The Gift of Impeachment

Ishir Talapatra

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On September 24, 2019, the United States Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, announced that the House would begin an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. This inquiry covered his alleged abuse of power in asking for potentially damaging information on former Vice President and frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic nomination Joe Biden from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as conditioning military aid on compliance. The move was designed to placate the more progressive politicians in the Democratic caucus but has instead resulted in endangering the numerous moderates. Moderates had won in previously Republican districts which resulted in the House changing hands, and as such, this upset had lead some to believe Trump's impeachment will only strengthen his position in the vital battleground states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. 

 

Of the three battleground states, Wisconsin is generally regarded as the hardest to win for either party and therefore the most reliable barometer for general election polling. In 2016, President Trump won the state by 23,000 votes (the state population is 5.83 million). Currently, 53% of likely voters in Wisconsin oppose impeachment, marking a slight increase from figures in October (New York Post). Additionally, the president’s approval among African-American voters - historically one of his worst demographics - is up to 34%. To put this in perspective, all successful Democratic presidents have typically received upwards of 85%  African-American support compared to the sub 70% they are currently receiving (Axios). The Republican Party, though already incredibly pro-Trump, have voraciously rallied around him to the point that he now possesses greater support among Republicans than President George W. Bush did post-9/11 (New York Post). 56% of correspondents in one poll claimed to believe that impeachment was purely partisan and had connections with the “deep state” (Quinnipiac University). It is also worth noting that 79% of correspondents in an Ipsos poll answered that they had made up their minds on impeachment prior to the hearings, which underlines the partisan divide. 

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Democratic Nominees for the 2020 Presidential Election

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Arguably the most significant effect that impeachment will have is the clash between the Senate trial, the first caucuses, and primaries of the Democratic primary cycle. House Democrats are reportedly aiming for an impeachment vote by Christmas, which would set up a Senate trial (which is presided over by the Chief Justice, and more of a court-style proceeding as compared with the House impeachment inquiry with evidence presented and speeches made for and against removing the president from office) for the start of the new year in January (Politico). The Iowa Caucus (the first primary event) is set for February 3, 2020, which could easily coincide with the Senate’s vote to remove President Trump from office. This would overshadow the primary and force all those running into talking about impeachment as opposed to the “kitchen table” issues that midwestern swing voters are more likely to care about, such as healthcare or education. 

 

Of course, all of this would only be applicable if President Trump were to be impeached by the House. As it stands, impeachment looks very likely, but it is entirely possible that more moderate House Democrats could vote against it. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is more than likely to run vigorous, well-funded campaigns against vulnerable Democrats. This fear has only been amplified by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) lack of coherent response to these campaigns (Politico). 

 

So what’s next? Speaker Pelosi’s actions have left the Democratic Party in a bind. With ending the proceedings not being an option, House Democrats must push full steam ahead with their impeachment attempts. However, there is some polling that could be of consolation to the Democratic Party. A New York Times poll found that 50 percent of registered voters supported an impeachment inquiry into the president - if impeachment is messaged well by Democratic operatives and the public is convinced of the non-partisan nature of the inquiry, public opinion could possibly turn in favor of the Democrats.