39 percent who opposed.
In the latest poll, the numbers are reversed: 49 percent oppose impeachment compared to 34 percent who support it.
The Emerson polling comes on the heels of a spate of hearings conducted by Democrats that attempted to implicate President Trump in a scheme to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate former vice-president Joe Biden’s relationship with a firm that his son Hunter helped direct and which has been under investigation for corruption.
Democrats have called Trump’s action an “impeachable” offense and have vowed to vote to remove him from office.
But Republicans have fired back, providing damning evidence that Biden exerted the same kind of political pressure on the Ukrainian government back in 2016 when he served as Barack Obama’s VP.
While Democrats accuse Trump of withholding aid to the Ukrainian government unless it agreed to investigate Biden and his son, Republicans have shown that Biden threatened to suspend aid to Ukraine unless the government backed off investigating his son’s shady dealings.
In the end, the charges and countercharges appear to have muddied the waters, leaving many voters wondering who did what to whom – and whether any of it amounts to impeachable let alone criminal activity.
As a result, many Democrats are clearly getting cold feet about launching a full-scale impeachment investigation.
Earlier this week, Rep. Brenda Lawrence, a Michigan Democrat, announced that she was no longer supporting impeachment but would support a motion of censure of the president instead.
But within a day, after fierce behind the scenes criticism from other leading Democrats, she reversed herself and said she would support impeachment after all.
Quietly, the option of censure is emerging as a possible third option between supporting impeachment and opposing any attempting to sanction Trump publicly.
A censure motion against Trump would be unprecedented. While individual members of Congress have received censure in the past, no US president has ever been censured, though Senate Democrats considered that option in 1996 after the Republican-controlled House voted to impeach Bill Clinton for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky
In the end, the matter never came up for a vote. With Democrats in control of the Senate, the effort to convict Clinton stalled – and so did the need for a censure vote.
However, there is some reason to believe that censure could still emerge as an option in the case of Trump.
A large number of Senate seats currently controlled by Republicans are up for grabs in 2020 and many in the GOP are genuinely worried that the impeachment controversy could damage their standing with swing voters, giving their Democratic opponents the edge
If enough Senate seats change hands, the GOP could lose control of the upper chamber even if Trump manages to win re-election.
That would place the GOP in a politically weak position, and hand all of the top committee assignments to the Democrats allowing them to set much of the policy agenda for Trump’s second term.
In theory, a vote for censure would give Senate Republicans the cover they might need to resist a vote on impeachment.
But the latest Emerson poll suggests that the Republicans may not need that cover after all.
In fact, even before the latest shift in public opinion, some parts of the country, especially voters in the critical Rust Belt states, appeared reluctant to support impeachment. If anything, they are even more reluctant now.
And in addition to Rep. Lawrence, a growing number of moderate Democrats elected in 2018 – 31 in all — are beginning to resist the impeachment push. Some have quietly hinted that they will vote no on impeachment if it comes up for a vote.
Pelosi herself may be in some political danger if she insists on pushing the impeachment drive in the face of public and party opposition.
Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, who called Pelosi’s impeachment strategy “brilliant” just two weeks ago, now thinks she could lose her position as House speaker if more and more Democrats feel the need to run for cover.
The next few weeks are likely to prove decisive as Democrats return from the holidays visiting constituents in their districts. In addition, the Inspector General will soon release a much-anticipated report about the Democrats’ extensive efforts to frame Trump in 2016 with false allegations of Russian election “collusion.”
The drive to impeach Trump will continue but the political tide may have already turned in the president’s favor.