By Wednesday morning, the seas had indeed changed. Rather than abandoning Trump, several dozen House Republicans who are not members of the committees leading the inquiry marched into a secure briefing room and effectively shuttered the investigation for several hours.
What’s driving this seemingly parallel-universe behavior? Probably the fact that, in many ways, their voters are living in parallel universes when it comes to what they expect of their politicians when it comes to civility and compromise.
A new study published Wednesday by the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service demonstrates just how angry voters are at lawmakers on the opposite end of the political spectrum. This “civility poll” sought to find out how much voters of all stripes care about the tenor of today’s politics and whether they want leaders in Washington to reach compromise.
The top-line result is particularly alarming, with a majority of Americans now believing the nation is on “the edge of a civil war.” But the research provided plenty of explanation for why a Democrat like Lynch expects “a sea change” and why a Republican like Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) organized the GOP insurrection.
Ask the question one way and it almost looks as if America is a remarkably united nation: 88 percent of voters are “frustrated by the uncivil and rude behavior” in Washington, 87 percent believe compromise “should be the goal for political leaders” and 84 percent believe behavior that used to be unacceptable is now “normal behavior.”
But those seemingly unified positions mask the deep division among voters over who deserves the blame for these obviously bad political dynamics.
“When offered options on who to blame for this increase in bad behavior, voters retreat to partisan corners and dole out blame in the manner one would expect,” wrote GOP pollsters Ed Goeas and Brian Neinaber of the Tarrance Group, who co-wrote the study with Lake Research Group, a Democratic firm.
Among Democratic voters, 63 percent say GOP leaders are “very responsible” for the decline in civility and 86 percent say Trump is “very responsible.” Only 10 percent of Democratic voters place a large degree of blame at the feet of their party leaders.
Among Republicans, those numbers are flipped — 67 percent of GOP voters say Democratic leaders are “very responsible” for the decline in today’s politics, easily the largest culprit among those voters.
In that undercurrent, that supposed goal of compromise falls completely apart because each party’s base views the other side as the culprit for all that ails America.
What about all those voters claiming compromise should be “the goal” for Washington’s leaders?
“They also — in even greater numbers and with more intensity — decry political leaders for compromising their values and ideals by failing to stand up to ‘the other side,’” the Democratic pollsters wrote.
An almost equal number, 84 percent of voters, say they are “tired of leaders compromising my values and my ideals” and want their party’s politicians to “stand up to the other side.”
So on Monday, during a Cabinet meeting, Trump looked into the TV cameras and told Republicans on Capitol Hill to “get tougher and fight,” and two days later Gaetz and House Republicans barged into Wednesday’s proceedings and argued with Democrats about the process.
The action had been discussed for several days, but Trump’s declaration served as a clarion call to arms for those GOP lawmakers.
The Tarrance Group pollsters acknowledge that the president’s constant attacks on his perceived enemies has had his desired effect. GOP voters place the highest blame for the rise in incivility on Democratic leaders and media outlets such as CNN, The Washington Post and the New York Times.
This sentiment makes it harder and harder for Republicans to ever consider dumping the president. “It is very challenging for a politician to be both a fighter and a dealmaker. It is even more challenging to try this balancing act when the most successful national politicians in your party show little interest in finding this balance,” Goeas and Neinaber wrote.
Democrats face their share of problems, too, in terms of an angry base that does not want to see its party leaders breaking bread with Trump.
The Pew Research Center has studied issues like civility throughout this decade, and last year the study found a sharp drop among Democratic voters looking for compromise. Given a choice between supporting politicians who “make compromises with people they disagree with” or who “stick to their positions,” 46 percent of Democrats supported the compromiser and 52 percent chose the fighter.
Independent voters may be the most disaffected of all. In the Georgetown study, they gave equal blame to Democratic and Republican leaders for who is “very responsible” for the decline in civility. Trump received more blame (51 percent of independents said he was “very responsible”), but these unaligned voters gave their highest share of blame to social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook for the coarsening of society.
All of this division has left most members of each party in their respective corners, unwilling to compromise and, among Republicans, unwilling to challenge Trump.
Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), who served 10 years in GOP leadership, took the unique approach Wednesday of declaring that he viewed the House inquiry as illegitimate and would simply not read any testimony about impeachment.
“I’m just not going to — I do not approve,” said Cornyn, who would serve as a juror in a Senate trial. Asked if that meant he was not going to watch the daily developments, he said, “No, I am not, or by an hourly basis, or minute by minute.”