There’s not a lot that President Donald Trump could do to lose Marlen Justesen’s support.
The 100-year-old veteran from Council Bluffs, Iowa appreciates what he sees as the President’s candor and honesty, believes the House’s impeachment inquiry is “terrible,” and says top Democrat and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff is “as crooked as a dog’s hind legs.” Justesen voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, and “if the Lord keeps me alive long enough, I’ll vote for him again.” While not everyone at the early morning Hy-Vee Veterans Day breakfast on Monday in Council Bluffs was as adamant as Justesen, many said they remained solidly in the President’s camp.
With the weeks-long impeachment inquiry moving to public testimony today, House Democrats are hoping that they will be able to change some of those voters’ minds. They face an uphill battle. In dozens of conversations with TIME over the course of five days leading up to Wednesday’s hearing, Iowa Republican voters consistently told me that the impeachment proceedings barely registered as anything more than Washington noise. While they didn’t always agree with the President—several said they were not thrilled with his personality—they were skeptical that Democrats would present enough evidence to raise serious doubts about his reelection next year. In Iowa, a swing state that voted for Trump in 2016, Republican voters’ support for Trump appeared strong.
“I don’t see it actually penetrating to an average, Iowa household,” said an Iowa Republican strategist not authorized to speak on the record of news coming out of Washington. “It’s so much to track, and so much information constantly changing…the things that are coming out of DC are just so quick and so much info that people are just like, whatever. Obviously I don’t think  is going to be a breeze, but I think that the way [Trump] has talked to Iowans really resonates with them.”
Of all the Republican voters I spoke with throughout a five-day reporting trip to Iowa, I did not come across a single person who told me that it was specifically the impeachment inquiry that had changed their mind on whether they would support the President. Most Republican voters told me they did not think Trump had done anything wrong, and those who said that perhaps he had made some missteps (mostly with regard to his tweets) were quick to defend him. They also often argued that if Congress poked around in anyone’s history, they would always find something to criticize because no one is perfect.
Republican voters, strategists, party officials and veterans in Council Bluffs, Clarinda, Mt. Ayr, and Des Moines consistently told me that low unemployment rate and the strong economy were reasons enough to continue to support Trump. A growing economy affects them much more directly than any call Trump had with the president of the Ukraine.
Many voters told me that they saw the impeachment inquiry as just the latest in a long string of unfair attacks against the administration. They lumped together Democrats’ disapproval of Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court who was credibly accused of sexual assault during his confirmation process, and the long, secretive investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which, in their eyes, did not amount to much.
I asked Nick Van Patten, the chair of the Iowa Polk County Republicans, if there was any evidence Democrats could discover in the impeachment probe that would make him change his mind about supporting Trump. “[With] everything that’s been going on, I would have to say no, I don’t see anything out there at all,” he told me at the Republican Party of Iowa’s annual Lincoln-Reagan dinner in Des Moines on Friday night, adding that “everybody’s just tired of it.”
I asked him if he thought this week’s hearings—with the American public hearing career diplomats and government officials directly criticize Trump—would resonate among Iowa voters. “I think it’s too late,” he told me. “Ever since this man has gotten elected, even before, they were saying we’re going to impeach. And you know what? The guy has done nothing but work hard for the American people.” (No lawmaker explicitly called for Trump’s impeachment before he was in office.)
At the same dinner, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was the guest speaker, also cited now-Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings as a fury-inducing touchstone to fellow Republicans. He says Trump got people in Iowa “excited” about a Republican, and that he’d rather deal with Trump as “a handful” than to have Democrats running the country. He also cast the impeachment inquiry as a culture war.
“What’s going on in the House today is a joke. How many of you think Adam Schiff is looking for the truth?” he said, as the audience booed Schiff over a candlelit dinner. “You should not be allowed to drive if you said yes. From the time Donald Trump gets up to the time he goes to bed, they’ve been trying to destroy his presidency. They don’t accept that he won, they hate what you stand for, and this is a war. This is a war, and it’s a war we’ll fight. So here’s what I think: I think impeachment is going to blow up in their face.”
Though polls indicate that support for impeachment is rising nationally, among Republicans, it remains very low. And while Trump has low national favorability, some swing-state polls indicate he’s still competitive, depending on which 2020 Democratic primary contender he eventually faces. Iowa is in many ways a bellwether: Republicans performed well in 2016 and won the state-wide governor’s race in 2018, but Democrats made gains in the House.
“[Impeachment] is energizing our base. I would rather it not be happening, but it’s made my job of unification easy,” Jeff Kaufmann, the chair of the Iowa Republican Party, told TIME. “Every single entity in this state, the [Joni] Ernst campaign, the four congressional campaigns, even our legislative campaigns— we are all staunchly together, number one, and, number two, supporting the President. So the fact that impeachment is not a political liability in the eyes of most Iowans— we’ve been able to still embrace the President and actually go to a situation where we’ve got his back.”
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