Not a very stable genius, but a malovelent one

Okay, obviously, Trump is no genius, but in certain respects he obviously is a very skilled politician.  I’ve been writing about this “in plain sight” stuff this week, but Senator Chris Murphy perfectly captures it in this terrific interview with Dahlia Lithwick (which you should read in its entirety):

One of the challenges with this president is that so much of the bad acts happen openly and flagrantly, ranging from attacks on judges or the free press, to self-enrichment via Trump properties. It leads me to wonder why we seem to be more mobilized by the things he does behind closed doors than that which he does, almost daily, out in the open?

I think there is some malevolent genius in the president’s habit of brazenly advertising his corruption. As a nation, we are conditioned to believe that bad actions will be concealed, so when the president’s corrupt actions are out in the open, it throws us all off a bit.

Exactly.  And it’s worked so damn well until now that he thought he could get away with the notes of the Ukrainian phone call he can’t.  I’ve been having fun imagining this monologue.  “Of course I shot somebody in the middle of 5th Avenue in broad daylight.  I wouldn’t have done it if it were not okay.  I have nothing to hide; if I did, why would I do the shooting on 5th Avenue.”  The thing is, this really has worked so damn well.  You can have a completely obvious quid pro quo and have his delusional/moronic supporters somehow saying, “well, there’s no explicit quid pro quo” as if the bad guys ever actually spell it out letter-by-letter.

Public opinion and impeachment follow-up

That was fast.  Just read the thread from Ariel Edwards-Levy:

Impeachment and public opinion

Summary of the latest from USAToday:

A new Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday shows a majority of Americans do not think President Donald Trump should be impeached and removed from office.

In a clear partisan divide, 4% of Republicans and 73% of Democrats surveyed support impeachment. Those who responded against impeachment include 95% of Republicans surveyed and 21% of Democrats.

The poll was conducted between Sept. 19 and 23, just as Trump was in the thick of a controversy after news of a whistleblower complaint from within the intelligence community surfaced about a phone call with Ukraine’s president asking for an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 candidate.

This will change.  Not clear how many Republicans who have stuck with Trump this far will actually change (heck, they voted for Mr. “Grab ’em by the pussy”), but the overall numbers will go up as Democratic numbers go up.  Once this is the clear, unambiguous position of the Democratic party (unlike the mixed signals, ordinary Democrats have been receiving), more than 73% will get on board.  Ultimately, I would expect that, presuming things continue on their current course, we’ll end up having roughly the 90%+ of Democrats that disapprove of Trump also favoring impeachment.  Not to mention, I think the pattern so far suggests that the more you dig on Trump, the more bad stuff you find.

Nate Cohn has a nice piece, “What Polling Can Tell Us About Impeachment (and What It Can’t)”  Short version: based on polling so far it’s really hard to know the future:

The facts of the president’s conduct, of course, will not be the only factor shaping public opinion. The behavior of congressional Republicans will be crucial, perhaps especially if a modest number either support impeachment or signal the seriousness of the allegations. A strongly unified Republican Party might be able to damage Democrats for pursuing impeachment, but a divided party might not be able to do so.

Of course, the conduct of Republicans and public opinion are not independent of each other. Mr. Trump’s standing could encourage or dissuade Republicans from taking his side, which would in turn help or hurt the president at the polls.

The clearest indicator of the politics of the impeachment proceedings might be the president’s approval rating. Today, it stands at around 44 percent of registered voters, according to the FiveThirtyEight tracker.

In the past, the rating has been somewhat responsive to events: President Trump’s decision to fire the F.B.I. director James Comey quickly knocked about three points off his approval rating, for example. His lows have tended to come during periods when the news was focused on unpopular initiatives that yielded intra-Republican fights, as when the Senate rejected the health care bill or in the run-up to the passage of the tax law.

Attitudes about the president are so entrenched that it is not realistic to expect an enormous swing in his approval rating. But if it is largely unmoved over the next few months, it will suggest that Republicans could be positioned to exact apolitical cost against the Democrats.

If his ratings slump, the question will be whether an eventual acquittal in the Senate would be enough to undo the damage, or more. That is very difficult to predict, which can be said for the whole impeachment process as it gets underway.\

And, lastly, the course of public opinion on Nixon truly is important historical context.  Pew with a great feature on this.  The key chart:

How Watergate Changed Public Opinion of Richard Nixon

Yet, despite the increasingly negative views of Nixon at that time, most Americans continued to reject the notion that Nixon should leave office, according to Gallup. Just 26% thought he should be impeached and forced to resign, while 61% did not.

A lot of key scandal events were to follow that year and into 1974, but public opinion about Watergate was slow to change further, despite the high drama of what was taking place. For example, October 1973 was a crucial month as the courts ruled that the president had to turn over his taped conversations to special prosecutor Archibald Cox, and subsequently Nixon ordered for the dismissal of Cox in what came to be known as the Saturday Night Massacre. The public reacted, but in a measured way. In November, Gallup showed the percentage of Americans thinking that the president should leave office jumping from 19% in June to 38%, but still, 51% did not support impeachment and an end to Nixon’s presidency.

In the spring of 1974, despite the indictment of top former White House aides, and Nixon’s release of what were seen as “heavily edited” transcripts of tapes of his aides plotting to get White House enemies, the public was still divided over what to do about the president. For example, by June, 44% in the Gallup Poll thought he should be removed from office, while 41% disagreed.

Only in early August, following the House Judiciary Committee’s recommendation in July that Nixon be impeached and the Supreme Court’s decision that he surrender his audio tapes, did a clear majority – 57% – come to the view that the president should be removed from office.

Short version: A majority of Americans may oppose impeaching (and removing) Trump for a long time, but these things can shift fast.  Not to say they will at all, but to make confident predictions based on current polls on impeachment is pure folly.

We’ll see!

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