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When it comes to Trump’s future, ‘the people’ would rather decide it themselves

Democrats have failed spectacularly to persuade half the country on the necessity of impeachment

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats should be concerned by polls that show more Americans support letting voters decide the president’s fate and not a one-sided impeachment process, Winston writes. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats should be concerned by polls that show more Americans support letting voters decide the president’s fate and not a one-sided impeachment process, Winston writes. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

OPINION — Abraham Lincoln closed the Gettysburg Address on a hopeful note, promising a “new birth of freedom” so that “government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Today, as the Democrats push their partisan impeachment forward in the Senate chamber, the sentiments expressed so eloquently by a beleaguered president in the midst of the Civil War are worth remembering. It’s worth remembering that a government of the people must, by definition, be formed by the people.

Impeachment, as the framers saw it, was a constitutional necessity to protect the country from presidential corruption, but it was also meant to be a rare avenue for Congress to embark on and in only the most dire of circumstances because impeachment is, de facto, the overturning of a national election.

These same Founding Fathers also understood that there is an alternative to impeachment, and it’s called an election. Thomas Jefferson said, “Should things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights.” It’s a truth Democrats have decided to ignore in their loathing of this president and rush to placate their angry base.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to excuse the Democrats’ decision to move forward without the bipartisan support she had insisted was essential to a successful impeachment.

In floor remarks in December to open the debate on impeachment, she said, “Today we are here to defend democracy for the people.”

A month after the vote, Pelosi said in a statement that the House “upheld its Constitutional duty to defend democracy For The People.” When naming the House impeachment managers, she claimed Democrats were defending the Constitution as they sought “the truth for the American people.”

“As we make that history, we will be making progress for the American people,” Pelosi said, having lost the “solemn and prayerful” tone of earlier statements.

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For the people?

But is the Democrats’ one-sided impeachment really driven by their concern “for the people” when the people see them literally celebrating impeachment with gold signing pens on silver trays and partisan parades through the Capitol halls? The harsh and personal tone of their complaints against President Donald Trump belies their claims of seriousness and reluctance.

At the core, do Democrats even understand what people really want? Over the past two months, there has been plenty of polling on whether voters favor the impeachment of the president and want him removed from office. The numbers have moved modestly up and down, pro and con, depending on the week, the sample and how the question was asked.

Despite months of impeachment efforts in the House, polls now show Democrats have failed spectacularly to persuade half the country of the rightness and necessity of this impeachment. The latest RealClearPolitics polling average on the question put support for impeachment and Trump’s removal at 47.3 percent, with 47.5 percent taking the opposite position. Since the beginning of November, the highest number for removal has been 51 percent, and the highest for not removing was also 51 percent.

Having failed to convince a significant majority of voters on the validity of their impeachment effort, Democrats begin Senate proceedings this week in a difficult position, if their goal is to find the two-thirds majority needed to convict the president.

Shifting support

But the problem Democrats face may be worse than the standard polling questions seem to suggest. The Oct. 31-Nov.2 Winning the Issues survey looked into the issue of impeachment through a slightly different lens. In most polls, people are given only two options: favor or oppose impeachment, with some surveys including “removal from office.” Winning the Issues gave them an option that we hoped would give us some insight into how people value their right to vote and what impact impeachment would have on that vote.

We asked people which statement came closest to their views:

“Voters — not Congress — should decide whether President Trump should be removed or reelected in next year’s election.”

“Congress should impeach President Trump and remove him from office.”

Our findings in early November didn’t represent good news for Democrats — by a 49 percent to 39 percent margin, respondents supported letting the voters decide. But our latest Dec. 28-30 survey ought to give Democrats serious pause. By a larger margin than we saw last fall, voters believed the election should decide Trump’s future — 55 percent to 35 percent.

Despite high viewership of the House impeachment hearings and Democrats’ almost total control of the political narrative, this 10-point shift from November shows that voters believe they should be the ones to decide, not partisan politicians.

This inherent belief in the validity of the ballot over a political impeachment process crossed many key voter groups.

Most important, the survey found independents, the “majority makers,” favored letting voters decide by a huge 23-point margin, 53 percent to 30 percent. 

Here’s how a few other groups broke down. 

  • Moderate voters: 48 percent to 41 percent
  • Millennial/Generation Z: 49% percent to 34 percent
  • Baby Boomers and older: 64 percent to 31 percent
  • Voters with 4-year college degree: 50 percent to 40 percent
  • Voters with less than a 4-year college degree: 58 percent to 31 percent

Suburban women, one of the most crucial voter groups this fall, favored letting voters decide 51 percent to 35 percent, something that should concern Democratic leaders. People who had an unfavorable view of both parties, about 20 percent of the country, were the most disposed to letting voters decide, 60 percent to 28 percent. 

These numbers don’t mean the electorate’s concerns over the impeachment allegations have disappeared. But with the election just over nine months away, Democrats’ argument for it is steadily losing standing with voters at exactly the wrong time for them.

The impeachment effort will only be successful if they win the argument that continuing the Trump presidency is so detrimental to the country that people are willing to give up their vote. During Watergate, “the people” eventually came to that conclusion. In the Clinton impeachment, they did not.

Nancy Pelosi and her impeachment caucus have spent months wrapping themselves in the Constitution and portraying themselves as protectors of democracy always “for the people.” Unless something dramatic happens during the Senate trial to change their minds, “the people” would rather Democrats left the decision to them.

David Winston is the president of The Winston Group and a longtime adviser to congressional Republicans. He previously served as the director of planning for Speaker Newt Gingrich. He advises Fortune 100 companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and public policy issues, and is an election analyst for CBS News.

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