December 19, 2019 / 11:14 AM / 2 months ago

Few minds changed, but political passions roused, as Trump formally impeached

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Jim Williams, a 66-year-old steelworker and supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump, watched in astonishment this week as hundreds of people gathered on a Phoenix street corner to demand the House of Representatives impeach the Republican.

Jerry Pritchard drinks coffee in the warehouse of his construction management company in Northampton, Pennsylvania, U.S. December 18, 2019. Picture taken December 18, 2019. REUTERS/Gabriella Borter

“I had to come and see it for myself, I can’t believe there are that many people here in Phoenix who want to impeach the president,” said Williams, a Republican and member of Bikers for Trump. “I mean, the economy’s good, people are working, unemployment is down. He’s kept promises.”

Months of hearings into whether Trump abused power by withholding military aid to Ukraine while asking it to investigate a re-election rival have done little to change Americans’ views on his presidency: Strong majorities of Democrats believe he should be impeached, while strong majorities of Republicans say he should not.

But they appear to have raised the level of political engagement among many of the dozens of voters interviewed by Reuters this week ahead of Wednesday’s House vote to impeach Trump. He became only the third U.S. president to be impeached and now faces trial in the Republican-led Senate.

At businesses, restaurants, rallies and shops, Reuters spoke with more than 50 voters in four districts that will play a critical role in deciding the Nov. 3 presidential election: Pinellas County, Florida; Maricopa County, Arizona; Northampton County, Pennsylvania, and Racine County, Wisconsin.

More than a third of those interviewed said they had become more politically active - citing the impeachment proceedings as one reason - and planned to knock on doors, donate money or join rallies intended to boost voter turnout.

Given that the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to oust Trump, how that energy plays out in next year’s campaign will determine the president’s political future.

“You at least have to go through the process,” said Jack Zerbe, a 36-year-old software developer in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “I’m hoping there are some swing voters who actually care.”

Concern over Trump’s conduct in office inspired Zerbe to make plans to campaign for next year’s Democratic presidential nominee, whoever it is, although he worries Trump will be re-elected.

‘I’M SO INCENSED’

On Tuesday, about 200 Trump supporters packed into a Clearwater, Florida, sports bar to bemoan the looming House vote and sketch out next moves.

Sunnie Duke, 60, said membership in the Tampa Bay Trump Club where she volunteers had nearly doubled to 6,900 since the start of the summer.

“I’m so incensed, I told all of my children and grandchildren that for the holidays this year you’re getting a cause from me and I’m going to write a check on behalf of each of you to re-elect President Donald Trump,” Duke said.

Jerry Pritchard, the 53-year-old chairman of a precinct Republican committee in Northampton, Pennsylvania, said the impeachment process played to Trump’s advantage - an assertion the president makes that is undercut by polling.

“It’s going to push the people to say: ‘Wait a minute, we voted for Trump,’” Pritchard said over coffee.

Pritchard said he called his U.S. representative, Democrat Susan Wild, several times in the past week to complain about her support for impeachment. He has knocked on doors for past Republican candidates and plans to do so for Trump in 2020.

“I can’t wait to stand up in my town hall next Tuesday and lay it all out about Donald Trump,” Pritchard said.

Anger over the impeachment inspired Bruce Ashford, 59, to mount a solo protest in Racine, Wisconsin, waving a handmade “Trump 2020” at motorists in freezing temperatures on Wednesday.

“I probably won’t be out here if it weren’t for the impeachment ... the proceedings are not warranted,” said Ashford, whose past political activity had been limited to voting.

Now he plans to work to re-elect Trump, going door-to-door to talk to voters: “I want to get out the word and engage people.”

‘WHOLE SITUATION IS UNBELIEVABLE’

In St. Petersburg, Florida, Lyndee Lindsey joined a crowd of about 300 people calling for Trump’s impeachment.

It was not her first political event, but it represents a change of sides. The 61-year-old retiree was once a Republican who worked for Florida politicians, but became a Democrat and voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Until recently, Lindsey was reluctant to join political events because her husband works with state Republicans. But she said she felt compelled to become more active as the impeachment investigation advanced.

Now, she said: “I donate, I attend events, and I’ve done a couple of drives to register voters and I plan to do more.”

Similarly, Lee Bryant, a 58-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, said concerns over Trump’s actions prompted him to get more involved with Pinellas County Democrats.

“I’ll do whatever needs to be done, phone banking, sign waving, getting more people involved,” he said. “This whole situation is unbelievable.”

The Phoenix crowd that stunned Williams with its opposition to Trump included Jolie Runyan, 55, attending her first political rally.

The tour director said she planned to join future voter turnout efforts.

“I’m not afraid to speak truth to power. Evil prevails when good people do nothing,” said Runyan, holding a sign that read: “Impeach.”

Reporting by Andrew Hay in Phoenix, Gabriella Borter in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Brendan O'Brien in Racine, Wisconsin, and Zachary Fagenson in St. Petersburg, Florida; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Peter Cooney

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