The impeachment of Donald Trump was always going to be a messaging war, and on paper it should have been a rout for Republicans. With his Twitter megaphone reaching more than 60 million followers, Trump should have been able to use his uniquely digital White House bully pulpit to sway the nation's opinion. He should have been able to use his regular mass rallies to convince voters that he did nothing wrong. He should have benefited from the nearly $20 million the Republican Party and aligned super PACs have spent on anti-impeachment television ads over the past two months. (“A rigged process. A sham impeachment. No quid pro quo.”) He should have benefited from Fox News, which functions as a blind cabal of cable television loyalists, to effectively spin GOP impeachment talking points.
But despite all that mass media firepower, Trump and the White House have utterly failed to move the public opinion needle on impeachment over the past few months, as one-half of the country remains committed to driving him from office. It's even worse than that in terms of GOP messaging, because the percentage of Americans who support impeachment has actually increased 15 points since late summer, a huge bump given how polarized this country is.
So given all of that, why does the Beltway media maintain a myopic view on whether Democrats have failed to sway public opinion since the impeachment hearings began? Why, once again, is the news media giving the GOP a pass and insisting it's Democrats who face the burden?
Part of the phenomena may stem from long-running media belief that Trump is some sort of extraordinary media manipulator who runs circles around Democrats when it comes to messaging and shaping public opinion. (He's playing 3-D chess!) But he's not, and impeachment proves that. Impeachment has highlighted, once again, how Trump struggles to reach voters outside of his base, and how his messaging and communication skills are extremely limited.
Of course, another important reason for the White House's communication failure is that Trump proudly and publicly admitted to the corrupt behavior with regards to Ukraine that prompted the impeachment proceedings, which meant Republicans were restricted in terms of their messaging options. It's perfectly clear that Trump's personal lawyer was paid by crooked businessmen from a foreign country, and then the president gave that attorney unwarranted authority over American policy toward that country.
So why has the press relentlessly stressed that it's Democrats who have to convince the country about impeachment? Why did so much of the media coverage suggest Democrats did not generate huge impeachment momentum during the hearings, and therefore they had failed? When recent polling confirmed half the country supports impeachment, the Associated Press reported, “It’s a disappointing—if not unexpected—response for Democrats, who had hoped to use the hearings to sway public opinion,” suggesting impeachment has been a political letdown for Democrats because the hearings in recent weeks have not produced a tidal wave of public support.
But where were the articles about how Republicans haven't been able to “use the hearings to sway public opinion”?