Dec. 23, 2019
To: Our subscribers
Merry Christmas to all of our readers. The Briefing will take the holiday off and return January 6.
Impeachment: Democrats had been promising ever since 2016 to impeach Trump — since before Trump had even been inaugurated. Last week, they finally went and did it.
As Tom Steyer reminded the debate audience last Thursday, he started the group Need to Impeach in 2017, calling for Trump’s impeachment. He said it to gain extra cred with the debate audience, but the significance is broader than that. It’s just one of the many examples out there of Democrats looking for basically any excuse to impeach since the very beginning. This particular data point demonstrates that they were already to the point of raising money with the explicit aim of impeaching him within nine months of his inauguration, with the planning for that surely goes back months before that.
The Russian collusion conspiracy theory didn’t pan out, and this Ukraine phone call looks like the last ticket to impeachville before we’re already too deep into the 2020 election. So here we are.
The process: Neither of the articles of impeachment alleges a statutory crime. The first one, “abuse of power,” could nonetheless comprise a valid impeachment article under the correct circumstances. The second one, “obstruction of Congress,” is a joke, and its inclusion in the impeachment hints strongly that House Democrats did not feel the first charge was quite sufficient.
Still, it would be incorrect to say that the House cannot impeach on the charges it chose. According to the Constitution, the House of Representatives has “the sole power of impeachment.” This means, as Gerald Ford famously observed while serving in the U.S. House (and while discussing the impeachment of a Supreme Court justice), “high crimes and misdemeanors” has to be defined as “whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers them to be at a moment in history.” By this clearly practical and constitutionally consistent standard, impeachment is always an option, whatever the offense. No one has a right to second-guess a House majority.
The balance on this, however, is that it never ends with impeachment. Having chosen accusations that produced a purely partisan impeachment, House Democrats face the further challenge of getting the public to take impeachment seriously. So far, the polling hints that that isn’t going so well (more on that in a moment).
And this explains why, as of this writing, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has chickened out, refusing to hand over the House-passed articles to the Senate. Democrats are afraid — and rightly so — that senators will almost instantly vote their weak, politically driven charges down with minimal debate. This appears to be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan, and it remains the most likely outcome. All he needs is a simple majority of Senators to vote with him on procedural questions.
You can just imagine the result of a quick trial and an instant acquittal. This would be Mitch McConnell’s way of showing the entire process as much contempt as possible. Trump would spend the next ten months wearing impeachment as a badge of honor, claiming he has been vindicated, and daring Democrats to escalate from there — “You already impeached me, what are you going to do now?” He would be both insufferable and hilarious at the same time.
The fallout: The two-thirds majority required for removing Trump quite obviously does not exist in the U.S. Senate — not even in the best-case scenario for Democrats. They don’t expect Trump to be removed from office, and they never did.
So this impeachment is really about weakening a president ahead of an election. Will it work? That is hard to say.
This is only the third impeachment in U.S. history, and the fourth serious attempt at impeachment. The sample size for understanding the potential political outcome in the long run is very small. Impeachment hasn’t been used for this purpose in a very long time — not against Clinton, not against Nixon.
Impeachment made Bill Clinton popular beyond anything he’d experienced before. His approval ratings reached new highs, but Democrats still lost the next presidential election, in 2000.
Impeachment probably didn’t affect Nixon per se — his corruption had sunk him before he could even be impeached, which is why he resigned in order to avoid a genuinely bipartisan impeachment.
But what’s going to happen with Trump? So far, he doesn’t seem to be afraid of the result ala Nixon. He is taking full advantage of his own impeachment to raise money and generate new support.
One sign that it’s working is financial. Whereas Trump was outspent roughly two-to-one in 2016, and managed to win anyway, his RNC is now setting fundraising records, at least in part as a result of the push for impeachment. The RNC raised $21 million in November, a new record. And so far this cycle, in close connection with the White House, the RNC has raised more than twice as much money as the DNC.
Still, let’s look at the indicator that reflects the bigger picture: The three major GOP committees (NRCC, NRSC, RNC) have raised something on the order of $319 million, compared to Democrats’ $226 million. In terms of cash-on-hand, Democrats have $69.9 million compared to $104.7 million for Republicans.
The hate: Anyone both irked by Trump’s manner and cognizant of his conservative policy gains can understand why the Left hates Trump so much. They hated George W. Bush quite a bit, and they introduced articles to impeach him. But America’s politics have become much more divided in the time since. And Democrats, like everyone else in this divided country, are far less restrained than they used to be.
At this point, the polls provide a pretty clear message: Support for impeachment, once a majority proposition, has just barely fallen behind opposition, 48 to 47 percent, according to the RealClearPoliticis average. This trend will likely continue. Although Trump has never been especially popular — never rising above a roughly minus-8 point approval rating — impeachment is now a minority proposition.
Democrats are risking even higher negative approval ratings for carrying out the ongoing impeachment, and so far they don’t seem to know how to handle it.