Democratic efforts to impeach President Donald Trump were supposed to help them politically in 2020. In moments of unguarded honesty, a few Democrats admitted as much publicly, saying the quiet part loud and the loud part quiet.
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) May 5, 2019
It’s a great example of how this particular impeachment push keeps backfiring on Democrats. They claim, without evidence, that Trump was trying to get Ukraine to meddle in the 2020 election by asking for their cooperation in investigating Ukrainian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election. And they claim that this is such a dire threat that Trump must be removed from office and disqualified from running in 2020. Yet their own impeachment effort is about retaliation for 2016 and the hope that they can politically damage Trump heading into the 2020 election.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that she would like articles of impeachment drafted, a foregone conclusion ever since Democrats won the House in 2018. Some members, such as Rep. Al Green pictured above had joined the media in calling for Trump’s impeachment since before he was even inaugurated. The precise reasons keep changing (earlier this year, nearly 100 Democrats voted to impeach Trump for the high crime of criticizing Democratic lawmakers Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez on Twitter), but the fervor to retaliate against Trump for beating Hillary Clinton 2016 remains unchanged.
The theory behind the 2020 impeachment push is that Trump will be so damaged by the relentless onslaught of negative discussion about him that it will make voters elect someone else. And who knows? That might happen.
In practice, however, this particular impeachment push is becoming something of a worst-case political scenario for Democrats.
It’s Not Popular And It’s Not Becoming More Popular
With much water carrying by the media, the current impeachment effort got as much help as imaginable when it was kicked off by Democrats in September. Several media outlets claimed a majority of Americans were completely on board with the plan to oust Trump and overturn the 2016 elections. With that generous media treatment of the topic, Pelosi was encouraged to get things going, even though she had previously cautioned against a purely partisan impeachment process. Not only have no Republicans fallen for the impeachment push, some Democrats joined Republicans in opposing it. Support for Pelosi’s investigation gambit was purely partisan, while its opposition was bipartisan.
After Rep. Adam Schiff’s hearings, which were widely if unenthusiastically watched, support for impeachment went down and opposition to impeachment went up. That was particularly true for the valued independent voters, the majority of whom oppose impeachment.
Democrats needed to start with a strong bipartisan push and then peel off Republican voters and members over the course of the inquiry, but that is not happening. And given the trajectory of polls over the last month, it’s only going to get worse for Democrats on that score, not better.
It’s Soul-Crushingly Boring
Critics of the Clinton impeachment used to claim he was being impeached for sexual indiscretion. The actual charges were for perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from his actions in response to a sexual harassment lawsuit he was fighting. But at least they were tangentially related to sex! This made his impeachment far more interesting than one in which Democrats seem to be flailing about in search of an actual crime.
There has been no big reveal other than Trump releasing his own transcripts that were supposedly so egregious. People could read them for themselves and either yawn or feign outrage or have some other reaction. But the hearings have been soul-crushingly boring. Bureaucrats and law professors gave overly long opening statements, after which point grandstanding members of Congress from each party either asked condescending questions about the Bad Orange Man or pointed out inadequacies in the testimony of the witnesses (the vast majority of whom didn’t actually witness anything). After weeks of media-fueled hype about how the walls were finally closing in on Trump, the hearings amounted to little more than whining from collection of disgruntled bureaucrats outraged that Trump refused to let them, rather than the nation’s elected leaders, direct American foreign policy.
It Couldn’t Be More Partisan
While a few Democrats joined with Republicans in opposing impeachment, support comes only from Democrats. Democratic leaders previously said that impeachments that weren’t bipartisan were illegitimate by definition.
But they don’t appear to be even trying to make this impeachment seem legitimate.
Pelosi had Schiff handle the heavy lifting of impeachment because she did not trust Rep. Jerry Nadler to do it, even though he chairs the committee that has proper jurisdiction. Nadler’s hearing yesterday gave an indication of why she worried about him playing too prominent a role. His witness list was a perfect example of how he bungles up processes. Of his three witnesses, one was an Elizabeth Warren donor who previously said she couldn’t stand to walk on the same sidewalk as the Trump hotel. Another witness previously said Democrats didn’t even need evidence of crimes committed by the president in order to impeach him. And their third and final witness previously helped run Dianne Feinstein’s anti-Brett Kavanaugh smear operation in 2018. This is not who you show to the world to demonstrate your independence and even-handedness.
Democrats Aren’t Fulfilling Their Election Promises
A previous Democratic impeachment effort against Trump was going more or less going according to plan until the news in March that Robert Mueller had found no evidence of any Americans treasonously colluding with Russia to steal the 2016 election from Hillary Clinton, much less anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign, much less Trump himself.
After years of a campaign by Democratic operatives in the government and media to push a conspiracy theory of treasonous collusion with Russia, it could not have ended more poorly. Robert Mueller, the absentee figurehead of the investigation into Russia collusion, had a Democratic team of attorneys who attempted to redeem the special counsel probe by putting together an elaborate claim that Trump had obstructed justice by denying his guilt of a crime the investigators themselves found no evidence was ever committed.
Impeaching for this “obstruction” theory after the failure of the Russia collusion hoax was always going to be difficult, but Robert Mueller caused grievous harm to the effort when he testified before Nadler’s committee in July and revealed that he had little knowledge of the investigation he was purported to be leading. Criticism of the probe had been disallowed by the media on the grounds that Mueller was beyond reproach, even if his team was politically radical. That protective barrier they put on the probe evaporated, and with it evaporated hopes of beginning obstruction-focused impeachment proceedings in July.
Nadler had previously revealed in November of 2018 that impeachment was a foregone conclusion but that the precise details were being worked out. The Democrats’ leaders assumed it would be related to Russia and the Mueller probe.
Between the Mueller impeachment push and the Ukraine impeachment push, though, Democrats have done absolutely nothing other than try to overturn the 2016 elections. Elections are less than a year away and this impeachment push is crowding out their ability to get the things done that they promised voters they would do if they were entrusted with the House of Representatives. All the promises to fix a health care system obliterated by Obamacare, pass sweeping gun control laws, and repeal Trump’s tax cuts were all thrown by the wayside so Democrats could focus on impeachment instead.
Pelosi had hoped to have an extremely quick impeachment that would slake the Democratic party’s anti-Trump bloodlust while still leaving time for legislative accomplishment and fulfillment of campaign promises. Instead, it’s dragging on and failing to catch fire, meaning that Pelosi’s committee chairmen are having to go back to the Russia well in search of impeachable material against Trump. It’s reminiscent of the gambler at the casino who responds to heavy losses by doubling down on his bets in the hope he can make back his money. It would be much wiser for him to cut his losses and leave the casino before making things worse, but for some reason he just can’t put down the dice. Democrats would be much better off in the long-run if they ended the charade now, perhaps opting for a quick censure over a full-blown impeachment vote, and moved on to passing bills they promised their voters they would pass.
Now Democrats might not be able to vote until after Christmas or potentially even next year, precisely the long and drawn out scenario they had hoped to avoid.
Trump is clearly vulnerable heading into 2020, and Democrats have a real shot of beating him, retaining control of the House, and perhaps even winning control of the Senate. Impeachment is making that task much harder by showing the American public that Democratic lawmakers’ primary concern isn’t creating jobs or raising wages or lowering health care costs for Americans, it’s sticking it to Trump, no matter the cost.