Things are looking pretty good for Joe Biden. He holds a fairly commanding lead in the national polls for the Democratic presidential nomination, and for some reason he is the only candidate even pretending to be moderate as the rest of the pack competes to be the most loony leftist. But if, as seems likely at this point, he does become the nominee, would impeachment proceedings against President Trump help Biden or hurt him?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at least claims to think Trump wants to be impeached, that he is goading the Democrats in that direction. There is no way to know if this is true, but it’s not as crazy as it sounds. Pelosi understands that impeachment would make what is now a dizzying array of court cases and investigations into a zero-sum game, and one that Trump would almost certainly win should the House vote to impeach and the Senate vote not to convict.
But pressure is mounting. Democrats in the House, including some in leadership positions, are pressing harder and harder for impeachment. Many in the media echo these calls. And there is certainly a substantial segment of the Democratic base that would love to see Trump impeached. But what about Biden?
The important thing to understand about the potential impeachment of Trump is that such an endeavor would become the main and only story that matters in the 2020 election. By seeking to remove a duly elected president from office, the Democrats in the House would be setting the frame for Biden’s candidacy, and its not at all clear that this framing would work to the former vice president’s benefit.
Biden is running a campaign based on normalcy. He is counting on the idea that the American people are fatigued by the swirling scandals and often-brutish behavior of President Trump. He’s not offering Green New Deals, he’s not telling voters that America was never all that great, he’s not apologizing for his past. He is offering to get things back to normal. Having to run in the face of an impeachment proceeding against Trump does not serve that message.
The biggest fear that Pelosi and presumably Biden have about impeachment is that it could be the third strike that punches out the Democrats and sends Trump to a second term. The first strike was the Robert Mueller report that failed to find long-promised Trump collusion with Russia. The second strike will come if the Southern District of New York investigation into Trump comes up empty, and the third would be an attempt at impeachment on the basis of supposed obstruction of justice that falls flat. If at the end of all of that Trump is still standing, smiling, and taunting Democrats, it will be a powerful win.
So, from Biden’s perspective, why take that risk? Why focus the election on an issue that he can’t control? If, as he has done so far, he continues to run a race based on unity, on bringing the country together, why would he want the backdrop for that campaign to be a brutal partisan fight over impeachment? It just doesn’t make much sense. For a Bernie Sanders or an Elizabeth Warren, it might make more sense, but given how Uncle Joe seems to be running, the attention suck of impeachment takes more away from his message than it adds.
And it’s not just Joe Biden. All down the ballot, Pelosi knows how hard it will be for Democrats to maintain the wins they achieved in 2018 if impeachment proceeds. It wasn’t candidates like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Rep. Ilhan Omar who flipped swing districts in 2018, it was moderate Democrats who prefer to get something done for their districts to running 24/7 on impeaching the president.
But sometimes in politics the power of gravity can be overwhelming. And as calls for impeachment mount, as the media licks its lips for the story of the century, as a nation prepares for must-see impeachment TV, there may be no way to avoid it. For Biden, that isn’t good news.
But he may be in a position to stop it. So far Pelosi is the loudest voice urging Democrats not to go the impeachment route. She needs some help in that regard. A calming wink and thumbs up from middle-class Joe, a promise of unity and bringing the country back together rather than tearing it down with sectarian fights, might be just what the speaker ordered. And he would be wise to do it now.