New internal polling by Democrats suggests there might not be any downside in taking the more drawn out and open-ended approach — though some Democratic leaders might be loath to do so.
The polling memo — which was conducted by pollsters for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — is designed to fortify the confidence of members in difficult districts, as they eye a prolonged impeachment battle. One of its key findings:
Voters back a Democrat who supports an impeachment investigation over a Republican who opposes an impeachment investigation by 11 points. Even in the 57 most competitive battleground districts, moving the inquiry forward is slightly favorable at 49-48. Additionally, Democrats’ lead in the generic ballot remains steady in national polling (+8 average) and in battleground districts (+3 average).
The fact that the Democrats’ lead in the generic ballot match-up has remained solid suggests the Democrats’ embrace of the impeachment inquiry has not diminished their standing at all, despite what some had feared. Opinion is divided even in the most competitive places where the Democratic majority is made up, suggesting Republicans are hardly on solid ground by defending Trump in those places.
The DCCC memo advises incumbents, including in tough districts, to employ the message that Trump “abused his power and put himself above the law.” It urges incumbents to “emphasize the core value that no one is above the law,” and to stress that supporting the impeachment inquiry is “simply working to uphold the rule of law,” while saying that “Republicans who oppose the inquiry are failing to fulfill their oath of office.”
The polling tests those messages, as well. And it reports that 54 percent of voters find the following proposition convincing:
Trump is abusing his authority and putting himself above the law. We need to do what’s right and uphold the rule of law.
By contrast, the memo insists, various Republican positions poll weakly: Only 41 percent find the talking point that “Democrats are trying to steal the election” convincing, and only 44 percent find the talking point that “the Ukraine issue is just another witch hunt” convincing.
You should always be wary of internal polling, because it can be self serving, but in this case, the internal data seems to point Democrats toward a posture some of them might not want to take: toward a broader, more drawn-out impeachment inquiry.
After all, the Democrats’ own data says a majority finds the idea that an impeachment inquiry is about upholding the rule of law convincing. It also suggests Republicans will find it increasingly difficult to defend Trump if Democrats put them on the defensive about it. Majorities believe Trump is lawlessly abusing his authority; and only minorities find talking points designed to delegitimize the inquiry convincing.
And many of Trump’s most heinously corrupt acts can be neatly slotted into a frame about Trump’s lawless abuses of authority. Take the news that Trump will host the G-7 at Doral. As Walter Schaub puts it:
The G-7 decision is a rivetingly clear example of Trump flagrantly abusing his authority to shovel more money into his own pockets. The connecting thread to the Ukraine scandal is simple: On one front after another, Trump abuses the power of his office to advance his personal and political interests, placing them before what’s good for the nation — and in so doing, he is serially betraying the country.
This includes everything from organizing international summits around the goal of enriching himself to extorting a foreign power into helping him avoid facing accountability in a fair election. Additional examples of this don’t have to muddle this frame; they can reinforce it.
And there’s no reason to assume it will become easier for Republicans to defend this corruption. It will likely become harder. As it is, we’re seeing dramatically absurd contortions such as this one:
The problem for Republicans is that Trump continues adopting the explicitly declared position that this serial corruption is perfectly fine. That tells the GOP base that standing behind Trump entails standing behind his absolute right to abuse his office in any way he sees fit. And that’s a terrible position for Republicans to defend.
This isn’t to say that drawing this out forever would automatically be a good thing, or that Democrats shouldn’t take care to avoid making the inquiry and eventual articles too broad. But for now, as long as the dynamic remains as it is, and as long as monstrous examples of Trump’s corruption present themselves daily, why prematurely end it?