Impeachment may not oust Trump



December 5, 2019 - 10:22 AM

WASHINGTON — Before she announced an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump in September, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi worried it might provoke a backlash from voters who thought Congress had better things to do.

That didn’t happen. Instead, voters headed straight for their partisan corners: Democrats rallied behind impeachment, Republicans closed ranks behind Trump.

It’s unlikely that Pelosi ever saw impeachment winning enough converts in the Republican-controlled Senate to make Trump the first U.S. president to be removed from office. The GOP appears, if anything, more united behind Trump now than before the process began.

But the televised impeachment hearings served an unexpected purpose that should give hope to Democrats desperate to beat Trump next year.

The proceedings provided a preview of the Democrats’ most powerful argument against Trump. If you have any doubt, look at the House Intelligence Committee report released Tuesday.

It argues that Trump has abused presidential power for his own personal and political gain. He has hijacked foreign policy and obstructed justice. He has destroyed institutions and undermined alliances. He is unfit for office.

The unspoken message: Impeach first, then vote him out of office.

“Trump is facing the worst political scenario he could,” Republican strategist Mike Murphy, a frequent critic of the president, told me. “This is turning into the world’s longest campaign commercial to not reelect Donald Trump.”

Even if the Senate votes to acquit Trump in a trial, the likely outcome at this point, it could help mobilize Democratic voters next fall.

“They’ll turn out like crazy,” Murphy said. “Trump will be stuck on the defensive…. It’s a net plus for the Democrats.”

Democratic strategist David Axelrod, who helped Barack Obama win the White House in 2008, says the turmoil that constantly surrounds the president — including impeachment — may prove his undoing.

Impeachment will hurt Trump because “it adds to the overall perception of chaos that surrounds him,” he told me. “If Trump loses (in 2020), it will be because people decide that we just can’t do this for another four years.”

Axelrod warned his fellow Democrats against broadening impeachment into a collection of partisan grievances against Trump.

“The best thing Pelosi and other Democrats can do is continue to play this absolutely straight … and avoid playing into the Republican narrative that this is all a politically motivated, bloodless coup,” he said.

Pelosi and her lieutenants never planned to make impeachment part of the 2020 campaign; indeed, they spent months tiptoeing around it.

No longer. A new impeachment-focused video by House Democrats is aimed against Republicans in Congress, some of whom could be vulnerable next year if they stand by the president.