Partisan impeachment process will harm Democrats in critical districts

The House voted to formalize the impeachment inquiry and begin the critical public phase of the investigation. Every Republican voted no, and only two Democrats defected from the majority. As the impeachment process enters this new public phase, Democrats have to be mindful of the implications of an apparently partisan inquiry. Undeniably, the media cycle will be dominated by impeachment for months to come, and it will invariably distract from any Democratic legislative priorities, importantly, the legislative promises that Democratic candidates ran on in 2018.

“We could investigate the issues that we are really concerned about without going further down the impeachment road,” said Representative Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, one of the two Democrats who voted no on the resolution to formalize the impeachment inquiry. “We will have the same president and presidential candidate who will be able to say he is exonerated. So I do not know how much we really gain from that.”

To be sure, House Democrats have more to lose than to gain from an impeachment process that appears to be tainted by partisanship. Aside from the potential implications for the presidential election next year, Democrats need to pay particular attention to defending the 41 House seats that they picked up in 2018, many of which were in swing districts. Just one year has passed since the Democrats took control of the House, so not much time has passed, and not much work has been done.

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Democrats cannot and should not take their current control of the House for granted. Given that several Republicans who lost by narrow margins in 2018, such as Young Kim in California and Maria Salazar in Florida, have already declared their candidacy for 2020, House Democrats must be mindful of how this apparently partisan impeachment inquiry will resonate with voters. As House Democrats move full speed ahead with their inquiry, it is essential that the party remains mindful of the promises and policies that they campaigned on in 2018, such as creating an economy that works for everyone, passing gun control, and enacting health care reform.

As more evidence comes to light, it is clear that President TrumpDonald John TrumpLindsey Graham vows to not watch 'un-American' Trump impeachment hearings Televised impeachment begins: Are Democrats ready for their close-up? Trump goes on retweeting offensive ahead of public impeachment hearing MORE abused his power for personal and political gain, and it is clear why Democrats decided to press forward with impeachment proceedings. House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGiuliani pens op-ed slamming 'unprecedented' impeachment inquiry Brindisi, Lamb recommended for Armed Services, Transportation Committees Overnight Health Care: Top health official defends contract payments to Trump allies | Vaping advocates confident Trump will turn from flavor ban | Sanders gets endorsement from nurses union MORE noted the separation of powers and checks and balances during the vote last week, reverting to a constitutional argument as a basis for formalizing the inquiry. While there is a sound constitutional argument to be made here, there is a level of political practicality that cannot be ignored in the deeply polarized partisan climate today.

Whether House Democrats will acknowledge it or not, this impeachment inquiry is fundamentally partisan. Republican representatives did not break ranks in the initial vote, nor are they likely to as the impeachment inquiry progresses, and Democratic leaders must seriously consider how this will resonate with independents and moderate voters in swing states. Indeed, the country is sharply divided along partisan lines over whether President Trump should face impeachment and removal from office.

According to a recent Washington Post poll, 49 percent of Americans surveyed say President Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 47 percent say he should not. Among Democrats, support for removing President Trump from office is nearly universal, with 82 percent in favor and 13 percent opposed. Among Republicans, it is almost the reverse, with 82 percent opposed and 18 percent in favor of removal.

Moreover, even if the Democrats successfully impeach President Trump in the House, there is no sign that any Republicans in the Senate will vote to convict him. Further, if President Trump is impeached in the House but not convicted in the Senate, the Republican base will be emboldened and increasingly formidable, which will present serious challenges for the Democratic candidate who must take him on in the general election.

In order for Democrats to build off of their political success from one year ago, they need to continue to communicate on the national issues that Americans will consider when they go to the ballot box, such as building an economy that works for everyone, achieving affordable health care, and fixing the broken immigration system. If 2020 becomes a polarized battle over impeachment, Democrats may very well lose their gains in Congress and, for the second election in a row, the White House.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. He is a political consultant, Fox News contributor, and the author of “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.”