I have a lot of family and friends who ask my opinion on the potential of impeachment of President Donald Trump. I work as an opposition researcher and worked for one of the more prominent lobbying firms. I’ve met a bizarre cast of political operatives (Steve Bannon probably being the most surreal). I also bet significant money on Trump’s 2016 Presidential race through a number of sites. I also only missed one state when doing my electoral college predictions.
While I am by no means an expert on predicting political outcomes — most of the so called experts were completely wrong about 2016. It’s easy to think this is a one time error that will self correct but that is the same thinking that led to Trump’s election the first time. It makes it difficult to mobilize new Democratic voters, when the rhetoric suggests that there is no need for alarm as this “will all be over soon.”
I try to predict events — and this article is not a reflection of my own personal political opinions one way or the other — that is irrelevant. If you are part of the millions of voters who want to impeach President Trump, consider the following:
- In the latest USA today poll, by nearly 2–1, 61%-32%, those surveyed say they don’t think the House of Representatives should seriously consider impeaching the president. Americans show broad support for investigating Trump but a more limited appetite for impeaching him. That increase was most pronounced among Democrats. Fifty-nine percent of Democrats support impeachment, up 6 percentage points from the poll in March; 29 percent oppose it, down 5 points. Republicans oppose it by 9–1.
- An impeachment proceeding is the formal process by which a sitting president of the United States may be accused of wrongdoing. Nothing more. He would not be removed or sent to prison. A president can continue governing even after he or she has been impeached by the House of Representatives. After then-Pres. Bill Clinton was impeached on Dec. 19, 1998, he remained president for another year, during which time he was acquitted in a Senate impeachment trial. While the Senate trial has the power to oust a president from office, it does not have the power to send a president to jail.
- In the House, a simple majority is needed, and in the Senate, they need a two-thirds majority, or 67 percent. The second requirement is almost certainly not going to be met.
So even if you manage to defy all the odds, you will have removed President Trump, and he will likely face no legal charges, at least in the short run. Mike Pence will become President (which, for many democrats would actually be just as bad if not worse). Not to mention Pence would certainly have momentum on his side in terms of energizing the Republican Party base.
Now of course there are many other factors at play. But Democrats found themselves in a similar situation (where they seemed to have a massive upper-hand and still managed to lose):
- Hillary Clinton, the Presidential contender with perhaps the most political baggage in modern history was seen as a reasonable choice by the democratic machine. So safe that the Democratic National Committee was “rigged” in favor of Hillary Clinton, and an otherwise viable candidate (Bernie Sanders) was slowly eliminated.
- Even after a devastating loss, the Democratic Party is at risk of repeating the billion-dollar blunder occurred in 2016. With its obsessive focus on wooing voters who supported Donald Trump, it is prioritizing the pursuit of wavering whites over investing in and inspiring African-American voters, who made up 24 percent of Barack Obama’s winning coalition in 2012. In spring 2016, when the progressive independent expenditure groups first outlined their plans for $200 million in spending, they did not allocate any money at all for mobilizing black voters (some money was slotted for radio and digital advertising aimed at blacks, but none for hiring human beings to get out the vote).
- One error that occurred in 2016 and appears set to reoccur in 2020 is to stick with a long-standing, one-dimensional campaign strategy: attacking Donald Trump. That strategy had been devised despite overwhelming evidence, that the electorate was looking for political and economic change.
I think the most likely scenario, which was succinctly outlined by Alan Dershowitz, is that the status quo — Democrats pushing an impeachment message without actually moving ahead with proceedings — could be optimal for the president:
“The best-case scenario for the president both politically and legally is for the Democrats to continue impeachment talk, for 60 or 70 Democratic congressmen to demand impeachment and for, in the end, there to be no impeachment by the House,” Dershowitz said. “In that way, he gets the political benefit without the stigma. It’s a win-win.”
Impeachment only works if you have the votes. This is fairly obvious and if the Democratic Party was working together, this would be the optimal strategy. But in a crowded primary, Democrats, like Elizabeth Warren, could view taking a strong stance on impeachment as a way to receive a fund-raising boost by energizing liberal donors.
So what should Democrats do?
- Only begin impeachment proceedings if they are sure they have the votes to at least make it through the house if not senate, as well. Otherwise win the 2020 election, oust Trump in a more traditional fashion (less partisan perception), and charge him after he is out of office.
- Focus on issues that resonate with a majority of voters — jobs, healthcare, etc.
- Tone down rhetoric that is alienating to moderate voters, and typically lacking in substance, such as identity politics and the overt use of the word socialism.
- Pick a nominee for the party that can energize young and minority voters.
- Make the race about more than a referendum on Trump. Although this seems like a straightforward case to many Democrats, Trump still has a loyal core following that has stood by him through political disasters that would have likely derailed any other candidate in history.