Impeachment is the number one Democratic issue for the 2018 midterms, even if party leaders won’t admit it.
Impeachment has been all the rage among the Democratic base since the start of the Trump presidency, and fervor to remove the president from office has not abated. A PBS/Marist poll in April showed that 70% of Democratic voters would definitely vote for a candidate who wants to impeach President Trump. A CNN poll last month showed that 77% of Democrats want President Trump impeached.
House Democrats have filed several articles of impeachment already, charging obstruction or justice, undermining the freedom of the press, undermining the judiciary, and violations of the emoluments clause. The charges are highly speculative, but Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) says that there does not particularly need to be evidence of a crime because “impeachment is about whatever the Congress says it is. There is no law that dictates impeachment.”
The impeachment filings have not attracted many Congressional sponsors or leadership support. Democratic leaders have tried to keep a lid on the issue, mostly because it is bad politics. In the PBS/Marist poll note above a 47% plurality of voters said they would definitely vote against a pro-impeachment candidate. The June CNN poll showed that 51% opposed impeachment, and those who favor it are mainly core Democratic constituencies who will vote for the party anyway.
However, the increasingly vocal progressive wing has urged Democrats to embrace impeachment politics. New York Democratic Congressional candidate and media darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez favors impeachment. Progressive billionaire Tom Steyer is pumping $40 million into the impeachment drive. Impeachment is one of the only issues that excites the base, which progressives see promoting it as a way of seizing control of the House and Senate.
Yet Republicans also think impeachment is a winning issue. There are no actual grounds for it, President Trump’s approval ratings are on the upswing, the economy is strong, and public confidence is growing. The more Democrats talk about impeachment the less they are addressing their substantive issues (like open borders and raising taxes) and the more isolated and cranky they seem. Plus impeachment fever is mainly a progressive malady and does not appeal to the moderate and independent voters that Democrats would need to attract in order to make significant electoral gains. So, while impeachment is bad politics for Democrats, it is red meat for Republicans. President Trump raises the impeachment issue at his rallies, and the RNC is talking about it more than their DNC counterparts.
Perhaps progressives hope their impeachment drive will get a boost from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s expected Russian investigation/witch-hunt report in September. Since the impeachment wing of the party already has an expansive view of what constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors” practically anything in the report would qualify in their book. After all, these are people who think Mr. Trump could be impeached over a Tweet. But the closer the midterm election gets the more Mueller will be open to charges of meddling with the election, a theme the White House has already picked up.
Whether the aged liberal Democratic leaders can keep their young progressives in check remains to be seen, but for now it seems like the only person who doesn’t want to talk about impeachment is Nancy Pelosi.
James S. Robbins is editor of Eagle Action Report and author of Erasing America: Losing Our Future by Destroying Our Past (Regnery, 2018).
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