Twenty-year-old Evan Karabas reviews a steady flow of information streaming across his laptop as the digital director of College Republicans at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Lately, much of that content focuses on the U.S. House of Representatives' ongoing impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.
But nothing Karabas reads, sees, or hears about the probe gives him cause for concern, including details of Trump’s July 25 telephone conversation with Ukraine's President Volodomyr Zelenskiy that has Washington in an uproar.
“I read the transcript; it’s available. I don’t see a problem with it,” he told VOA. “I mean, if you read the transcript, it reads like a very normal phone call. I know President Zelenskiy of Ukraine said he wasn’t pressured in any way, so I don’t see a problem with it.”
Like many Republicans, Karabas does not support impeachment.
“I do think the Democrats are getting a little desperate. I don’t know that they are super confident they can beat Trump in 2020, so they are going to try to impeach him in hopes that it will raise some bad publicity.”
Others back the inquiry.
“I think that the impeachment process was put there for a reason, and we’ve reached that threshold [where it's warranted],” says rural Egg Harbor, Wisconsin voter Bernadette Rainsford, who believes Trump’s phone call to the Ukrainian president was anything but “perfect” as the president repeatedly claimed.
“He’s embarrassing; he tweets offhandedly. We’re just…we deserve better as a president. I just don’t trust what he says,” Rainsford told VOA. “I don’t think he uses judgment on these phone calls. They are far too important to be offhand.”
Debate on impeachment is likely to continue in Wisconsin, a battleground state in presidential elections. Trump narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016, becoming the first Republican to carry the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
More than a year before voters cast ballots in the next presidential contest, the impeachment process is dividing voters in a state both political parties view as critical to reaching the White House in 2020.
“We’ve gone through three of the last five presidential elections being decided by less than a one percentage point margin. So we are a very closely divided state that way,” says political scientist Charles Franklin of Marquette University.
“Right now we’ve seen a little bit more opposition to impeachment hearings than support. It's by a very small margin, 46-48 [percent], I believe," adds Franklin, director of Marquette's Law School Poll, which surveys registered voters in Wisconsin each month. "And a bigger margin [is] opposed to impeachment and removal from office, with 51% opposed to removal, [compared to] 43%, I think, in favor of impeachment and removal."
Franklin’s polling also shows support or opposition falls mostly along party lines, but it’s a different story among independent voters.
“Right now in our October poll, we found independents more opposed to hearings and impeachment and removal than the public as a whole even though independents have generally not been inclined to support President Trump. But we also found that those independents were less well informed about the evidence on the Ukrainian phone call in particular, and more broadly, independents tend to pay less attention to politics on a day-to-day basis,” he says.
“It’s good that they are inquiring,” says rural Wisconsin voter William Clayton, who supports impeaching and removing President Trump, and hopes public hearings will further sway public opinion which, nationally, has seen an increase in support for impeachment.
Even so, Clayton notes that an impeachment trial in the Republican-led Senate is unlikely to result in a conviction.
“I don’t think Republican senators are going to get [provide] enough votes to take him out [remove Trump], so you’ll have to get him out by election.”
Evan Karabas says he's ready to help President Trump win in 2020.
“It [impeachment] has gotten his base really fired up and he’s raised a record amount of money,” says Karabas, referring to Trump and the Republicans' $300 million dollar campaign haul so far this year. “I can’t complain about that.”
Current polling in Wisconsin shows Trump trailing most of his potential Democratic rivals in 2020 matchups. Charles Franklin says polling numbers can change as the campaign, and impeachment process, heat up.
“As we play out the impeachment process, a critical point is: does the public accept that the evidence presents what really happened? But the second step is equally crucial. Do they think it is sufficient reason to remove a president from office?" Franklin says. "We also have the other oddity right now that the public will get its vote to decide whether to keep Trump in office just over 12 months from now. So we also have this second chance for the public to render its own verdict in November 2020 if the Senate chooses not to remove.”