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

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After weeks of attempts to slow the Democratic drive to impeachment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally called out President Trump.

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 Biden. 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.

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.

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 Clinton 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 Warren (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 Gardner of Colorado, Susan Collins of Maine, Martha McSally of Arizona and Thom Tillis 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.

Tags 2020 election Brad Bannon campaign Cory Gardner Democrats Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Martha McSally Nancy Pelosi Susan Collins Thom Tillis

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