MINOT, N.D. — The impeachment of President Donald Trump may have been satisfying for certain hard-bitten Trump haters, but as a practical matter of politics, it has backfired on Democrats colossally.
I'm not sure we've seen anything but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to just how wrong a move it was.
From the Democratic perspective, it not only failed to remove him from office (an unlikely outcome anyway), but it depressed Democratic enthusiasm even as it burnished Trump's support among Republicans.
What's more, it further undermined already dangerously eroded confidence in our political process.
Political movements win through addition, not subtraction. With few exceptions, your issue becomes law, your candidate gets to govern, if your movement is larger and more motivated than the other side.
Democrats should be worried about what impeachment did to their movement.
"The share of Democrats who thought impeachment was a bad use of Congress's time rose, too, from 23 percent at the beginning of the Senate trial to 37 percent when it was over," the polling gurus at FiveThirtyEight.com report, based on a 3-month survey of more than 1,100 Americans.
"And perhaps most crucially, 30 percent of Democrats thought in the last wave of our survey that impeachment was likely to help Trump win reelection — up from 12 percent just three weeks earlier," the report continues.
These Democrats are likely right. "Our surveys showed that as impeachment wore on, rank-and-file Republicans did become more supportive of the president and of Republicans more broadly. And that's saying something, because Republicans had a pretty high opinion of Trump going into the impeachment process," the report states.
In November, 51% of Republicans who participated in the survey approved of Trump's handling of impeachment.
By the end of the process, that number was up to 63%.
Impeachment left Democrats depressed, and Republicans energized, but what about people who aren't necessarily partisan?
Even if support for Trump is more intense than ever, you can still beat him and Republicans by inspiring new people to come to the polls and vote.
Except, I'm not sure impeachment helped much on that front either.
"A majority (65 percent) of Americans said their level of trust in the American political system had decreased because of the impeachment process," the FiveThirtyEight.com report states.
Does that sound like a recipe for inspiring new levels of participation in the political process?
We have other metrics to suggest that the political winds are at Trump's back, and in the face of his political enemies.
In terms of fundraising, while a still-massive crop of Democratic candidates squabbles among one another to win convention delegates and donations, Trump and Republicans are stockpiling vast sums of money. The Republican National Committee and Trump's campaign ended January having raised a combined $60 million, and begin the election year with more than $200 million in cash on hand.
Democrats, including the DNC and the various 2020 candidates, raised more than Trump and Republicans did in 2019, but most of that money has been and will be spent by the candidates fighting with each other for their party's nomination in a primary fight that won't be settled for months yet.
The way things look now, there may not be a consensus candidate by the time Democrats hold their national convention in Milwaukee.
Trump, meanwhile, faces no meaningful opposition until the general election.
In New Hampshire, despite that dearth of competition, Trump still managed to drive a massive primary turnout, further (if anecdotal) evidence of Republican energy.
In FiveThirtyEight.com's aggregation of approval polls, Trump is slightly more popular today than he was a year ago despite a year of intense media coverage of impeachment. That mirrors the (much more infrequent) polling here in North Dakota, which also shows Trump is, if anything, slightly more popular in a state where he was already very popular.
There is no guarantee that Trump will win reelection. At no point during his presidency has Trump ever managed to have majority approval in polling.
Still, if Democrats were hoping that impeachment would hurt him, they were wrong.
Disastrously wrong. Impeachment made Trump more likely to be reelected, not less.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.