Grand Rapidians talk impeachment in wake of ‘Meet the Press’ segment

By: - December 16, 2019 5:49 pm

Crowds lining up for blocks to see President Trump in Grand Rapids, March 28, 2019 | Nick Manes

Business-friendly Republicans in West Michigan may be underwhelmed by the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. 

Brewery Vivant, Grand Rapids | Nick Manes

But based on random interviews around Grand Rapids this weekend, following a national news segment many found unrepresentative of the area, many locals find impeachment critical for holding the president accountable.  

“Meet the Press,” the stalwart Sunday morning political gabfest on NBC, has made Kent County in West Michigan a major point of focus for its 2020 election coverage. 

On Sunday that included a segment with six Grand Rapids-area Republicans sharing their lack of enthusiasm with the impeachment effort during a roundtable discussion filmed at Brewery Vivant, a Grand Rapids brewery in the trendy East Hills neighborhood. 

“This just seems like political theater,” Peter Smit, a partner with Grand Rapids corporate law firm Varnum, said on the roundtable of the impeachment hearings. 

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The hearings are expected to culminate with a vote by the full U.S. House this week and set up a trial in the Senate next year where it’s expected Trump will be acquitted.  

The inclusion of six Republican voters struck many as missing the mark in terms of accurate representation. Kent County has long been a Republican stronghold, but has been trending toward Democrats, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won the county by 4 percentage points in last November’s election. 

The segment also caught the eye of Marcy Wheeler, a national security blogger and journalist who lives in the area and has been covering the impeachment process at her own website, Emptywheel.

Wheeler contacted the Advance about meeting at Brewery Vivant on Sunday afternoon in an effort to interview everyday customers. While the restaurant’s management declined to allow reporters to solicit interviews from diners, they did provide space for interviews with people from outside. 

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Of the six random interviews conducted Sunday evening by Wheeler and the Advance, all supported impeachment to varying degrees. 

Each of the six interviews shot by videographer Carl Morrison can be found here

“Trump has betrayed our constitution and our country and obstructed justice. I think he needs to go,” said Kelly Clark, a senior research fellow at Grand Valley State University, noting he’s skeptical Trump will actually be removed from office. “Sadly I don’t think impeachment means he will go, but I think he should.”

Similarly, Jessica Lutz of Grand Rapids said she goes “really back and forth” on impeachment and generally believes Trump should be removed from office, but is fearful of Vice President Mike Pence taking the highest office because she believes Pence is “a worse choice” and is “more competent than Trump is, which to me seems dangerous.”

While Trump is set to be impeached over an alleged scheme to get the Ukrainian president to launch an investigation into Trump’s political rivals in exchange for foreign aid and a White House meeting, that scandal falls far down the list for Lutz. 

“The thing that really gets me, the thing I just can’t personally stand for … would be the border control issue,” Lutz said. 

“Having children in cages, having families separated at the border. For years having people die that way,” Lutz continued. “To me living in a country that should not stand for that, living in a country that has plenty of resources, that shouldn’t be happening. It makes me really upset, it makes me really mad.”

Mark Kenworthy of Ada east of Grand Rapids was the only person of the six who seemed unsure whether Trump’s actions actually rise to the level of impeachment and he admonished both Democrats and Republicans for doing “a really bad job” on making their cases for or against the action. 

Both parties, he said, are too stuck in their own positions and have failed to make the necessary case. 

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Kenworthy said he’d traditionally voted Republican in the past, but voted for neither Trump or Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

Still, Kenworthy acknowledged he’s generally in favor of impeachment. 

“I wouldn’t mind if he got impeached,” Kenworthy said with a laugh. “That wouldn’t’ break my heart at all.” 

To be sure, the East Hills neighborhood is one of the more affluent in the city, with higher-end restaurants, boutiques and historic homes. The demographics for the clientele at Brewery Vivant skew white, younger and more progressive. 

“The neighborhood is predominantly white (though gets more diverse quickly just two blocks south),” Wheeler wrote on her post about the interviews. “So these interviews aren’t meant to capture what swing voters think about impeachment or what a real cross-sample think, just what real people who could normally be found at Brewery Vivant think about it.”

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Nick Manes
Nick Manes

Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.