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Impeachment delay's losses outweigh its gains

It is not what Democrats gained by delaying impeachment, but what they lost. Every financial transaction creates an asset and a liability; so too in politics. But, in both, risk and reward do not necessarily balance. In this one, Democrats incurred a much bigger risk than any discernible return.  

For those who have forgotten, and the infinitely more who would like to, impeachment stayed home for the holidays. More precisely, it stayed in the House. Of course, traveling is such a chore that time of year — even when it is just a few hundred feet. Indoors. Across the Capitol rotunda.  

Ostensibly impeachment’s “stay-cation” was intended to provide leverage with the Senate to ensure a fair process there. With all the popularity of a Christmas fruitcake, withholding this gift provided no leverage.   

Now, weeks later, we take up the thread of this threadbare case. With unprecedented drama in an action with only two precedents, it is fair to ask: What did Democrats gain?   

The simple answer would be “nothing,” yet that would be inaccurate. Clearly, it played to the Democrats’ left, who had demanded impeachment in the first place. It showed Democrats had done all they could. Because Senate acquittal has always been a foregone conclusion, Democrats need a ready response for their left once President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE remains in office.  

It also kept the impeachment story alive, or at least on life-support. Like animation festival favorite “Bambi Meets Godzilla,” this story will not last long — unless Democrats find ways to extend it. Delaying the start also means delaying the conclusion.  

Democrats, who have mortgaged their entire opposition to President Trump on impeachment, cannot afford a short story that also short-circuits their primary issue. They have almost a year to fill, a campaign to run and no clue as to who their candidate will be — even after eight months of tedious campaigning. The less inspiring their candidate, the more dependent they are on impeachment: Right now, they are entirely so.  

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Finally, delaying impeachment kept Democrats in the story. Not that it gave Democrats any leverage. But delaying impeachment at least gave them coverage.   

As with all transactions, a liability is created along with the asset. What, therefore, did delay cost Democrats?

It energized President Trump’s base even more — something not easy to do following impeachment. It also pushed acquittal further into the campaign cycle. It would have found its way there in any case, but now it literally lands there.  

But Democrats’ most unfortunate outcome is that, instead of impeachment having a political effect, it now unquestionably appears to have had a political cause.  

To partisans, this will have little impact. Trump’s critics see no politics at all; Trump’s supporters see nothing but politics. But to the unaligned, those who decide presidential elections, the impact could be substantial.  

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The more impeachment looks political, the less influence these voters will give it. It becomes “just what Washington does,” and just what they hate. These unaligned voters let other factors make their presidential decisions — factors now favoring the incumbent. At worst, impeachment itself becomes a factor: A negative one.   

While in transactions, assets and liabilities must offset, reward and risk do not. Clearly, they do not from Democrats’ impeachment delay. Democrats are dependent on impeachment and are becoming more so. They lost 2016 under the prevailing political dynamic; now Trump is President Trump. They are therefore dependent on independents turning out and turning on the incumbent (which they usually do not).    

They have staked impeachment and independents on an outcome preordained to be a “political relations” failure – Trump’s removal – in hopes of a public relations success. It has hardly been so. Instead, it risks undercutting their most important point with their most important undecided political audience.  

Impeachment now looks like a thoroughly political exercise. House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGovernors take heat for violating their own coronavirus restrictions Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation MORE’s (D-Calif.) statement that President Trump is “impeached for life” sounds exactly like he was impeached for politics.  

J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987 through 2000.