What would be the point? With Trump, the battle lines were drawn long ago. Residents of this swing town in a swing state, where everyone knows who’s on which side, say impeachment has done nothing to shift them.
“I don’t like Trump. I don’t like anything he stands for,” said Shannon Baun, 49, who styles hair at a no-appointment-needed salon along the town’s handsome Main Street. “But I have customers who fully believe every word that comes out of his mouth. You can’t argue about it.”
The local dynamic reflects a national reality: Even as support for impeachment has grown to an average of nearly 50 percent in recent months as evidence of an abuse of presidential power piles up, his approval ratings have remained remarkably stable, at just above 40 percent. The country is divided on impeachment, just as it is divided on Trump himself.
Even in 2020 battlegrounds like Nazareth, there is little indication that the facts of the impeachment case have altered the political equation.
“Most people are retreating to their corners,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.
During the other two impeachment inquiries in living memory, public opinion was more fluid. Richard Nixon saw his popularity plummet throughout the Watergate investigation, ultimately contributing to his resignation. Bill Clinton’s popularity dipped, then rebounded sharply amid Republican attacks over his affair with Monica Lewinsky, helping him to finish his second term.
But America’s partisan divisions run deeper today, and the facts of this particular impeachment inquiry may be harder to grasp. There is no burglary or sex this time. Just a phone call with a foreign leader whose name runs to seven syllables.
Surveys show that most Americans say they are paying attention to the impeachment inquiry, at least to some degree. But as Democrats began public hearings this week, they face a challenge in persuading voters to keep an open mind — or to tune in to the details.
“It’s not as visceral,” said Borick, who lives in Nazareth, a town of nearly 6,000 with a history that traces back to Biblically minded German settlers during Colonial times. “For something that might be monumental, it doesn’t have a central place in discussions.”
That’s not to say that people don’t have passionate feelings. In interviews with nearly two dozen voters here, there was virtually no ambiguity over whether Trump should go. Nazareth residents said they are sticking with their calls from 2016: If they were anti-Trump then, they are pro-impeachment now. And vice versa.
“Impeachment? That’s just trash talk,” said Jim Smith, a retired factory manager who proudly voted for Trump in 2016, intends to do so again in 2020 and would support him beyond that, if he could. “Doesn’t everyone know he’s doing a fabulous job?”
For evidence, Smith said, just look around the area. New suburban-style housing developments rising from fallow fields. Vast warehouses going up where long-dormant manufacturing plants once stood. The “help wanted” signs adorning storefronts and restaurants, including the one on the Nazareth Diner, where the 82-year-old Smith was holding forth.
“I think it stinks,” Smith said.
Not Trump’s role, of course. Joe Biden’s.
“The guy knows nothing about gas and energy but he’s getting $83,000 a month?” Smith said, referring to unverified reports circulating on conservative media sites of the salary earned by Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, as a consultant to the Ukrainian firm Burisma. “This won’t end well for Joe.”
Halfway down the breakfast counter, but a world away politically, Jackie Sigafoos kept her voice just above a whisper as she dared to disagree. The president’s behavior in the Ukraine scandal, she said, just confirms everything she had thought about him from the start.
“I’ve always known Trump isn’t a good person. I can’t understand how people can watch the way he acts and still be for him,” the 62-year-old confessed between swigs of coffee, her eyes scanning adjacent tables.
“This is a place that’s pro-Trump, so I have to watch what I say,” she said of the diner, which is nestled amid cement plants, Nazareth’s signature industry. “It can get ugly.”
Sigafoos had been eating with a colleague who, she said, supports the president. The two work together daily, and they are friends. But they’ve learned not to discuss politics.
“We have opposite opinions,” Sigafoos said as her breakfast companion looked away. “So we don’t talk about it.”
The political geography of Nazareth is well defined. In a small town that’s nearly evenly split between Trump lovers and haters, few said they had discussed impeachment with anyone they disagree with.
“I don’t hear people talking about impeachment here,” said Lynn Klein, an ardent Trump opponent who owns a flower and gift shop. “It’s such a heated topic. People don’t want to lose friendships.”
Even within the diner, there’s an unspoken rule: Liberals — when there are any — gravitate toward one end of the counter, near the door. Conservatives crowd the other end, near the television reliably tuned to Fox News.
On one day earlier this month, the big news in Washington was testimony from a top State Department official offering the starkest depiction yet of Trump’s attempts to force Ukraine to open investigations into his political opponents. At the diner in Nazareth, the screen was filled with the president’s denunciations of the inquiry as “a coup.”
As she doled out plates piled high with waffles and bacon, Roz Werkheiser said that sounds about right.
“I haven’t followed this impeachment stuff real closely,” said the 56-year-old waitress. “But I’m sure it’s just a tactic. The Democrats know they’re not going to win the election. So they’re trying to get rid of him another way.”
Werkheiser had voted for Obama — a choice she said she regrets. She described the celebration in the diner on the morning after Trump’s victory as “the best day of my life.”
Baun, the hair stylist, remembers that morning well: “My customers told me, ‘He’s going to go around with buses and ship all the immigrants back.’ They thought it was wonderful.”
That’s what many of her older customers thought, at least. The younger ones — especially those who have moved to the area in recent years to escape the high cost of living in New York or New Jersey — tend to be disdainful of Trump. So is Baun.
But, as she wields her scissors, she doesn’t want to provoke arguments, either. Ever since the 2016 election, she has kept the news off the salon television.
“If I hear the words ‘quid pro quo,’ I change the channel,” she said.
Borick, the public opinion expert, said that despite the evident stalemate, impeachment poses risks for both sides in places like Nazareth as the public phase of impeachment hearings gets underway.
For Democrats, the danger is that they are so focused on the president’s alleged misdeeds that voters conclude they have lost sight of issues that hit closer to home, like health care.
And for Trump, Borick said, the peril is that voters who gave him a chance in 2016 but weren’t entirely sold on him decide there really is something to the allegations of impropriety.
Polling shows that a small subset of Trump’s supporters back the start of an impeachment inquiry. They don’t necessarily endorse his removal — at least not yet. But if those voters begin to peel away, Borick said, it could make a difference in a state Trump won by just 44,000 votes out of more than 6 million cast.
“It’s not a gigantic slice,” he said. “But it’s not a trivial slice, either.”