Democrats must deliver on election issues beyond simply impeachment

Democrats must deliver on election issues beyond simply impeachment
© Greg Nash

The House Intelligence Committee has now conducted the first public impeachment hearings led by the Democrats this week. Three career diplomats, deputy assistant secretary of state George Kent, acting ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, and former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, delivered hours of public testimony to Congress.

Appearing before Congress together, Kent and Taylor testified about the involvement of President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' MORE in a pressure campaign to have Ukraine investigate his political rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Yovanovitch, who has decades of diplomatic experience with the State Department, recounted events leading to her removal, and described her shock and appall over how she was treated by Trump.

The hours of public testimony from the three career diplomats confirmed the narrative that the Democrats are building that Trump was fixated on an investigation into the Bidens, that aid to Ukraine was indeed withheld, and that Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani engaged in a smear campaign against the ambassador to Ukraine. While these hours of public testimony have contributed positively to the impeachment narrative of the Democrats, aside from making this information public, the actual impact that the inquiry will have on Trump is still far from certain.

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To be sure, the inquiry is legitimate. The public testimony we have seen from numerous officials should be concerning to all Americans. Taylor recounted an alarming interaction that one of his staffers disclosed, where Trump asked his appointed ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, about the investigations. When the staffer asked Sondland how the Trump felt about Ukraine, Sondland said that the president “cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.”

These highly irregular and unprecedented diplomatic backchannels being used by the Trump administration must be thoroughly explored, and the public deserves to know the truth. However, Democrats need to remain mindful of the implications that this inquiry will have on the election next year, and should continue to focus on putting forth a message that is not merely against the president, but is one of inclusivity and growth.

“The devastating testimony corroborated evidence of bribery,” House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiUSMCA is nice but no model Anti-impeachment Democrat poised to switch parties Grassley urges White House to help farmers in year-end tax talks MORE claimed, following the first round of public hearings. Her use of the word bribery, as opposed to the commonly used “quid pro quo” phrasing, is surely an attempt to present the actions of the president as within the definition of impeachment set forth in the Constitution.

These latest developments and the shift toward Democrats using the term “bribery” puts House Republicans in an increasingly difficult position of having to choose between standing by their party and their president, versus acting based on a constitutional argument. It does not appear that any House Republicans will defect from their party any time soon, as the political implications of impeachment are still far from conclusive.

According to a CBS News survey, 56 percent of voters have only heard some or not much about the phone call with the Ukrainian president. Further, according to a New York Times poll in the six states that Trump narrowly won in 2016, only 43 percent of voters want to impeach and remove the president from office. Most Americans are not attuned to the geopolitical complexities of foreign policy, and this inquiry will not be what drives voters to the ballot box in 2020. Voters are concerned about the tangible issues that affect their daily lives, such as the cost of their health care or the crumbling infrastructure in their hometowns.

While the current impeachment process is certainly fair and should continue, it remains a political loser for the Democrats outside of their base. As swing state representatives grow increasingly and justifiably nervous, Democrats must be cognizant of how the increased public scrutiny surrounding impeachment will impact their messaging come 2020. Democrats won the 2018 midterm elections not on a promise of impeachment, but by campaigning on issues that Americans worry about every day, including health care, economic equality, climate change, and gun control, all of which will lead to success for Democrats in 2020.

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.”