The U.S. House of Representatives’ vote to impeach President Donald Trump broke along party lines Wednesday, reflecting the American public’s deep divide over the president.
National polls showed public opinion remained evenly split on the president’s impeachment, moving little since the process began. According to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, 48% of those surveyed approved of the impeachment process, whereas an equal percentage opposed it. Those figures mirrored the president’s approval ratings, which also have fluctuated little since his first days in office.
For some of the president’s biggest critics and supporters, impeachment brought an opportunity to publicly state their views outside the Capitol during the vote.
“I think it’s a hoax, I think it’s a travesty, I think it’s damaging our democracy, I think it’s hurting our country. I think it’s really an invalid impeachment,” said Mark Kampf, a Trump supporter who came from Nevada to denounce what he considered a politically motivated process.
Paki Wieland, however, joined the rally to call for the removal of Trump: “This president has broken so many laws and we need to hold him accountable. And to state to him and to the world that no one is above the law.” She also expressed concern that Republican partisanship was undermining the country’s democratic system of government.
“I was here for the Nixon impeachment. Members of his party were much less partisan than members of the Republican Party are today,” Wieland said.
Analyst Elaine Kamarck with the Brookings Institution in Washington said Americans have been divided politically for years, but Trump has tried to exploit those divisions for political gain.
“Donald Trump has intensified the polarization. Throughout his presidency, he has played to his base. He has played to simply the supporters that he already has,” Kamarck said.
Facts vs. opinions
While public opinion shifted as evidence was uncovered in previous impeachment efforts, the testimony and evidence did little to shift opinions this time. That was in part because many Americans disagreed on the evidence itself.
“There have been no facts. It’s only hearsay and innuendo,” Kampf, the Trump supporter, said.
Adam from Maryland, dressed in an American flag shirt, shared the same view and said the process had only reinforced his trust in the president.
“The only thing I am convinced about is when Trump released the transcript and proved the whistleblower completely wrong,” he said.
And how people read the White House summary of the president’s phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appeared to reflect their view of impeachment itself.
Supporters saw the president exonerated by the summary of the call, in which Trump asked for a “favor”: an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. Critics saw it as a straightforward example of the president using his office for personal political gain.
Kory Holmes from Maine said the Ukraine episode was the latest example of behavior that disqualifies the president from serving as the nation’s leader.
Holmes said the testimonies and the documents released had provided sufficient proof that the president’s actions amounted to a pattern of misconduct that stretched back to the 2016 election.
“This man constantly lies, breaks the law, violates every constitutional thing there is. He cheated with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin to steal the first election and he’s trying to cheat for the second one,” he said.
Views on impeachment
Trump is expected to survive a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers would decide whether to remove him from office.
The process will only help cement support for the president, said Adam, who added that impeachment was another example of what he called an anti-Trump agenda the Democrats have followed since the president’s election.
For their part, pro-impeachment voters did not seem disheartened by the expected results in the Senate trial. They said the process was about much more.
Holmes, of Maine, said impeachment was a victory for the laws and the Constitution of the United States.
“They [lawmakers] have got to do the job. They swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. The man broke the law. This has nothing to do with the election — this is the law,” he said.
Analyst Kamarck said she saw a deepened polarization among American voters because of the impeachment. She said Trump used the process to further corrode people’s trust in the government. But she also said she thought impeachment reinforced the constitutional guarantees and protections for the American democratic system.
“The most important reason to do this, even though he will not most likely be removed from office, the most important reason to do this is to preserve what we call in the United States the separation of powers. Had they not done this, what they would have done is ceded an enormous amount of power to the president of the United States, and that is a precedent that they simply could not make,” Kamarck said.
The process has energized the political base of each party. Analysts, such as Kamarck, said they expected to see the highest voter turnout in U.S. history for the 2020 elections.