Did Democrats forfeit 2020?

Did Democrats forfeit 2020?
© Stefani Reynolds

The usually shrewd House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiTlaib calls on Amash to join impeachment resolution 5 things to watch as Trump, Dems clash over investigations GOP lawmaker: Trump has engaged in multiple actions that 'meet the threshold for impeachment' MORE made a terrible mistake this week. In a highly publicized interview with the Washington Post, she ruled out impeachment proceedings against President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump calls for Republicans to be 'united' on abortion Tlaib calls on Amash to join impeachment resolution Facebook temporarily suspended conservative commentator Candace Owens MORE unless there emerges some blockbuster new revelation and she secures overwhelming Republican support. By sheer miscalculation, she just handed Trump two precious gifts: victory in 2020 and carte blanche to continue undermining the ethical standards of presidential leadership without fear of retribution.

Like Democrats thought in 2016, Pelosi seems to believe her party has the edge in 2020. When it comes to impeachment, Trump is “just not worth it” because Democrats are going to drive him out of office at the polls. But Trump is well positioned to win again in 2020, absent impeachment. His currently positive outlook is the verdict of the Keys to the White House, a historical prediction system that I developed in 1981 in collaboration with Vladimir Keilis Borok, one of the leading mathematicians in the world. The model has successfully predicted the results of all American presidential elections since 1984, including the unexpected victory of Trump in 2016.

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The keys system is based upon the theory that presidential elections turn largely on the strength of the party in control of the White House. The model identifies 13 true or false questions known as keys. When answers to five or fewer of these questions are false, the incumbent party wins. When six or more are false, the incumbent party loses. The incumbent Republicans have so far lost only three keys. Their loss of control of the House in 2018 cost them the mandate key. The lack of any significant international triumph forfeits the foreign and military success key. While Trump appeals passionately to his voters, he lacks the broad appeal needed to secure the incumbent charisma and national hero key.

Impeachment would cost the Republicans a fourth key, the scandal key, and bring Trump closer to defeat in 2020. Any two additional setbacks would cost him the presidency. These include a recession, a significant Republican primary challenger, the rise of a major third party candidate, a foreign policy disaster, and the nomination of a charismatic Democratic candidate, the only key that is under the control of the challenging party.

Pelosi has also misread the lessons of the impeachment of Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson Clinton Democratic leaders' impeachment tightrope Several factors have hindered 'next up' presidential candidates in recent years Criminal justice includes food security — we can't ban the social safety net MORE. That likely cost Republicans a few House and Senate seats in the 1998 midterms, but it handed them a much greater prize in the presidency. Two years later, the impeachment cost the incumbent Democrats a fifth key, the scandal key, which brought the party to the edge of defeat, with the third party candidacy of Ralph Nader hanging in the balance. Nader did not win enough votes nationwide to turn the popular vote against the Democrats, but he won 97,488 votes in Florida. Republican candidate George Bush won Florida along with the presidency by just 537 votes.

Based on what is known, there already is a stronger case for obstruction of justice against Trump than against Clinton, on much more important matters than the coverup of a private consensual affair. Trump is further implicated in two felonies for violating campaign finance laws, which are in place to avoid corruption of our elections. There are serious allegations that Trump engaged in financial crimes and sold access to the presidency. Trump has also likely violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which forbids the president, without formal authorization from Congress, from taking anything of value from foreign governments or their agents.

If all this is not enough to begin an impeachment inquiry, then the House will have legitimized presidential transgressions short of “smoking gun” proof that he conspired with a foreign power to rig an American election. Pelosi appears to misunderstand impeachment. The framers established impeachment as a legal and peaceful means for removing a rogue leader without resort to revolution or assassination. The impeachment of Andrew Johnson benefited the country by moderating his opposition to civil and political rights for freed slaves. The resignation of Richard Nixon amid the impeachment proceedings against him removed a serious threat to our democracy. Despite warnings of damage to the executive branch, the presidency was stronger than ever after the impeachment of Clinton.

The Constitution grants the House the sole authority for impeachment. It is not the responsibility of lawmakers to consult a crystal ball to discern what the Senate might do after it fulfills its duty under the Constitution to try the president on the House charges. The words of founder John Adams should still resonate today. He said, “Men are not only ambitious, but their ambition is unbounded. They are not only avaricious, but their avarice is insatiable.” Therefore, “It is necessary to place checks upon them all.”

Allan Lichtman is an election forecaster and distinguished professor of history at American University. Follow him on Twitter @AllanLichtman.