As I and millions of Americans have tuned into the impeachment hearings over the last month, and now that we have the first hearing of the House Judiciary Committee behind us, let us ask a fundamental question: has the political dynamic in Washington fundamentally changed regarding how President Trump will be held accountable?
As I wrote just before the first hearings began, I did not expect public opinion to be fundamentally moved by the hearings either for or against impeachment. And lo and behold public opinion has not statistically changed. A plurality remains supportive of impeaching and removing the president, and a sizable segment remains opposed.
Though Democrats have built a rather clear and convincing case for impeachment, Republicans in Washington and GOP voters around the country appear to remain unmoved. It looks like, as I surmised a month ago, the main outcome of the hearings is that Democrats are increasingly solidified in their desire for impeachment, and Republicans are even more solidly opposed. We are in such an era of polarization and tribalism that it is extremely hard to move public opinion even when the facts and the law all seem lined up consistently in one direction.
What is likely to come next? It appears that the House Judiciary Committee will soon draw up multiple articles of impeachment and pass them out of committee without any Republican support. The articles will then move quickly to the House floor where Democrats also appear to have to the votes to impeach the President and send the matter to the Senate. And because Republicans hold a majority in the Senate (and convicting the president requires two-thirds approval), it seems nearly impossible for that to happen.
If there are enough Republicans who want to hold the president accountable, a compromise may be reached. Instead of impeaching the president, we may see a move towards censure, which signals disapproval but does not involve the process of trying and potentially removing Trump from office. Still, we have no formal indications this is happening.
All of this points to a fundamental political principle in our democracy and its history over more than 200 years: when there is serious political division and leaders need to be held accountable, a legislative action like impeachment is hardly ever the solution to our ills. Many legislative compromises and actions were taken in the run-up to the Civil War and none worked in cooling tempers and unifying the country. Unfortunately it took a bitter fight and a series of elections to resolve the disputes.
My guess is that regardless of the outcome of this impeachment effort, to settle our divisions and the direction of our country, it is going to take the 2020 elections (and then maybe a few more) before we move to a more unified and enlightened place. It will be up to the voters to finally hold our leaders accountable and not lawmakers. While that may not be satisfying to some, it does seem an integral part of American history.
Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of ABC News.