OFF TO THE RACES

The Political Risk of Impeachment

What some Democrats see as a moral imperative flies against public opinion.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a news conference on April 4
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
April 22, 2019, 8 p.m.

Democrats face a choice. We’ve heard many say President Trump is unqualified and unworthy of being president; that he has behaved in ways beneath his position and that he has betrayed the office—and because of his actions and words, he deserves to be impeached and removed from power.

If we stipulate all that just for the sake of argument, does that mean Democrats have an obligation to try to remove him from office no matter how futile it is and, more importantly, no matter the consequences of pursuing that course of action?

Any thought that there are 67 Senate votes to convict Trump is beyond a fantasy—it’s delusional. There aren’t 20 Republicans who would join the 47 Democrats needed to reach the threshold for the effort to succeed. It is questionable whether even two Senate Republicans would. If anything, the Mueller report’s release last week reduces the chance of that happening because it lacks a bombshell that changes the way anyone looks at Trump.

So what would be the point of impeaching him in the House? Is it to do it simply because the party has a majority and can? And what would be the consequences for impeaching Trump and attempting to remove him from office, particularly with public opposition to it?

While Trump has terrible job approval and personal favorability numbers, a sizable number of American people don’t support removing him from office. A March 14-17 CNN poll of 1,003 adults found that just 36 percent supported impeaching Trump and removing him from office, while 59 percent did not. A March 1-4 Quinnipiac University poll of 1,120 registered voters found nearly identical results, with 35 percent agreeing that “Congress should begin the process to impeach President Trump, which could lead to his removal from office,” and 59 percent disagreeing.

While 68 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of liberals in the CNN poll supported impeachment and removal, just 33 percent of independents and 37 percent of moderates did. Only 4 percent of Republicans and 17 percent of conservatives favored impeachment. In the Quinnipiac poll, 66 percent of Democrats supported impeachment, as 30 percent of independents and 6 percent of Republicans did.

There will undoubtedly be more polling in the coming days, and it is likely to corroborate these numbers.

Given public opinion, the question is whether these Democrats will take “no” for an answer. Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems to remember what happened the last time a party impeached a president and attempted to remove him from office when the public opposed it. Let’s just say it didn’t end well for that party or for its leader (Newt Gingrich).

We hear some Democrats argue, “How can we not pursue impeachment?” To not even attempt to remove him from office would, they argue, condone his behavior, his actions, his presidency. But Democrats should be asking themselves what the cost would be for this self-indulgence.

Are they willing to do what some feel morally bound to do even if there is a chance it backfires, as it did in 1998 against Republicans? What if it improved Trump’s reelection chances or even made Democratic retention of their House majority more difficult, particularly in those longtime Republican suburban districts near Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, and in coastal South Carolina? Is what they see as a moral imperative worth that risk? It’s like asking the Bernie Sanders supporters who in November 2016 opted to stay home or vote for Jill Stein rather than back Hillary Clinton, “How did that work out for you?”

For all of the talk among conservatives and Republicans about Pelosi being a San Francisco liberal, it’s the Baltimore pragmatist that we’ve seen since the 2018 midterm elections. It is clear both that few people have a lower opinion of Trump than she does and that she doesn’t appreciate the lectures about how much Trump deserves to be removed from office. Pelosi, who has sat across a table from him more than anyone else, seems determined not to cave in and do something that she is convinced isn’t in the best interest of her party.

There is no question that some Democrats and liberal groups see an opportunity in impeachment. What better way to galvanize the party, to raise money, to break through? But it’s also a decent bet that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would love to see House Democrats pursue impeachment, as it could shift the spotlight from Trump’s antics to Democrats swimming against the current of public opinion.

Some Democrats seem to think the American people will ultimately see what they see, understand what they understand, and reach the conclusion that they have. How much more arrogant and elitist could those Democrats be? It’s as if they’re saying, “Once the public is as smart and wise as we are, they will agree with us.”

The people with the capacity to be outraged by Trump already have been. The people who have stuck with Trump through thick and thin likely aren’t going anywhere at this point.

What We're Following See More »
Rep. Chip Roy Objected
House Won't Pass Disaster Aid Bill This Month
19 minutes ago
THE LATEST
CONCERNED ABOUT A PUBLIC SPECTACLE
Mueller Agrees to Testify, but Only in Private
1 hours ago
THE LATEST
COULDN'T NAVIGATE BREXIT
Theresa May Officially Resigns
1 hours ago
THE LATEST
FEDERAL JUDGE WON'T BLOCK SUBPOENA OF BANK RECORDS
Trump Loses in Court Again
1 days ago
THE LATEST
SAYS HE CAN'T DO IT WHILE INVESTIGATIONS CONTINUE
Trump Pulls the Plug on Infrastructure
1 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login