Cushman: Democratic Impeachment Efforts May Help Trump in 2020


U.S. House of Representatives chamber. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

By KC Ellen Cushman, Opinion Writer

Amid the influx of news following the announcement by House Democrats of their impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump, it can be hard to keep up with what is happening in American politics. Considering the ramifications of this controversial decision is even more challenging, especially as we move toward the 2020 presidential election. It would comfort me to believe that this difficult, error-prone calculus is why House Democrats are making decisions that will result in an astronomical advantage for President Trump in the upcoming presidential election. No matter how it looks now, pursuing impeachment is unlikely to result in Trump’s removal from office, and will only serve to validate him as a candidate in 2020.


A Long Shot and a Witch Hunt

Throughout more than two hundred years of American politics, only two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have been impeached – and neither trial resulted in the president’s removal from office. Bill Clinton lied under oath, an impeachable offense, but remained in office nonetheless. The American public did not approve of the impeachment (in fact, his approval ratings soared) and Senators understood that removing Clinton from office would make them look bad.

Today, the Senate is majority-Republican. They know that voting to impeach a Republican president right before an election year will similarly make them look bad. The Republicans have already demonstrated a lack of support for the impeachment inquiry – the House earned their majority in favor of the inquiry without a single Republican and with 183 Republicans saying “no or not now” to an inquiry.

While the House can gain enough of a majority to move forward on impeachment without them, the majority Republican Senate is unlikely to turn against a Republican president, especially the year before an election when the presidency and when some of their seats are on the line. Given the lack of Republican support for impeachment and the intense partisanship in the United States, the likelihood of a successful impeachment is slim to none, even if impeachable offenses have been committed.

Trump has already branded the impeachment inquiry as a “witch hunt.” He’s writing a narrative in which Democrats attack him without cause and unjustly attempt to oust him from office. With threats like “we’re going to impeach the motherf***er” going back as early as January, he has plenty of ammunition to attack Democrats about impeachment. A failed impeachment attempt is likely, and would easily allow him to carry that argument into the 2020 election. Opening impeachment proceedings may hurt the Democratic cause, especially while Trump paints them as partisan bullies who have had it out for him since the moment he entered the Oval Office.


Legitamizing Trump

Mick Mulvaney, the current White House Chief of Staff, has boldly claimed that a House impeachment could lead the Trump team to win 45 states – a landslide victory – in 2020. This prediction is unlikely, as the last time a president won more than 45 states was in 1984, but the House impeaching Trump could definitely help him on the campaign trail. The Trump base is an incredibly loyal one. Since being sworn into office in January of 2017, Trump’s popularity among Republicans is down only two points, from 89% to 87%, at its lowest dropping only to 77%.

Republicans support Trump and they have supported him throughout his entire presidency, despite a number of controversies. Trump’s base has stood with him through Stormy Daniels, the Mueller investigation, and concerns about Russian election meddling, and they will continue to stand with him as he is accused of being part of the swamp he has promised to drain. An unsuccessful impeachment trial would only legitimize Trump going into 2020 and — arguably worse — make his base more likely to defend him regardless of what other troubling information comes to light during the course of the election or his presidency.

If the Democrats truly believe Donald Trump is guilty of something so grave that an impeachment trial will result in his removal from office, then they should pursue that. However, from what we know about his engagement with Ukraine and China, the partisan makeup of Congress, and the dedication of Donald Trump’s base, a successful impeachment trial simply is unlikely. If the Democrats are really dedicated to finding a president who will not engage in ethically problematic behavior with foreign governments, they have an excellent opportunity to unseat Trump in 2020. They should fight to put their own president in office rather than wasting their energy on an impeachment trial that won’t result in Trump’s removal from office and will increase his chances of success in the 2020 election.


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