Danae Columbus: Does President Trump’s impeachment really matter to American voters?

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The “Washington Avenue” float dominated by President Donald Trump rolls down St. Charles Avenue during the 2019 Knights of Chaos parade. (Zach Brien, UptownMessenger.com)

In tonight’s Democratic presidential debate in Los Angeles, the seven participating candidates probably won’t dwell on yesterday’s impeachment vote by the U.S. House of Representatives.  Though some – especially former Vice President Joe Biden – might strongly believe that President Trump abused his power, America’s voters are evenly split as to whether he should be removed from office. 

A just released Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll of 900 adults showed that 48% of voters surveyed favor impeachment and removal from office and that 44% believe that President Trump’s previous actions before the situation with Ukraine were already grounds for impeachment.

Congressional Democrats took a big risk when they stood by their principles knowing full well that the Republican controlled Senate will acquit President Trump. Not even one House Republican voted for impeachment. At the same time, some members of Congress — but not 2nd District Rep. Cedric Richmond — could have done serious damage to their own electability in 2020 if the mood of the voters in the suburbs and among minorities shifts more toward the president. GOP-aligned super PACs have already been pouring millions into digital ads against those who voted for impeachment. These ads will surely ramp up closer to the 2020 election.

Throughout the House investigation, President Trump still continued to be president, touting ongoing low unemployment, rising wages and relatively strong economic growth and international accomplishments like new trade policies. His latest plan is to reduce student-loan debt. The president has also lowered drug prices, addressed the opioid crisis and made headway on conservation efforts. Although most voters were fully engaged during the beginning of the hearings, many got angry, bored or just distracted by holiday activities. As time passed, the hearings became less relevant to their daily lives.

The results of the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll also suggest that voters who liked President Trump at the beginning of the process still support him now. Short of a recession in 2020, the president will focus on that same message of growth and economic prosperity, which has a good ring to it for most Americans.

According to pollster Dr. Ron Faucheux in his Lunchtime Politics report yesterday, the impeachment process does not appear to be hurting President Trump’s ratings, which are at 46% — a recent high. In fact, the impeachment follies might even be helping fire up his traditional key supporters.

The latest polls show that a Democrat — most easily Joe Biden – can defeat President Trump in a two-person contest.  According to a new USA Today poll, when a generic third-party candidate enters the equation, the president prevails. In the average of three recent polls, Biden is maintaining a healthy lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren continues to slip.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s numbers show little growth although he is polling well in New Hampshire and Iowa. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s multi-million dollar investment in television commercials has made him a real player, especially with older, male and white voters. His personal philanthropy has also helped him earn support from mayors around the country.

Bloomberg needs a strong presentation in Los Angeles tonight to propel his candidacy forward. Faucheux says tonight’s debate is also a critical opportunity for Warren to regain momentum and that Buttigieg should expect attacks from multiple angles.

According to the USA Today polls, Biden remains in the lead with most demographic groups. He gets 14% of white, 20% of Hispanic and 42% of black votes, more than all the other candidates combined. Warren also gets 14% of white votes. Sanders is the most popular candidate among Hispanics voters, earning 24%.

Progressives, many of whom are backing Warren and Sanders, believed 2020 year was their best chance to wrangle control of the Democratic nomination from establishment- aligned Democrats. Instead, the party’s left wing is now more concerned that their two like-minded senators could cancel out each other, leaving party centrists in command. Tonight’s debate will clearly show how that dynamic is playing out.

Aided by Congressman Steve Scalise, President Trump has done a good job of casting the impeachment process as a vendetta against a visionary president who has accomplished so much. Speaker Nancy Pelosi won’t be presenting the Articles of Impeachment to the U.S. Senate until January.

Democrats, including former presidential candidate Kamala Harris, fear that Senate President Mitch McConnell will not conduct a fair impeachment trial. Republicans were never satisfied on how the Democrats handled their part either. President Trump has frequently proclaimed that Democrats have been out to get him since his inauguration. Neither party’s rhetoric is expected to change.

Democratic presidential contenders are expected to continue their intraparty battles as they head toward the Iowa caucuses, which take place in less than 50 days. Then the competition really begins. Only through party unity will the Democrats have a real chance to beat President Trump in 2020, impeachment or no impeachment.

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman-at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She can be reached at swampednola@gmail.com.         


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