Impeachment fight leaves voters cold in contested Wisconsin

RACINE — There’s not a lot that Republicans and Democrats in this political battlefield agree on, but the impeachment probe into President Donald Trump may have surfaced one: The public hearings aren’t moving the needle.

“Everything they say, it’s so repetitive. To me, it’s like they’re beating their heads against the wall,” said Harry Rose, a 78-year-old retired factory worker and President Trump supporter in Racine County, a swing county in the swing state of Wisconsin.

Nicole Morrison, a 36-year-old nurse who can’t see herself voting for President Trump in 2020, had a similar review.

“There’s so much information that sometimes it’s hard to decide which is the truth and which is just rumors,” she said. “So I just don’t pay attention to it.”

After 30 hours of televised hearings, a dozen witnesses, at least a couple of major revelations and scores of tweeted rebuttals, voters in Wisconsin and nationwide aren’t changing their minds about removing the Republican president. If they came into the inquiry defensive of President Trump, they likely still are. And if they were inclined to think the president abused his power, they didn’t need televised hearings to prove it.

“For the most part, most Americans already have pretty solidified views of the president,” said Josh Schwerin, senior strategist for the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA. “There’s a small segment of the population that can be moved, and they’re not paying as close attention to the day-to-day ins and outs of the impeachment hearings.”

It’s a disappointing — if not unexpected — response for Democrats, who had hoped to use the hearings to sway public opinion. Without that backing, it’s virtually impossible to imagine Republican senators voting to convict President Trump.

It’s also a reaction that leaves the political impact of this dramatic chapter in American history remarkably uncertain. If the division on the question holds, and independents remain disengaged, it is possible that impeachment and Senate trial may ultimately play little role in President Trump’s reelection bid next year.

Two polls released this week showed the public remains roughly evenly divided over whether President Trump should be impeached and removed from office. Although there was a one-time increase in support after the inquiry launched, polls have since remained stable.

A CNN survey conducted over the weekend showed that 50% of Americans believe President Trump should be impeached and removed from office, roughly the same as in late October and in late September. Meanwhile, President Trump’s job approval has remained steady. A Quinnipiac University survey of registered voters nationwide also conducted this past weekend found a similar split on whether President Trump should be impeached and removed, and just 13% of those who have an opinion say they might change their mind.

In Wisconsin, views on impeachment appear to be slightly more negative. A Marquette University Law School poll of Wisconsin registered voters that was conducted during the first week of the impeachment hearings showed 47% of registered voters approve of the job President Trump is doing, and more expressed opposition than support for impeachment and removal, 53% to 40%, figures largely unchanged from October.

The poll was conducted before U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and former top aide Fiona Hill offered testimony that largely corroborated allegations that President Trump tried to pressure a foreign government into investigating his political rival Joe Biden.

The entrenched divisions are clear even in Racine County, a place with a history of shifting political winds. The county voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and then swung to support President Trump in 2016.

The county, just south of Milwaukee, is divided between the Democratic-leaning electorate in and surrounding Racine, and the more conservative electorate in the rural and suburban areas. Most of the county’s residents worked white-collar jobs in 2019, like administrative services and sales, and the median household income was just under $65,000, slightly above the state average.

If Democrats hope to win it back, they’ll have to persuade voters like Jo-Ann Knutson to come back. The 70-year-old retiree lives in downtown Racine and voted for President Trump in 2016 because she didn’t like Democrat Hillary Clinton. She’s been watching the impeachment hearings, but she’s still not sure what to think.

President Trump “is not my favorite person, and I don’t care for how he talks about people, but I have not made a firm decision because I don’t think all of the facts are out yet,” she said.

Knutson remembered watching the impeachment proceedings for President Richard Nixon when she said “you were sure” because there were taped recordings and other firsthand evidence of wrongdoing. Now, she thinks Democrats’ case is based on overheard conversations — and she believes there’s still a possibility President Trump could be exonerated, she said.

Knutson said she has “no clue” who she’ll vote for next year.

Morrison, the nurse, also says she’s undecided, though she typically leans Democratic. Impeachment isn’t swaying her, though, because she says she can’t trust what she hears about the president anymore.

“I feel like we’ve been hearing since the second that he was elected president he needs to be impeached,” she said. “So why waste my time to listen to it?”

Democrats will also have to reach some of their key constituencies that stayed home in 2016 — minorities and young voters. And there’s some sign in Racine that the impeachment proceedings could have the opposite effect if they further cement a sense of disillusionment with Washington.

Darius Nunn, the 40-year-old owner of Clarity Cutz, a barbershop that largely serves the city’s black community, sometimes puts the news on the television in his shop, “but when it begins to get heated, we turn on some basketball.”

On a recent day, the barbershop’s TV showed a Chris Brown concert. Nunn said his clients are interested in what’s going on in Washington but doubtful that President Trump will experience any consequences for his actions — and he could see them staying home again next November.

“A lot of people (in 2016), they didn’t have any faith in the voting system,” he said. “To the urban community ... the disenfranchised people, they don’t believe in the system at all. There’s justice for few when there should be justice for all.”

Republicans, meanwhile, will need to maintain their coalition of white working-class voters and suburban moderates to hold onto a swing state like Wisconsin. That means persuading those voters to focus on the economy.

There are signs of success for Republicans on that front. Several Republicans across Racine County said that though they didn’t like President Trump’s tone and were tired of the controversies, they were happy with the economy — and expected nothing less from the president to begin with.

“He’s probably guilty of something. … I thought he might run into problems because it’s just the way he is,” said Scott Davis, a 67-year-old landscaper from Sturtevant, a manufacturing town that’s a key base for Republican votes in the county.

But Davis said his business has flourished, and he lauded President Trump’s handling of the economy. Controversies or not, Davis said he sees no reason not to support the president in 2020.

“In a lot of ways, (President Trump’s) not suited to be president, but he’s done a lot of good for the country,” Davis said. “I would probably vote for him again, just because of the economy.”

David Titus, a 68-year-old retired banker from just outside Racine, said President Trump “runs his mouth too much,” but he’s still satisfied with the president’s performance.

“I like what he’s done. I don’t like the way he’s doing it,” he said.

Titus predicted, however, that the impeachment proceedings could backfire. He said he’s heard from others who are fed up with the fighting and just want the president to be allowed to do his job.

“I think the longer it goes, the worse it gets for the Democrats,” he said.