In the court of public opinion

Public opinion surveys are used incessantly in an effort to determine what Americans are thinking about the issues of the day and therefore how they might react to this, that or the other political decision. Nominees – budget priorities – legislative proposals – etc. But polling results can be skewed by a variety of factors, so they should be interpreted cautiously. Divining the future, SAFE newsletter, Spring 2019.

For example: (1) the questions asked can markedly influence the answers; (2) people who hold “unfashionable” opinions may shade their survey responses to sound more mainstream; and (3) the growing use of cell phones has contributed to a cratering of telephone poll acceptance rates (e.g., from 30% in 1996 to 6% now).

As a case in point, seemingly contradictory conclusions can be drawn from several polls relating to the recently begun impeachment inquiry in DC and 2020 election outlook. One might infer that Americas aren’t thinking very clearly about these matters, but if that’s so then whose opinions should politicians be seeking?

A. Impeachment inquiry – Based on the say-so of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Democrats are ramping up what is supposed to be a relatively quick process to develop and approve articles of impeachment against the president. Such action has been taken twice before, against Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, and would have been taken against Richard Nixon if he hadn’t chosen to resign.

Launching an impeachment inquiry without a House vote is unprecedented, and so is the manner in which the process has been conducted thus far. In the case of both Nixon and Clinton, significant procedural “rights” were accorded to the minority party in the House and/or the president, e.g., minority participation in deciding what witnesses to subpoena, public sessions, right to cross-examine witnesses, etc. No comparable ground rules have been established this time. Democrats have abandoned bipartisan format of Clinton impeachment, Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner,
10/10/19.

The cooperative deal for the Clinton inquiry was struck by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde of Illinois, and the top Democrat on the panel, Rep. John Conyers, Jr., of Michigan. “Mr. Chairman, you and I have worked more closely together than at any other time in our careers,” Conyers told Hyde at the launch of the first impeachment hearing, which was open to the public. “And I want to thank you for the many untold efforts that you have made, including providing Democrats the Watergate rules of operation which we sought.”

An 8-page letter from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone was delivered to Speaker Pelosi and three committee chairs on October 8. The letter strongly objected to the way things were being handled and advised that the administration wouldn’t support or participate in the process. White House refuses to cooperate with “illegitimate” impeachment inquiry, Rob Crilly, Washington Examiner, 10/8/19.

Perhaps Democrats should call a vote in the House and agree to some of the other Republican demands. Such an accommodation wouldn’t hamstring the impeachment effort, and it might improve their chances for picking up a bit of Republican support. But so far, there has been no indication that a course change is being considered.

Why not? It’s been suggested that the Constitution doesn’t specify what procedures are supposed to be followed for an impeachment so the majority party is entitled to proceed as it sees fit. The real answer, we suspect, is that Democrats hope to push through articles of impeachment before the “whistleblower” report of President Trump’s inquiry about Ukrainian investigation of corruption charges against former Vice President Joe Biden and his son (1) loses its initial shock value, or (2) is eclipsed by other developments that are likely to be embarrassing for Democrats, e.g., the IG report on abuse of the FISA process to spy on the Trump campaign/White House or the Justice Department review of how the Russian collusion investigation originated in the first place.

Barring the emergence of “smoking gun” evidence against the president, it’s unlikely that any substantial number of Senate Republicans would vote to remove him from office – an action that requires a 2/3 majority. But the real Democrat goal may be to conduct a one-sided inquiry that ends with articles of impeachment being voted against the president (requiring a simple majority), thereby damaging him politically and demoralizing his supporters. World War Trump, Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal,
10/9/19.

For Democrats, impeaching Donald Trump is just one big bomb in a larger strategy for the long march back to power next year. Their plan is to make the country’s political life so intolerable that the American people simply run up the white flag on the Trump presidency. No más!

So what does the public think about all this? After the Russian collusion theory fizzled out because the Mueller probe hadn’t substantiated it, a slim majority of Americans apparently opposed impeachment + removal from office. The polling results shifted, however, when the whistleblower complaint surfaced and provided a new theory for impeachment. Fox News Poll: Over half of voters want Trump impeached and removed from office, Tim Pearce, Washington Examiner,
10/9/19.

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One can think of several reasons to question these results, which if the public was paying attention might have prompted a much higher “don’t know” vote than has been reported. For example:

•Very little was known about the whistleblower including his or her identity, and the demand for anonymity seems to border on arrogance.

•When the transcript of the president’s phone conversation with the new Ukrainian leader was made public, it didn’t live up to some of the initial hype.

•Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, initially represented that neither he nor his office had been contacted by the whistleblower before the complaint was made public. This turned out to be untrue, adding to previous indications of Mr. Schiff’s willingness to “cut corners” in order to “get” the president.

Also, the “impeach & remove” outcome that received 51% of the votes seemed improbable as a 2/3 Senate vote for removal from office would require numerous Republican defections. Like the president or hate him, investing a lot of time and energy in an impeachment battle would establish a new low in this country’s deteriorating political climate – for no real purpose. Why not let Americans go to the polls in a mere 13 months and decide the issue of who should be president come January 2021?

B. Presidential election – As already stated, the Democratic goal in this situation may not be to remove the president from office, but rather to damage him politically and thereby ensure his defeat next November. A series of general election polls between the president and various Democratic candidates suggest that Trump is vulnerable, e.g., could lose to Biden, Warren, or Sanders. Latest 2020 general election polls, RealClear Politics, accessed 10/11/19.

If that’s the line of reasoning Americans are using to justify support for impeachment, however, it’s hard to explain another recent poll (Zogby Analytics): Most Americans think Trump will be impeached and win 2020 reelection, Paul Bedard, Washington Examiner,
10/9/19.

The only theory about this poll that makes sense to us is that respondents gave what they assumed to be the desired answer about impeachment, and understandably so considering how one-sided the mainstream media coverage has been, but didn’t truly believe it.

Perhaps Americans doubt the president would fold under the pressure if the House voted articles of impeachment and he faced an impeachment trial in the Senate, and there is certainly evidence to the contrary. From our observations, Trump actually seems to be energized by challenges to his authority, which enable him to play the role of underdog and strike back at his opponents. Witness, for example, the president’s rally in Minneapolis on the evening of October 10 at which he slammed the impeachment process, the “do nothing” Democrats, Joe Biden and his son, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), the Minneapolis mayor, etc. At Minneapolis rally, an angry Trump reserves sharpest attack for Biden, Annie Karni & Peter Baker, New York Times,
10/10/19.

•In his first campaign rally since Speaker Nancy Pelosi declare[d] the formal beginning of an impeachment inquiry last month, Mr. Trump was as raw and rancorous as ever, targeting individual Democrats in highly personal terms that no president has used in public and presenting himself as a victim of a partisan conspiracy.

•Mr. Trump was proudly on offense all night, cheerfully using the word “hell” repeatedly while mocking those who say he should watch his language. “I’m energized,” he told the crowd. At another point, he reveled in his ad hoc blasts at his enemies. “Isn’t it much better when I go off script?” he asked.


An October 11 rally in Lake Charles, Louisiana was equally boisterous (or raucous). Clearly, the president was in his element as he weighed in on the impeachment process and a host of other matters.

They know they can’t win on Election Day, so they're pursuing an illegal, invalid and unconstitutional [expletive deleted] impeachment.

Uncertainties abound about the coming presidential campaign, including who will be the Democratic Party nominee and which issue(s) he or she will choose to focus on. But if Americans are skeptical about the efficacy of the Democratic impeachment strategy, despite polls indicating they favor it, they may well be proven right.

C. Electoral college – In living memory, two Republican candidates (Bush 43 in 2000 and Trump in 2016) have won the presidency despite trailing in the national popular vote (NPV) count. Democrats have understandably expressed support for doing away with the electoral college so that “nothing like this ever happens again,” while Republicans are otherwise inclined.

Lining up enough support (38 states) to ratify a constitutional amendment would be difficult, but an effort is underway to short circuit the process by entering into an interstate compact to require state electors from signatory states (having a total of 270 or more electoral votes) to vote for the NPV winner. As of last week, 15 states and the District of Columbia had committed to this scheme leaving supporters only 74 electoral votes short of their goal. Status of National Popular Vote bill in each state, accessed
10/12/19.

Is this a commendable effort? A majority of Americans have lost confidence in the electoral college according to a recent C-Span/Ipsos poll, although they were apparently asked about a constitutional amendment versus the NPV workaround. Voter mutiny: 60% of Americans want electoral college abolished, Paul Bedard, Washington Examiner,
10/9/19.


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From where we sit, this seems like another dubious poll. First, the electoral college serves a legitimate purpose of ensuring that elected presidents are representative of the country as a whole and not just of the states with the largest populations. Second, an NPV system would magnify the dangers of voting fraud, and the country could be plunged into a national vote recount and legal battle in a close election that might prove far more difficult to resolve than the Bush-Gore fracas in 2000. Third, no one is seriously pursuing the constitutional amendment route, and the NPV compact campaign represents a rather sketchy effort to game the system. Assault on the electoral college, 4/8/19.

As though things weren’t complicated enough, a recent 10th Circuit decision could throw a monkey wrench in the NPV compact idea by upholding the right of state electors to vote for who they want versus being under binding instructions to follow the instructions of state authorities. Federal court undercuts progressive efforts to nullify Electoral College, rules electors can vote freely, Gregg Re, foxnews.com,
8/22/19.

Truly, if the NPV compact gambit succeeded and the 2020 election results were close, some very divisive litigation might follow – as we previously pointed out. Assault on the electoral college,
op. cit.

Let’s say the NPV compact did achieve critical mass, for example in May 2020. Proponents would presumably attempt to put the compact into effect for the November presidential election while opponents would be filing lawsuits in an effort to block it, turning what already promises to be a contentious political contest into a legal slugfest. Forget any hopes for a rational discussion of the issues during the presidential campaign, because any such debate would be drowned out by the legal arguments and counterarguments.

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The foregoing should not be taken as disparaging the instincts of the American people; they will hopefully get things right in the long run. But many of the issues in play are complicated, the public seems to have a short attention span, and players/observers will present deceptive arguments when it suits their purposes.

Whatever side one favors, the impeachment inquiry and the 2020 elections are of paramount importance if this country’s political system is to continue functioning properly. Things that matter, Charles Krauthammer,
2014.

Get your politics wrong . . . and everything stands to be swept away. This is not ancient history. This is Germany 1933...Politics is the moat, the walls, beyond which lie the barbarians. Fail to keep them at bay, and everything burns.

It would also be nice to see a sensible discussion of public policy issues for a change. Tune in next week for some thoughts along that line.

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