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The 2020 Democratic impeachment strategy and why it makes sense now

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing the House of Representatives will launch a formal inquiry into the impeachment of President Donald Trump following a closed House Democratic caucus meeting.

For so long “If to impeach the president” was the question, then the question was “When?” Now with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision inquiries against Donald Trump, the question is “Why now?”

Maybe till now Pelosi’s decision not to pursue impeachment of Donald Trump made electoral sense. But increasingly a 2020 impeachment next summer just as the presidential general election is kicking into high gear makes sense as a tool to mobilize the Democratic base, weaken Donald Trump, and place pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican Senate.

Despite calls by many in the Democratic Party base and in the House to impeach Trump, Pelosi  resisted it. This was the case even after the Mueller Report documented 11 instances of obstruction of justice. Pelosi’s justification ranged from “He’s just not worth it” to there are not enough votes in the Senate to convict or the fear that impeachment would produce a Republican base backlash that would all but guarantee Trump’s re-election.

A new calculus

However, the revelations of Trump seeking to leverage military aid to Ukraine in return for the latter investigating Joe Biden changes the calculus. It does so for several reasons. One, the gravity of the problem is greater with apparently clearer evidence of the president inviting a foreign government to interfere in U.S. elections. Two, it involves direct abuse of power by the president to leverage U.S. military aid for personal partisan purposes. Three, for Democrats, it is a direct attack by Trump on a presidential front runner and if the president is not sanctioned or punished for that, who knows what other dirty tricks might occur.

But additionally, two other variables come into play. The first is that now a majority of House Democrats support impeachment. Two, it is the issue of time. Timed precisely, a Senate trial would get maximum political payoff for Democrats. This is why Pelosi is reconsidering impeachment now.

Assume Democrats had moved to impeach Trump earlier this year after the Mueller Report came out. Perhaps Trump is impeached in the House, but then the Senate acquits. Trump would then be able to use the acquittal as vindication that he did nothing wrong, and also then accuse Democrats that the impeachment was simply a partisan ploy. The result? Political backlash and Republican mobilization, especially in a few swing states such as Ohio and Florida, thereby re-electing Trump.

An alternative scenario

Now consider a new scenario. The House begins impeachment hearings later this year and into next. During that time perhaps new information about Trump emerges. Sometime in the summer 2020 the House votes on articles of impeachment just as the Republican national convention takes place and the general election starts. Here, much in the same way the Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign was dogged by the on and off and on again investigation by the FBI, Trump begins his general election campaign facing a Senate trial,  which would distract his campaign.

photo of article author
David Schultz
In addition, a Senate trial in later summer or the fall would be a terrific way for Democrats to pressure McConnell and the Republican majority for control of that body. In 2020, there will be 35 senators facing election, with 23 of them Republican. McConnell and the Republicans will face a difficult choice: hold a trial and acquit or refuse to hold a trial.

With the former option, a vote to acquit can be used against Republicans in a battle for the Senate. With the latter option, McConnell – who is also up for re-election – looks as though he is playing politics or refusing to perform his constitutional duties. Either way, with the timing so close to an election, it pressures Republicans on their votes to acquit or not, providing last-minute motivation for Democrats to vote. Moreover, to ensure the Democratic base and swing voters are motivated, especially suburban female voters who drove the 2016 Democratic victory, make sure that at least one of the articles of impeachment also includes something about sexual harassment, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, or something similar.

No doubt this strategy runs the risk of a Republican base backlash. But given that the Democratic Party base is larger than the Republican one, and given polls suggesting independents do not like Trump, such a move by Pelosi and the Democrats makes sense, potentially handing them the House, Senate, and the presidency. Accomplish that and repeal the Senate filibuster rule and the Democrats are as free to obliterate the Trump legacy as Trump sought to do with Obama’s.

David Schultz is a Hamline University professor of political science. His latest book is “Presidential Swing States: Why Only Ten Matter.” 


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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 09/26/2019 - 02:23 pm.

    Obliteration; scorched Earth; winner take all.

    I think this fellow has succinctly summarized American politics today, and moving forward. Maybe now we can spare one another the never ending cycle of pius hypocricy.

  2. Submitted by John Evans on 09/26/2019 - 02:37 pm.

    One of Pelosi’s main jobs as speaker of the house is to protect and extend the Democratic majority in the house. That includes protecting the Democratic representatives in relatively conservative districts from votes that could lose them their constituencies.

    So her calculation may be focused more on the swing voters in the swing districts than on the will of the majority of her caucus.

  3. Submitted by Jeff Michaels on 09/26/2019 - 03:51 pm.

    The reality is that after three years, Democrats and their Fellow Travelers in the establishment news media still cannot accept the fact they lost the most important election in the world to an overweight, egotistical and obnoxious New York real estate salesman who had never run for political office.

    His daily White House presence continually reminds them of their historic failure. He was smarter than they were. He won. They lost. And that will never change.

    • Submitted by Robert Lilly on 09/26/2019 - 04:06 pm.

      It seems Republicans and the apologists can only make arguments that are baseless and without merit. Is that something FOX is promoting now?

    • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/26/2019 - 04:28 pm.

      Yeah, Jeff, Trump won in 2016. But he won dirty. And those of us who have read the Mueller report know it.

      Since he thinks he got away with it, now he’s trying to manipulate the 2020 election in the same way–extorting a foreign country to do dirty work for him.


    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 09/27/2019 - 08:04 am.

      And his performance in office has been so dismal that 2 years later a landslide mid term changed the house from the Rs to the Ds.

      They won, he lost.

      And now he can and will be held accountable for his behavior. No more friendly chair of house intelligence to scurry to the White House to tip them off as to what the “independent” investigation was going to do next.

  4. Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 09/26/2019 - 06:03 pm.

    I can’t help but observe that the person with the most to lose in a protracted investigation into the Ukraine, is Joe Biden.

    Trump wanted the Ukrainian government to pick up an investigation into corruption that Joe had quashed while serving as VP. Now Trump’s got the the Democrats in the US Congress on the case.

    This isn’t going to end well for the DNC.

  5. Submitted by Andy Briebart on 09/26/2019 - 08:37 pm.

    I give this another week or so.

    Another order of nothing burger.

    Just another outrage of the week.

  6. Submitted by joe smith on 09/27/2019 - 08:33 am.

    A third party whistle blower of a call that was released to the public is now enough to go for impeachment. I thought when Mueller report came out that was going to be the time. Then when Mueller testified before congress was going to be the time. Stormy was going to show campaign finance and that was the time. Then the “made up crisis” at the border was going to be the time to take Trump down.
    What a joke. There hasn’t been a time since he was elected that hasn’t been the time to impeach him. This nonsense about Ukraine will go away like Russia, Russia, Russia did and a new crisis will be made up….. Then that will be the time.

    • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/27/2019 - 11:51 am.

      “There hasn’t been a time since he was elected that hasn’t been the time to impeach him. This nonsense about Ukraine will go away like Russia, Russia, Russia did and a new crisis will be made up….. Then that will be the time.”

      Nope. Now is the time to move for impeachment. Why? Nancy Pelosi recognizes that the whistle-blower’s complaint is clear and short enough, and depicts an evident abuse of presidential power by Trump, for even the leas attention-paying Americans to “get.”

      This is a thug talking and acting, right out of “the Godfather.”

      Hoist by his own petard. Love it!

  7. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 09/27/2019 - 08:50 am.

    “This was the case even after the Mueller Report documented 11 instances of obstruction of justice.” D. S.

    This statement is not true. A lawyer should know better.

    “However, the revelations of Trump seeking to leverage military aid to Ukraine in return for the latter investigating Joe Biden changes the calculus. ” D S.

    This statement has not been proven true.

    It seems Mr. Schultz spent more time reading the Adam Schiff’s parody than the actual report.

  8. Submitted by Dennis Barrett on 09/27/2019 - 09:17 am.

    Pelosi should have waited longer and closer to the election. Another Republican outflank (IG’s report on FISA Court abuse) in still in the wind and waiting to pounce. Continuous Democrat nothing burgers aside, the IG’s report is on the investigators. The evidence gatherers for nothing burgers.

  9. Submitted by cory johnson on 09/27/2019 - 12:02 pm.

    Impeachment is a political process. The Dems don’t need any reason beyond “Trump is icky” and they do need to mollify their rabid base to get out the vote. Unfortunately for them they also need win WI,PA, and MI. Given that impeachment will be a nonstarter in the Senate based on current “evidence” I’m not sure how this ends well for the Democrats.

  10. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 09/27/2019 - 03:44 pm.

    The unredacted version of the whistleblower’s complaint turns this “nothingburger” into a cover-up and very good grounds for impeachment. According to that complaint, the current occupant and his staff took the word-for-word transcript of the telephone call and uploaded into the system for classified documents. According to that complaint, the whistleblower was told this has become SOP for the current occupant even though the particular system is reserved for information about covert operations. As if that’s not enough, the CO then began to look for ways to retaliate against the whistleblower as soon as he found that someone was questioning whether he was using his office for political campaign purposes, i.e. soliciting campaign contributions in the form of a priceless investigation of a potential political opponent by a foreign government.

    Maybe just showing up and passably performing the duties of public office is really just a hypocritical facade for obtaining and maintaining power. But the CO has not even tried to pretend his actions have any public good. His divisive language and his actions over the past three years have been calculated political gambits designed the create wedges, if not creating further opportunities for enhancing his personal wealth. All to deflect attention for his own sorry, nonexistent record as a President. Now we’ll see if the American public really cares if corrupt, self-serving politicians get away with it even when they’re caught red-handed.

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