Brad Parscale, President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, staked out his position on the impact of impeachment when he tweeted in early December, “Nancy Pelosi is marching members of her caucus off the plank and into the abyss,” adding, “Impeachment is killing her freshman members and polling proves it.”
The alleged nervousness of some Democrats in swing districts and New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew’s switch to the GOP have added to the sense of risk that Democrats are facing by impeaching the president.
Like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, I initially thought that impeaching Trump was an unnecessarily risky step for congressional Democrats.
Trump has always been the issue for many Americans who find his personal behavior and/or his policies offensive, so why complicate the narrative by adding a step that puts the onus back on Democratic lawmakers?
But Trump’s behavior involving Ukraine forced Pelosi’s hand. With her members up in arms and the party’s grassroots demanding action after new detailed evidence of wrongdoing, the speaker had few options other than to greenlight the impeachment process in the House.
Given Republicans’ lockstep position, Democrats are stuck with a partisan impeachment that has no chance of a Senate conviction next year.
The question is whether Trump’s impeachment and subsequent vote in the Senate not to convict changes the political calculus for 2020, for both the presidential election and the fight for control of Congress.
Politicians have a right to be worried about the political unknown, since they won’t know how voters feel about their individual members until after the impeachment process finally ends. But there is plenty of evidence that the polarization we already see in national polling on the president’s job performance and on impeachment as an alternative suggest that most minds already are made up.
The Dec. 8-11 Fox News poll showed 50 percent of registered voters said Trump should be impeached and removed, while only 41 percent said he should not be impeached. In late October, an almost identical 49 percent said he should be impeached and removed.
The new Fox News poll also showed Trump’s job approval stood at 45 percent, with 53 percent disapproving — little different from his 43 percent approve/54 percent disapprove in late January.
Yes, we all know that Trump says his polling is great, but we also all know that he simply makes up stuff, including poll numbers. So he isn’t a credible source.
I don’t see much reason to believe that impeachment has enhanced his chances for reelection in 2020. Nor is there much evidence that the process has undermined his prospects.
That puts me in complete agreement with my friend Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report, who observed that “by the time we hit the summer of 2020, the issue of impeachment will just be one more in a string of unprecedented, presidency-altering events that have come and gone in the mind of voters.”
Some Democratic incumbents in pro-Trump and Republican states and districts will lose their seats next year, but they probably would have lost them even if their party had not pursued impeachment. But many Democrats in swing seats who were first elected in 2018 because of voters’ animosity toward Trump should not find themselves in difficulty next year primarily because they supported impeachment.
The disruption and chaos that Trump brought to the presidency, and to our politics, has resulted in more anger and name-calling, additional partisan polarization and a growing sense that the 2020 election will be crucial to the country’s future, no matter which side you are on. But it also means that the battle lines for 2020 have already been formed, and both sides have more than enough ammunition.
If Trump’s comment about grabbing a women’s private parts didn’t sink his 2016 campaign and his awful general election debate performances didn’t sink his candidacy, there is almost nothing that he could do over the next 11 months that would automatically destroy him or his party next year.
Conversely, if a strong economy, including a stunningly low unemployment rate and a booming stock market, isn’t enough to get the president’s job approval up to 50 percent, nothing will.
Critics of the president already have enough reason to find him “deplorable” and vote to replace him in November.
Now, in the middle of the impeachment process, impeachment looks like a defining event of 2020. But by the time we reach September, impeachment will likely look like a mere bump in the road.
Note: This column appeared initially in Roll Call on December 17, 2019.