How to benefit from impeachment

Only in the world of Donald Trump can impeachment be a good thing.

How? Consider Trump’s Democratic opponents, including Elizabeth Warren.

Jonathan V. Last:

Over the weekend I got an email from a very smart, plugged in friend about where Elizabeth Warren’s campaign is, and where it’s heading. I asked him if I could publish it and he agreed, on the condition that he be identified only as “Deep State Bob.” What follows is his:

Let’s say you’re the little voice of reason inside Elizabeth Warren’s head. You ask her a couple of questions: What do you want your campaign to be about? And what you do you want the campaign to be about?

Paired together, the first question gives the candidate an opportunity to describe her perfect-world scenario. The second should—should—lead her to describe the real-world in which her campaign is taking place.

In a perfect world, the United States’ domestic politics would be relatively stable and voters would wish—above all—for creative alternatives to the current mixed-market economic arrangement, which they believe hurts them and their communities. In that world, Warren would want her campaign to be a referendum on crony capitalism and certain private markets—of which Trump, partly by his background and partly by his marriage of convenience to the GOP, has been an exponent. She’d push her Accountable Capitalism Act. She’d rail against the injustices of for-profit health insurance and medical care. She’d decry competition in public education.

In the real world of America in the Year of Our Lord 2019, the United States’ domestic political situation is relatively precarious. Is it as bad as it was in 1860? No. Not even close, thankfully. But are things as bad as they were during the 6-year stretch from 1968 to 1974? Well, that’s an open question.
The absolute best you can say is that American political life is as unsettled as it has been in two generations.

This is a positive, not a normative, statement. The president of the United States is pulling out all the stops to maintain his power: openly inviting foreign governments to be oppo research groups, beating the drums of populist sentiment ever louder, asking his deputies to break the law for him so he can fulfill his campaign promises. Trump is the most aspirationally authoritarian figure ever to hold the presidency and the only reason things aren’t worse is that (a) he’s incompetent and (b) our government was designed with more antibodies to authoritarianism than your replacement-level democracy.

Meanwhile, the public is disgusted with the nation’s economic policies, but it can’t articulate why beyond saying that China and Wall Street have too much financial influence on the life of average Joe. It doesn’t know what it wants. All that it knows is that the system in which elected representatives make new laws to address the public disgust is moving too slowly for their liking.

In this world, Warren—and any of Trump’s opponents, for that matter—would make her campaign a referendum on Trump himself. He’s historically and consistently unpopular. It is no stretch to say that a soft majority of America, perhaps 55 percent or so, is fed up with his defective personality.

And the choice between which of those two worlds she wants to campaign in, Warren seems to have made up her mind. She’s going with the “perfect world” scenario:

What do you think will happen when Republicans get to frame the election as a choice between center-right/populist economics and progressive/socialist economics not because that’s the best ground for them to fight on but because it’s exactly the battle the Democrats asked for?

“Elizabeth Warren wants to take away your health insurance.”

“Elizabeth Warren wants to force your children into failing schools.”

“Elizabeth Warren wants to raise your taxes for government-run health care and government-run education.”

“Who do you trust to make the best medical and education decisions for your household: your doctors and your family, or Elizabeth Warren’s government?”

Can Warren defend this ground successfully? I don’t know. Maybe? But why would she want to?

The path to 53 percent of the popular vote runs through Trump, not the Center for American Progress Action Fund. In the real world we live in, the Democratic candidate for president would say that he or she should be president because Trump absolutely cannot be—that we can’t stand four more years of Trump because his vision for the nation is basically Judge Dredd’s. So let us now step back from the precipice, acknowledge that our national identity is confused and our national purpose is lacking, and reinvigorate the middle-class with infrastructure, or cracking down on China, or protections from predatory financial schemes. Whichever combo platter suits the nominee’s fancy.

Trump cannot win if the 2020 election is a referendum on who he is and the damage he’s done to the presidency and the country. He absolutely might win if the election is a referendum on remaking America’s economic order.

As it stands right now, Trump has a decent shot of winning.

Tyler O’Neil:

Democrats took a tremendous gamble by formally voting for an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Thursday. While polls suggest Americans support the inquiry, the general public is divided on whether or not Trump should be impeached and removed from office. Those in key swing states are more likely to oppose impeachment and removal, suggesting that the impeachment battle may help Trump’s reelection in 2020.

“We’ve known for a long time that everybody in California and New York want Trump to be impeached, they’ve wanted that since the day he came into office,” an anonymous Trump campaign official told The Hill. “But in these states where the election is really going to be fought, we’re seeing that voters oppose impeachment, and there’s an intensity to that opposition.”

Indeed, a New York Times/Siena College poll released Wednesday showed that voters in six key swing states oppose impeaching and removing President Trump, 52 percent to 44 percent.

Most voters in Arizona (52 percent to 45 percent), Florida (53 percent to 42 percent), Michigan (51 percent to 42 percent), North Carolina (53 percent to 43 percent), Pennsylvania (52 percent to 45 percent), and Wisconsin (51 percent to 45 percent) say they oppose Congress’s potential removal of Trump from office.

Most voters in those states also support the impeachment inquiry, however — though by smaller margins.

Other polling found that even the inquiry is unpopular in some swing states. Last week, a Marquette University Law School survey of Wisconsin found 49 percent of voters oppose the inquiry while 46 percent support it. Most voters (51 percent) also opposed removing Trump from office, while 44 percent supported it. Independents proved colder to impeachment and to the inquiry, with only 33 percent supporting Trump’s removal and 35 percent supporting the Congressional investigation.

Trump won Wisconsin by a mere 23,000 votes — out of roughly 3 million. Late-breaking undecided voters went his way on Election Day.

In New Hampshire, a state Hillary Clinton won by fewer than 3,000 votes — out of roughly 700,000 — impeachment is similarly unpopular. Most voters oppose removing Trump (51 percent to 42 percent), according to a CNN-University of New Hampshire poll.

Respondents also oppose impeachment and removal in Arizona, a state Trump won by 3.6 percent but which Democrats have targeted for pick-up. Fifty percent of Arizona residents oppose “impeaching Donald Trump,” while 44 percent support it, according to a recent Emerson College poll.

Impeachment is a two-step process, and no president in U.S. history has been impeached and removed by Congress. The House of Representatives opens the process, with a bare majority of representatives required to impeach a president, opening the case up for a trial in the U.S. Senate. Only the Senate can remove the president, and that requires a two-thirds majority — extremely unlikely with the current Republican majority.

Polling on the issue can center on three separate issues: whether the House should open the impeachment inquiry; whether the House should vote to impeach Trump; and whether the Senate should vote to remove him.

Sadly, due to America’s stark partisan divide on the president, many Democrats and liberals have long wanted to remove Trump and were merely seeking an excuse to do so.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was correct when she said, “Impeachment is a very serious matter. If it happens it has to be a bipartisan initiative.” On Thursday, not a single Republican voted for the impeachment inquiry, while two Democrats voted against it.

As The New York Times‘s Nate Cohn reported, different polls have come to different conclusions about the nationwide sentiment on removing Trump from office. Trump criticized a Fox News poll showing 51 percent supporting removal and only 43 percent opposing it, while a Wall Street Journal survey found 49 percent opposed to removal and 43 percent supporting it.

Cohn drew attention to the group of swing-state voters who support the inquiry but oppose removing Trump. This 7 percent of voters skew younger (33 percent are 18 to 34) and independent (nearly half). A majority of them (51 percent) said Trump’s conduct is typical of most politicians — and indeed, Senate Democrats also pressured Ukraine to investigate their political opponent, Trump himself. Cohn noted that these voters “hold a jaded view of politics that would tend to minimize the seriousness of the allegations against him.”

Because Democrats have called for Trump’s impeachment since shortly after his inauguration, a jaded view of this latest push is warranted.

While Trump may be tainted with scandal if the House votes to impeach him, he will also be able to decry the blatantly partisan nature of the push to remove him from office. The Senate is extremely unlikely to remove him, and the impeachment charade may actually help the president in the swing states he needs to win for reelection.

This impeachment battle could backfire on the Democrats, badly.

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