That argument, of course, depends at least as heavily on partisan loyalty as any stoic consideration of the facts. It also depends on discounting the views of Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) who was a Republican until July, when his criticism of Trump earned him broad repudiation from his party and prompted him to leave it.
During Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing focused on impeachment, minority counsel Paul Taylor, questioning constitutional law professor Johnathan Turley, used a more specific version of the this-is-just-partisan-Democrats argument.
“Professor Turley, your testimony, you said that when it comes to impeachment, we don’t need happy ideological warriors; we need circumspect legal analysis,” Taylor said. “But let’s take a quick look at the deeply partisan landscape on which this particularly partisan impeachment is being waged.”
He showed a map of 2016 election results.
“I mean, the Democratic leaders pushing Trump’s impeachment represent some of the most far-left urban coastal areas of the country,” he continued. “The bar graphs here show counties, and the height of the bars indicate total votes cast, and the color of the bars show the margin of victory for the winner in the 2016 presidential election. As you can see, the parts of the country represented by the Democrat impeachment leaders voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton during the last presidential election.”
The argument is unsubtle, going so far as to include specific words — “urban” and “coastal” — which trigger an understood dismissiveness from many Trump supporters and Republicans more broadly: This is just those California and New York liberals sitting in their effete coffee shops, trying to take out a duly elected president.
The problem with Taylor’s chart, though, is that it doesn’t actually show what he’s suggesting. That big spike that represents Los Angeles County is indeed a place where there are a lot of Democrats, but it’s also home to 770,000 Donald Trump voters. More importantly, though, Los Angeles County itself contains numerous congressional districts, each of which is about the same size as each of the others — and each of which is about the same size as every other district.
There’s a reason that political leaders might represent more heavily partisan areas. Leadership positions are often a function of tenure, and tenure is a function of consistently winning elections — which is easier in a more partisan place. So House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) does represent one of the congressional districts that had the widest margin of victory for Hillary Clinton in 2016, according to analysis by DailyKos. The district of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) backed Trump by a still-healthy 22 points. McCarthy’s district sits about as close to the Pacific Coast in places as does that of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.).
It’s worth noting that Taylor’s line about how Democratic leaders come from heavily pro-Clinton places was particularly odd given the venue. House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) represents a district that backed Clinton by about 60 points. His Republican colleague, Rep. Douglas A. Collins (Ga.), represents a much more moderate area — backing Trump by only 59 points.
There’s a whole separate point that can be made about how redistricting efforts over the years have intentionally packed Democratic voters into districts in order to make other districts easier for Republicans to win, but that’s a much longer story. The density of Democratic votes in specific geographic areas generally, though, contributes to the sense of figurative distance from Republicans elsewhere — and vice versa.
The 2016 results in House districts were not really Taylor’s point, though. The point is the hand-wave he makes at who’s driving the impeachment: It’s just those wackos in Manhattan and Malibu who hate hard-working Americans and the president they love. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Thursday targeted another one of Wednesday’s witnesses, Pamela Karlan, whose assessment of the impeachment question was less friendly to Trump than Turley’s.
“If you went to work today to manicure nails, to manicure lawn, if you went to work with a jackhammer or a welding machine or mechanics’ tools or a carpentry belt . . . that woman yesterday looks her nose down on you,” Conway said of Karlan. “She thinks that you are less than her, and I’ve had it.”
Trump, Conway continued, was specifically fighting for those real Americans, which is why the elites hate him.
This overlap of class and party was important to Trump’s election. It leverages partisan skepticism and distrust directly, suggesting that the other side is at best unknowable and at worst tilting the scales unfairly. Consider an interview that Gov. Matt Bevin (R-Ky.) gave to a Cincinnati radio station on Wednesday in the wake of his reelection loss last month.
“The left, those who think of a different ideological bent, they are getting so good at harvesting votes in the urban communities,” Bevin said. “They were able to go into urban communities where people are densely populated on college campuses and public housing projects.”
This act — getting voters to vote — is portrayed as nefarious, as some sort of illicit machine aimed at undoing the will of the people. In Kentucky, the will of the people was instead that Bevin’s opponent should be governor.
Trump himself made similar claims after the 2016 election, dismissing the results in California as aberrant or, often, as somehow illegal. Take out millions of illegal votes and he won, he argued at one point, never offering any evidence that dozens of votes were cast illegally, much less millions. His base understood the broader point: California is a deviation from the American norm and therefore unrepresentative of the actual will of true America.
This isn’t a new argument in American history, as the New York Times noted last year. It was responding to a push by Republican leaders in Wisconsin to limit the power of the Democratic winner of the gubernatorial race there based on the same idea: Only rural Wisconsin counts.
“If you took Madison and Milwaukee out of the state election formula, we would have a clear majority,” a senior Republican legislator said. “We would have all five constitutional officers, and we would probably have many more seats in the Legislature.”
Well, sure. Get rid of big cities that vote Democratic and your path forward becomes a lot easier. The only problem is that this isn’t how democracy works. But Wisconsin Republicans have already effected a system that approximates muffling urban areas entirely. In 2016, Republicans won 164,000 more votes than the Democrats and took 64 of 99 seats in the state assembly. Last year, Democrats won 205,000 more votes — but Republicans won 63 of the 99 seats.
That political imbalance is maintained in part by the rhetorical imbalance of seeing the political opposition as undeserving of a voice. That, again, is the subtext of Taylor’s argument: Democrats can’t be trusted to act in the good faith that Republicans are demonstrating in the impeachment inquiry. They are just coastal elites, mad that Trump is standing up for Joe Sixpack.
If polling is any indicator, that argument and ones similar to it are probably having the desired effect, keeping the Republican base in strong opposition to impeaching the president.