The policy-driven presidential campaign could be drowned out by impeachment

The policy-driven presidential campaign could be drowned out by impeachment
© Getty Images

After weeks of attempts to slow the Democratic drive to impeachment, House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump signs bill averting shutdown after brief funding lapse On The Money: 'One more serious try' on COVID relief yields progress but no deal | Trump tax bombshell shines light on IRS enforcement | Senate passes bill to avert shutdown hours before deadline 'One more serious try' on COVID-19 relief yields progress but no deal MORE finally called out President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump signs bill averting shutdown after brief funding lapse Privacy, civil rights groups demand transparency from Amazon on election data breaches Facebook takes down Trump campaign ads tying refugees to coronavirus MORE.

The Speaker announced the beginning of a formal impeachment inquiry after a government whistleblower reported that the president had asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate allegations of corruption against Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPrivacy, civil rights groups demand transparency from Amazon on election data breaches Facebook takes down Trump campaign ads tying refugees to coronavirus Trump crowd chants 'lock her up' about Omar as president warns of refugees in Minnesota MORE. The transcript suggests that Trump was willing to deny the fledgling democracy the American weapons it needs to defend itself from Russia if Zelensky didn’t play ball.

Pelosi’s caution was based on several factors.

ADVERTISEMENT

First, there is the difficulty of getting the Senate to remove the president from office if the House votes to impeach or indict the president. This requires 67 votes in the upper chamber to remove Trump from office, which will be very difficult with only 46 Democratic senators.

The Speaker also felt that there wasn’t enough public support to drive the impeachment and removal of the president. There’s always been a paradox between the public distaste for Trump and support for impeachment. Very few Americans believe Trump is trustworthy or even think he deserves another term as president. But there hasn’t been much support for impeachment.

A Hill-Harris Z national poll conducted in June indicated that only a third (35 percent) of the public supported impeachment.

The public’s lack of appetite for impeachment was not an endorsement of the president. Americans just felt that they should decide Trump’s fate in 2020 and not hand over that responsibility to a bunch of politicians in Washington whom they didn’t trust. Americans hold Congress in low esteem and didn’t want to rely on politicians to take out the trash and dump Trump. People wanted to do it themselves.

Americans are also smart enough to know that impeachment will drag on for months, which will mean complete gridlock while the alligators wrestle in the swamp during the process.

But Trump’s alleged attempt to bolster his reelection bid with foreign assistance was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The attempt to solicit foreign assistance conjured up unpleasant memories of Russian interference on Trump’s behalf in 2016 and the possible attempt by the Trump administration to cover up the existence of the president’s conversation raised the scepter of Watergate.

ADVERTISEMENT

The early polling indicates that there has been an uptick in support for impeachment but still less than majority support for the idea. A new Hill-Harris X survey showed support for impeachment grew by 12 percent to 47 percent since June. The growth in support for the inquiry was driven by independents who support doubled to 41 percent. 

The growth in support for the impeachment inquiry is not surprising as the tawdry details have emerged.

Putin may be Trump’s buddy, but he is America’s enemy and in his oath of office the president swore to protect the United States from enemies foreign and domestic. If Putin and the Russian Federation aren’t enemies, no one is.  

Former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump crowd chants 'lock her up' about Omar as president warns of refugees in Minnesota Democrats say Biden survived brutal debate — and that's enough Comey defends FBI Russia probe from GOP criticism MORE put it best when she accused the president of having turned “American diplomacy into a cheap extortion racket.”  

The president’s threat to withhold aid would protect Ukraine from Putin’s predatory embrace is a clear indication that the president was willing to sacrifice the small democracy and American national security to further his own reelection prospects. 

The big question is what kind of impact the impeachment inquiry will have on the 2020 election.

The House inquiry into the president’s transgressions should provide the evidence that will advance the Democratic argument about the inability of the Trump administration to properly lead the country. The investigation will provide the ammunition the eventual Democratic presidential nominee will need to make his or her case against the president next fall.

Individual Democratic presidential candidates may benefit. In the short run, the president’s possible attempts to extort Ukraine to investigate Biden’s family elevates the former vice president. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren slams Trump over Proud Boys comments Ocasio-Cortez, Warren pull out of New Yorker Festival amid labor dispute The Hill's Morning Report - Fight night: Trump, Biden hurl insults in nasty debate MORE (D-Mass.) has made political corruption a major part of her message and the impeachment process will put a spotlight on the mess in Washington. The lesser-known Democrats will have trouble being heard over the din of impeachment.

But the process does pose risks to Democratic prospects in 2020.

If the House votes to impeach the president and the Senate fails to remove him from office, Trump can use the Senate acquittal as vindication against the charges that he did something wrong.

The flip side is that a Senate vote will put pressure on vulnerable Senate Republicans including — Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerSenate Democrats want to avoid Kavanaugh 2.0 Breaking the Chinese space addiction Trump dumbfounds GOP with latest unforced error MORE of Colorado, Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP senators pan debate: 'S---show,' 'awful,' 'embarrassment' Budowsky: Senate's Trump Republicans on trial, in trouble Senate Democrats want to avoid Kavanaugh 2.0 MORE of Maine, Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallySenate Democrats want to avoid Kavanaugh 2.0 Compromise, yes — but how? A pre-debate suggestion Senate GOP set to vote on Trump's Supreme Court pick before election MORE of Arizona and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisRomney calls first Trump-Biden debate 'an embarrassment' Senate Democrats want to avoid Kavanaugh 2.0 Poll: Biden, Trump tied in North Carolina MORE of North Carolina — to convict the president or face the wrath of their constituents.

The biggest risk to Democrats is that impeachment will limit the campaign trail discussion of the problems that Americans are facing as the Obama economic growth cycle ends and thee Trump recession begins.

The economy in the politically crucial Midwest is already hurting, with factories closing down and farms going belly up. Americans won’t have much patience for the gladiatorial combat in the capital while they are struggling to make ends meet.

So far, the Democratic presidential candidates have done a good job of sticking to discussing issues that keep Americans up all night, like health care. But it will become more and more difficult for Democrats to address the issues that concern Americans when the cable news and the debate in Congress is all impeachment all the time.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Deadline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.