Impeachment Doesn’t Shake Trump Voters But Sows Doubt on Biden

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump may have risked impeachment in an attempt to tar Joe Biden with scandal, but he appears to have accomplished two political goals -- sowing doubts about a leading rival while incurring little damage among his most ardent supporters.

Interviews with voters across the country in recent days found few have changed their minds about the president as a result of the Trump-Ukraine scandal.

Impeachment Doesn’t Shake Trump Voters But Sows Doubt on Biden

As with previous controversies, Trump’s supporters said they were sure he had done nothing wrong, while his critics said they thought it was obvious that he had. It was Biden who may suffer the most, as even some who support the impeachment inquiry said they now had questions about what Biden’s son, Hunter, did in Ukraine.

Robin Wade, 58, of Kenosha, Wisconsin, voted for Trump in 2016 and plans to vote for him again. The former teacher, now on disability, thought Democrats were “making a mockery out of our country” by opening an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s pressuring of the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden.

“What’s wrong with the president of the United States saying, ‘Check this guy out?’” she asked.

Keith Justice, 54, of Dayton, Ohio, who voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, was equally convinced that Trump had done something wrong. The owner of a center for people with developmental disabilities said the office of the presidency should be held to a higher standard.

“President Trump is abusing the office bigly -- isn’t that the word he used?” he said.

Polls show that views of Trump have long been hardened. His Gallup approval rating has stayed within an 11-point range, compared to the 30-point average difference between highs and lows for every other president since World War II during the same time in office.

Trump’s strategy of focusing exclusively on his base is not without risk. An average of surveys taken after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement last week of an impeachment inquiry show 46% of Americans support impeachment while 42% oppose it.

But Trump won in 2016 in large part because the Democratic nominee was dragged down by scandals he helped publicize. Clinton, who left her post as Secretary of State in 2013 with a 69% approval rating, ended up as the second-most unpopular major-party presidential nominee in modern history, just behind Trump.

His attempt to repeat that zero-sum strategy in 2020 may already be working.

Accountant Emsie Hapner, 25, of Dayton, voted for Clinton in 2016. She said she’s crossing her fingers that Trump is impeached.

“It doesn’t excuse the use of the office of the presidency to find that information out for personal gain,” she said about Trump. “Whether or not Joe Biden has things to answer for is a separate issue.”

Retiree Chuck Christiansen, 66, of Burlington, Wisconsin, said that Biden isn’t blameless, but compared to Trump any misdeeds of his would be “a grain of salt on the beach.”

On the face of it, the questions raised about Trump and Biden aren’t comparable.

Trump and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, have admitted that they repeatedly asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open an investigation that would damage Biden, an improper and possibly illegal request for a foreign government to help fight a political rival. And in a July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy, the request came right after a discussion of desperately needed military aid for Ukraine that had been put on hold.

Impeachment Doesn’t Shake Trump Voters But Sows Doubt on Biden

At the same time, there’s not much of a case against Biden. As vice president, he carried out Obama administration policy to join European countries and other entities in pressuring Ukraine to fire its prosecutor general. An investigation by that prosecutor into Burisma Holdings, an energy company Hunter Biden was a director of, had been dormant for a year at the time.

But some voters said the dueling allegations are exactly what they dislike about politics.

Caregiver Kathy Lowery, 61, of McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania, said that she hates the constant pettiness she sees politicians engaging in.

“I’m just so sick of them -- of both parties. It’s like schoolyard bull. This one kicks dirt so that one has to kick more dirt,” said Lowery, who said she voted for Clinton in 2016, with misgivings. “That’s why I don’t even watch all that much news anymore. I had it on this morning and I was thinking ‘OK, all of you lie. Just shut up. Just shut up. I just can’t even.’”

Polls show that trust in government is at a historic low, with only 17% of Americans telling the Pew Research Center this year that they trust Washington to do what’s right all or most of the time, down from three-fourths when the annual survey began in 1958.

The perception that politicians are corrupt plays a big role in that. A 2018 survey by the Wall Street Journal found that 77% of registered voters ranked reducing the influence of special interests and corruption as a top issue.

For many voters, the Trump-Ukraine scandal was just the latest example.

Lana Weldon, 65, of Beavercreek, Ohio, is a Republican, but she didn’t vote in 2016 because she didn’t like Trump or Clinton.

“The people have a right to find out the truth,” she said. “Can we really find out the truth though? I feel like politics has a way of hiding everything.”

Weldon, a paralegal, said she isn’t sure that Trump should be president because he’s “kind of a hot head,” but she wasn’t sure what to believe about Biden.

“Again, how do we know what’s the truth?” she said. “Is there anybody that tells the truth out there? I don’t know what to think about it. I’m confused about that too.”

Vacationing in Venice Beach, California, Washington D.C. resident and Clinton voter Nor Villa, 28, was also jaded.

“Politicians in general are liars, so you just do your best,” he said.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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