Georgians divide over Trump, impeachment. Others just don’t know.

The impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump threatens to further strain the state’s divided politics.

Most Democratic lawmakers favor impeachment proceedings that center on whether Trump pushed Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, despite no evidence to support wrongdoing by the Democratic 2020 hopeful.

Most Republican officials in Washington have moved to oppose the investigation, describing Democratic efforts to oust the president as a vengeful political maneuver designed to distract voters before the election.

Related: What Georgia lawmakers say about impeachment inquiry

Related: How impeachment is already reshaping Georgia politics

On the ground in Georgia, voters largely mirror a divide reflected in recent polls. Still, there’s no telling how the debate will play out over the next months. That’s why a team of Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters fanned out to all corners of Georgia to gauge the voters’ mood at this precarious political moment.

In liberal bastions, there was support for impeachment but concern over whether it would backfire. In rural Republican territory, voters rallied behind Trump but suggested they were tiring of the controversies.

And in small-town swing areas, there was a divide that mirrored a broader political rift over Trump that has consumed Washington.

Related: Georgia Republicans protest Dems’ handling of impeachment inquiry

AJC EXCLUSIVE: Pelosi defends impeachment, Dems’ plans for Georgia

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The ‘rule of law’ voter

ATHENS — Matthew Baron doesn’t agree with everything Democrats do, but he’s in their corner when it comes to impeachment. He just wishes they had started the process sooner.

Matthew Baron, 32, of Athens would like to see President Donald Trump removed from office but says there isn’t enough time before next year’s election. TY TAGAMI/TTAGAMI@AJC.COM.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The 32-year-old Athens resident wants the president removed but doubts there’s enough time before next year’s election. Still, he supports the impeachment process and the message it sends.

“If you don’t do something, you risk having a president who — now and in the future — can get away with anything,” Baron said. “Either it’s a rule-of-law country or it’s not; it’s an oligarchy.”

Even though he doubts the president will be removed through the Democratic-led impeachment process, partly because the Republican-controlled Senate will get the final say, Baron said he thinks revelations from it will undermine Trump’s re-election chances.

“He’ll get his day,” Baron said.

— Ty Tagami

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‘Going to struggle’

ALBANY — Jenna Lankford isn’t a fan of politicians. She suspects most of them “have done illegal stuff” one way or another.

Jenna Lankford of Albany says she will stick with President Donald Trump throughout the impeachment process. “I wouldn’t want my past scrutinized — not that I’ve done illegal stuff,” she said. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“If you’re in the business,” the Albany mother said, “then you’re in the business.”

Lankford doesn’t stick to one political party — she likes to say that she votes her conscience — but lately her inner compass has guided her to Republican candidates. She voted for Trump in 2016 even though he wasn’t her favorite candidate, and she plans to stick by him through the impeachment process.

“Of course he has a past,” she said of the president. “I wouldn’t want my past scrutinized — not that I’ve done illegal stuff.”

How did he win her over? Taxes and the economy are the top issues for Lankford, who home-schools her teenage daughter, and she’s happy with Trump’s leadership.

“I think his hands have been tied a lot, going through and just continuing the fight and the battle” with Democrats, she said. “It doesn’t matter what he does, good or bad, he’s just going to struggle.”

— Tamar Hallerman

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The student pessimist

ATHENS — Sasha Larson is about as blunt as can be when asked her assessment of Trump: “Anyone would be better” than him.

University of Georgia student Sasha Larson says “anyone would be better” as president than Donald Trump, but she doesn’t expect him to be removed from office. She added that on the UGA campus, more people appear concerned about Ellen DeGeneres’ friendship with former President George W. Bush than the impeachment inquiry. ERIC STIRGUS/ESTIRGUS@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Still, the University of Georgia student is pessimistic about the chances he’ll be forced from office and more focused on her studies as an English major than the drip-drip of daily revelations about the investigation.

“I feel like everything that happens never leads to anything,” she said outside the campus student center, “like the Mueller investigation.”

Besides, she said, it seemed like around campus there was more buzz around Ellen DeGeneres and her friendship with former President George W. Bush than Trump’s travails.

“Honestly,” she said in between bites of scrambled tofu, “I don’t think people talk about it as much as they should.”

— Eric Stirgus

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‘It’s all just confusing’

DAHLONEGA — It doesn’t take long talking to Nicholas Ives to figure out that political science is the right major for him.

University of North Georgia student Nicholas Ives said he believes most members of Congress are more interested in political wins than what’s best for the country. As for the impeachment inquiry, “when some people say some things and other people say other things, you don’t know what to believe.” ERIC STIRGUS/ESTIRGUS@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

When he was 14, Ives decided he wanted to intern for then-Gov. Nathan Deal. The other day, Deal was the guest lecturer for Ives’ political science class at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega.

Ives is less clear-cut on the issue of impeachment. The 19-year-old recalled a recent conversation with his dad about the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998, which helped him come to a sobering conclusion: Most members of Congress are more interested in political wins than serving the country’s best interests.

“It’s come to a weird point in politics where it seems almost every other president has gone up for impeachment by the other party,” he said of recent political history.

As for the current investigation, he hopes Congress can get to the bottom of it. But he’s not holding his breath.

“It’s strange,” he said. “I think a lot of people want to look into it, but when you have some people saying some things and other people saying other things, you don’t know what to believe.”

Ives paused as he was about to continue.

“It’s all just confusing,” he said, laughing.

— Eric Stirgus

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Fear the ‘raging lion?’

CLARKSTON — Susan Boyer won’t soon forget the moment she found out Trump won the election.

Susan Boyer, a north Decatur retiree, said she never wanted Donald Trump to become president. But she fears impeachment could lead to a backlash that would cause lasting damage to the nation.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The north Decatur retiree was at a soba noodle shop outside a Japanese peace memorial when she saw his image flash on the TV screen. She couldn’t understand what the broadcasters were saying, but his joyful reaction spoke volumes.

“And I just felt my heart sinking,” she said, reliving the memory on a balmy recent Sunday afternoon.

“I never wanted to see this man in office,” Boyer said. “He showed his true colors during the campaign.”

Given her deep opposition to Trump, you’d figure she’d embrace impeachment. But she’s worried that the backlash will deal lasting damage to the nation’s psyche.

“I have mixed feelings,” Boyer said. “I have no question in my mind that there should be an impeachment inquiry. But the fear in me is that his way of handling confrontation is to attack those who criticize him. And the more he is backed into a corner, the more he will be a raging lion.”

She pauses to collect her thoughts.

“That said, I don’t think we can make the decision about whether or not to follow the law based on fear of an overreaction on his part,” she said. “Soberly, I support it. And very soberly, I’m concerned about the reaction.”

— Greg Bluestein

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‘Grasping at straws’

MILLEDGEVILLE — There are few places as politically divided in Georgia as Baldwin County.

Hillary Clinton carried the Middle Georgia battleground by less than 300 votes in 2016. Stacey Abrams held it by less than 60 votes last year. Partisans here proudly wear their political affiliations on their sleeves — or, in Larry Houston’s case, on his head.

Larry Houston supports President Donald Trump, saying Democrats “just can’t realize how much better he’s making the country.” Houston, who runs an antique shop in Milledgeville, says he doesn’t mind the push for impeachment, though. It’s helped him sell seven or eight dozen hats that say “KEEP AMERICA GREAT.”
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Houston owns a charming antique store in downtown Milledgeville, and one of his best sellers is a white cap with stark-red letters: “KEEP AMERICA GREAT.” He donned it on a breezy afternoon as he puffed a cigarette outside his shop — to show support, he said, for his beleaguered leader.

“The Democrats, they’re grasping at straws and they’re not looking around at what he’s doing for the American people,” he said.

Houston’s not familiar with the case Democrats are trying to build against Trump or the complicated rules governing the impeachment process. But he said he knows political chicanery when he sees it.

“They’re all afraid of him since he’s not a yes man,” he said, taking a slow drag on his cigarette. “They are dead set against him, and they just can’t realize how much better he’s making this country.”

With a laugh, Houston said he doesn’t mind the impeachment push. It’s helping his bottom line: He said he’s sold seven or eight dozen of the hats in recent weeks.

— Greg Bluestein

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‘Mind-boggling’

ALBANY — Salim Madyun never thought Trump was qualified to be president in the first place, so he has no complaints about the impeachment inquiry from House Democrats.

Salim Madyun of Albany favors the impeachment process and is critical of Senate Republicans who have supported President Donald Trump. “They’re enabling this guy to continue what he’s doing,” the retiree said. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“He’s done so many things and said so many things that’s really uncharacteristic of the office of the president. It’s just kind of mind-boggling to begin with,” said Madyun, a 65-year-old who’s retired from a window tinting business.

Rocking on a porch swing overlooking Albany’s Ray Charles Plaza, Madyun said Trump’s exchanges with Ukrainian officials are “something the president shouldn’t be involved in.” He’s also unhappy with the president’s recent move to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and the trade war with China.

Madyun’s frustrations with Trump stretch back to the 2016 election, when the New Yorker lost the popular vote but defeated Clinton in the Electoral College.

“People stand in line all day to vote,” he said. “I don’t think that’s right.”

Congress has a “duty to the American people” to begin impeachment proceedings, Madyun said, and Democrats are “doing the right thing moving forward with the impeachment inquiry.”

As for Trump’s Republican supporters in the Senate, he had a terse reaction.

“They’re enabling this guy to continue what he’s doing,” he said.

— Tamar Hallerman

***

‘It drives me crazy’

ST. SIMONS — Kimberly Eby and Christine Savoie paused from their walk Wednesday on the soft white sand of East Beach to wonder what the country had come to.

Christine Savoie, left, and Kimberly Eby both support President Donald Trump and oppose the impeachment inquiry. “People have always disagreed on politics. But after elections, we used to come together,” Savoie said. “When I was growing up we stood behind our president.” (Bert Roughton for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In the breezy and bright early afternoon sun, Eby, a dog trainer, expressed astonishment that anyone could want to impeach Trump when things are going so well.

“To start with, this impeachment is a waste of time,” she said. “The employment rate is way up; the stock market is way up. Things are going pretty well.”

Savoie, a real estate agent and Eby’s best friend, agreed. Both women are 48. “People seem to be searching for things against him,” she said. “In reality, he’s done a good job.”

The divide over impeachment and Trump’s presidency is deeply disturbing to Savoie.

“I see something else — it reflects just how contentious things have become in this country,” she said, adding that an impeachment would only deepen the divisions. “It drives me crazy — particularly what you see in social media, Facebook. It used to be that when one side loses an election — I’ve had my share of losing sides — then you have grace and acceptance.

“People have always disagreed on politics. But after elections, we used to come together. When I was growing up we stood behind our president.”

— Bert Roughton

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