Attempting to impeach President Donald Trump possess more of a political risk for Democrats than Republicans.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to move ahead with impeachment proceedings is a political blunder. Her initial assessment that without broad public support, including substantial Republican support, impeachment will not succeed and be damaging to the party, is still correct.
Revelations of President Trump’s conversation with the Ukrainian president and attempts to cover it up are deeply troubling. To request a foreign power to dig up dirt about your political opponents is unethical and illegal. However, to date, there is no evidence of a groundswell of support among Republican voters for impeachment.
A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that 78 percent of Republicans believe that impeachment is “more of the same politically motivated attacks” on the president. Support for impeachment has grown—mainly among Democrats, but only slightly among Republicans.
Most Republicans legislators have staunchly defended the president. It is difficult to believe that more than a handful of Republican House members will vote to support bills of impeachment.
The Senate requires a two-thirds vote to actually impeach. Twenty Republican votes are needed to join the 45 Democrats and two independents that will most likely vote to impeach. There is no possibility that 20 Republican Senators, without constituent support, will vote to impeach a Republican president. Further, conservative media is supporting the president and counterattacking Democrats.
Impeachment is a serious risk for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Republicans claim that Biden, while vice president, used his influence to force out a Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating a Ukrainian company that had Biden’s son, Hunter, on its board of directors. Biden strongly denies the Republican narrative and correctly claims that whatever he did in the Ukraine was on behalf of the Obama administration efforts to oust a corrupt government official.
However, in the mind of much of the public, the matter has become overtly political. What Trump did in asking the Ukrainian president to work with his personal attorney and the Attorney General to look into the Biden story is viewed as not an unexpected Trump political tactic.
The story soils Biden and raises the question of how his son, without apparent qualification, became a director of a Ukrainian company at a substantial monthly salary. The obvious answer is that the Ukrainian oligarch running the company sought to curry favor with the U.S. government.
As this story unfolds during the impeachment inquiry, the public will sour on the process. The average voter will see it as a political fight—not a serious high crime or misdemeanor that is grounds for impeachment.
Impeachment puts at risk Democratic legislators running for re-election in competitive districts and states. The Democrats won a majority in the House by running moderate candidates in nominally moderate Republican districts. These candidates focused on health care and “bread and butter” economic concerns. Impeachment will be the consuming topic and alienate Republicans. Democrats will lose the issue advantage.
Impeachment will also hurt the Democratic chances of retaking the Senate. Democrats need to be competitive in conservative states to gain a senate majority. Republicans will stoke resentment over what they believe is a politically tainted impeachment and hope for a strong conservative voter showing.
The Trump strategy is to discredit and politicize the impeachment process. He counter claims that Democrats want to overturn the 2016 presidential election and that they used foreign sources to initiate an investigation against Trump in 2016. He is hoping for a strong Republican reaction and turnout to retake the House, maintain the Senate, and re-elect him.
Trump is angry and lashing out. This may cause him more political harm than impeachment. He needs to maintain relative calm and control the narrative. If he can contain himself and let Republican supporters and the conservative media defend him and fight back, impeachment will be a dud like the Mueller report. Without substantial Republican voter support, the Senate Republicans will not vote to impeach Trump. If he can control his outbursts and appear more presidential, President Trump can declare victory and vindication and be will be in a stronger position for the general election.
Joshua Sandman is a professor of political science at the University of New Haven, and has studied the presidency for five decades.
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