What is the best long-term strategy?
Newly-elected Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib made headlines by claiming that “We’re Going To Impeach The Motherf*cker” when talking about Trump at an event. The statement has led to the usual hand-wringing regarding the use of inapropriate language and whether this is the right approach to take in impeaching the President. George Takei summed up the debate succinctly on Twitter when he wrote “If you have a problem with her language but not with what Trump has done that motivated her to say it, I have no time for you.”
Like most Democrats, and like most thinking people, I can’t wait for Trump to be out of office. The Democratic leadership has earned some enmity from grassroots activists for not focusing on impeachment. This all begs the question as to whether impeachment is a good strategy for Democrats at all.
When considering strategy, the first step should be to decide what the ultimate goal is and then work your way back from it. I would submit that our ultimate goal should be the seizing of Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and the election of a Democratic President. Accomplishing these tasks is the only way we can undo some of the damage Trump and McConnell have wrought. Thus, the first question to ask is whether impeaching Trump will achieve these ends.
What will happen if Trump is impeached? First off, the impeachment will go to the Senate for trial where the Republicans have a fairly comfortable majority right now. As a result, the entire process will be long and painful. Will Trump ultimately be removed from office? Unless things change considerably, at this point, given the past behavior of the Republican Congress, it is fair to assume that there are not sufficient votes in the Senate to achieve the 2/3 majority to remove him from office. Instead, just as happened with Bill Clinton’s impeachment, Trump will remain in office, and the news will be dominated with discussion about the impeachment process rather than the issues that actually impact the daily lives of most Americans: stagnant wages, healthcare under attack, climate change, etc…
What’s more is that this process will actually help Trump achieve his greatest goal: position himself as a victim. He has been trying extremely hard to make himself seem persecuted, an argument that has generally fallen on deaf ears. If the Democratic Congress starts an impeachment process, however, he will actually have a basis to make that argument.
Also, impeachment will excite the Republican base. Remember that elections are decided by who shows up, so enthusiasm to vote is what can make the difference. Right now, the Republicans are probably generally demoralized, just as they were in the period leading up to the midterms. But as we know, they turned out in mass for the midterm elections, probably saving the Senate for the Republicans. What happened? The Kavanaugh hearings, which served to outrage and motivate Republicans more than anything else the Democrats had done. If you think the Kavanaugh hearings motivated Republican voters, wait until you see what impeachment will do.
Will impeachment help with the critical swing voters? According to a recent poll, only 33% of Americans support impeachment while 51% oppose it. Indeed, virtually all the support for impeachment is among active Democrats, 60% of whom support impeachment. So impeachment will excite the Democratic base, but it will fall on deaf ears among independent voters. These voters are critical given the high turnout in Presidential election years. Can Democrats win these voters? We showed we can in the midterms. But we do it by talking about the issues they care about, as I detailed above, including jobs, wages, income inequality, health care, etc…
But exciting the Democratic base has some value, doesn’t it? Indeed it does, but the base is already enthused and will continue to be so. Thanks to Donald Trump and his tweeting, Democrats will remain motivated. We don’t need an impeachment process to increase enthusiasm among our voters.
Furthermore, what happens in the off chance that Trump is removed from office or decides to resign as Nixon did? Mike Pence becomes President. Pence is one of the least impressive elected officials in Washington right now. He was unlikely to get re-elected governor of Indiana when he was added to the ticket. But his milquetoast personality might be just the contrast needed after the chaos of Trump to bring voters back to the Republican party. Remember that right now, Trump’s chaos is probably an asset to the Democrats. Removing that will hobble us in 2020.
Does Donald Trump’s tweeting help him?
Data analysis shows that his negative tweets help his approval rating, but his attacks on “fake news” fall flat
Right now, the greatest advantage Democrats have is our contrast with the Republicans and Trump. The GOP is now Trump’s party; they can’t run away from him now. If we impeach him, we might actually achieve what many Republican elected officials are secretly hoping for.
Republicans have shown that they are incapable of governing. They have shown themselves to be irresponsible and concerned only about the needs of the very rich. If we focus on those facts, Democrats win. However, if we show ourselves to be partisan hacks intent on impeachment, much as the Republicans have behaved in the past, we lose that advantage and make ourselves seem just like the other side.
Much as Trump deserves impeachment, indeed deserves indictment and imprisonment, none of that will achieve our long-term goals. If we really care about the direction of our government, we need to focus on a strategy that will give us control of the levers of power. Impeachment likely does not get us there.
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