Impeachment: What does it mean for 2020?
“This was the week that changed everything,” said Lili Loofbourow in Slate.com. Before the revelation that President Trump pressured Ukraine to launch criminal probes of political opponent Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, Democrats in Congress were deeply divided about the wisdom of impeaching Trump. But “things are suddenly different.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s formal announcement of an impeachment inquiry has united the party behind her, and the polls, in Pelosi’s words, have “shifted drastically.” The latest CBS News survey found 55 percent of Americans in favor of at least an impeachment inquiry. On the question of whether Trump should be impeached and removed from office, a Quinnipiac University poll found the nation evenly split at 47 percent—a huge change from only the week before, when Quinnipiac’s numbers were 57 percent opposed to 37 percent in favor of Trump’s removal. Pelosi had been worried that a backlash to impeachment might hurt Democrats in the 2020 election, said Amber Phillips in WashingtonPost.com, much as the GOP’s impeachment of President Bill Clinton backfired on Republicans in the 1998 midterms. But Trump’s use of U.S. military aid to arm-twist Ukraine’s president is a clear abuse of presidential power—much easier to grasp than the murky and complex Russia allegations. The Democrats’ impeachment inquiry is suddenly “on more solid ground” than anyone expected.
That inquiry may, however, overshadow the Democratic presidential nomination race, said Karen Tumulty in The Washington Post. As the nation becomes engulfed in the impeachment battle in coming months, “there will be little oxygen left” for discussion of other issues. That reduces the chances for the lower-polling Democratic candidates to gain traction on front-runners Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. There’s no evidence that Biden did anything unethical, said Ed Kilgore in NYMag.com, but the constant repetition of “Ukraine” and “Biden” will leave many voters with a tainted impression of the former vice president and his son. Democrats may decide they need a candidate who presents a smaller target for Trump’s signature mudslinging.
Actually, impeachment could “boost Biden’s White House ambitions,” said Naomi Lim in WashingtonExaminer.com. As the latest target of a Trump vendetta, he has “an opportunity to portray himself as a sympathetic figure”—the sunny champion of American values slandered by Trump. Impeachment might be better news for the rest of the Democratic field, said Jennifer Rubin in WashingtonPost.com. Up to this point, Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, and the rest have been held back by many Democrats’ conviction that the stakes are too high in 2020 to take a chance with anyone but the supposedly “electable” Biden. If Trump is damaged by impeachment, or removed, “the entire definition of ‘electable’ changes.”
Meanwhile, there are “risks for Republicans” in staying married to Trump, said Ronald Brownstein in TheAtlantic.com. If the GOP-held Senate votes to keep Trump in office, that could cost Republicans dearly in 2020 in such states as Colorado and Arizona and in crucial suburban districts in purple states, where support for Trump “is equivocal at best.” Nearly all of the 53 Republican senators will probably vote for acquittal if Trump is impeached, said Ross Douthat in The New York Times. But behind closed doors many “anticipate very bad things in 2022 and 2024 if the Trump show continues uninterrupted.” It’s possible that 20 or so Republican senators will decide that it’s worth a short-term backlash from their own voters to take “an early exit from the Trump era.” ■