The developing impeachment inquiry challenges Democrats to a delicate balancing act for one critical reason: their effort plays into the GOP’s 2020 strategy. Much of that strategy involves depicting Democrats as socialists, which is of course a different matter than impeachment. But impeachment fever is easily cast as extremism, and that’s in large part why the socialism label stings.
As we reported last month, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel revealed the group’s research suggests tying Democratic candidates to socialism will bring college-educated suburban women back to the GOP in swing states. “Where the left is going — open borders, no rule of law, health care for undocumented immigrants — these are things that when you come down to the binary choice, maybe they say, ‘Okay, I don’t like this about what’s happening right now, but here’s what’s coming my way,'” McDaniel told The Federalist.
The implication of the “binary choice” strategy is that Republicans just need to convince voters Democrats are worse than Trump—or any given GOP candidate. If labeling their opponents as socialists is working, it’s perfectly logical to assume an impeachment frenzy will help Republicans successfully depict Democrats as radicals as well.
For Republicans campaigning in these states and districts, the key isn’t necessarily to spend time convincing voters Trump is good, but to make Democrats look like a more serious threat to the status quo. That’s the binary.
The success of such a campaign, of course, will depend on how Democrats handle the impeachment process. One week in—and with the entire Trump era as our guide—it seems unlikely to involve the levels of discipline and objectivity sufficient to defanging Republican attacks. There’s already evidence, courtesy of the president’s Twitter feed, of what these attacks will look like:
The inquiry could plausibly unfold over the coming months and gain support rather than hemorrhage it. If Democrats successfully build their case in a way that transcends partisan boundaries, and sustainably so, Republicans may have less to work with to wrap the impeachment effort into their broader socialism attack, which is effective because it’s really about the threat of radicalism. But that also seems unlikely.
What seems more likely is that Republicans will be able to include depictions of impeachment-crazed Democrats alongside depictions of socialism-crazed Democrats. Impeachment is an inherently radical solution to unseating a president. In the swing states and districts that will matter particularly in the Electoral College, radicalism is the look Democrats should want to avoid most.