Why impeachment favors Democrats in the election
Evidence from the reconstructed yet incomplete conversation between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, along with the whistleblower complaint, which likely will be validated upon investigation, implicates Trump in several potentially impeachable offenses. These include abuse of power, violation of campaign finance law, misuse of the classification process as a cover up, conspiracy against the United States, and witness tampering and obstruction of justice.
Yet some critics contend that despite these egregious transgressions that threaten the rule of law and our national security, impeachment would harm the Democrats politically and help Trump succeed with reelection next year. These critics are dead wrong for the following reasons.
First, impeachment would undermine the public approval of Trump. His approval rating remained little changed after the release of the special counsel report and the testimony of Robert Mueller before Congress. The current situation, however, is fundamentally different. Unlike the tedious, unreadable, and equivocal special counsel report, the whistleblower complaint makes a simple, compelling, and readable case for clear presidential misdeeds that is understandable to every American.
Attorney General William Barr, who is potentially implicated in the call between Trump and Zelensky, will not be able to spin and misrepresent the current evidence. For the first time, we also have direct evidence of the president engaging in collusion with a foreign power influence an election, after crying “no collusion,” for more than two years.
The Watergate scandal is instructive. Damning public revelations drove the comfortable 67 percent approval rating of President Richard Nixon down to 24 percent, even before the release of the “smoking gun” tape showing that he obstructed the investigation of the Watergate break in. Trump is starting in the low 40 percent range, so even a modest hit to his rating would make him the most reviled of first term presidents.
Second, there is no guarantee the Senate will save Trump. Those who say that his impeachment is futile because his Senate majority will never vote to convict and remove him do not know what Senate Republicans would do when all the evidence is on the table and whether it appears that Trump might take them down politically with him. A positive vote on articles of impeachment by the House will confront Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with two unpalatable choices.
He could follow the precedent of past presidential impeachments and hold a formal trial in the Senate. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who demonstrates fidelity to the law, not McConnell or Vice President Mike Pence, would preside. House designated managers would point an accusing finger at the president through public statements, live testimony, and documentary evidence. They would cross examine witnesses for the president and compel his lawyers to present real arguments and evidence, not just Rudy Giuliani style hyperbole.
Senate Republicans could attempt to dismiss the charges against Trump. But they have only a thin majority, and there may be enough retiring, principled, and politically vulnerable Senate Republicans to block this maneuver. Even if successful, dismissal would validate charges of a cover up and leave unrefuted the articles of impeachment by the House.
Third, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton benefited Republicans. It may have cost Republicans a few House seats, but they retained control of the House. Moreover, impeachment gave them the presidency in the 2000 election that Democrats should otherwise have won at a time of peace, prosperity, and tranquility. George Bush campaigned on the themes of restoring honesty and integrity to the White House, while the Democrats kept Clinton, their best campaigner, on the shelf and a quarter of voters said the scandal was very important for their decisions.
Impeachment is the key to Democrats regaining the presidency in 2020. My forecasting system, which has predicted every presidential election since 1984, anticipates a Republican win in 2020 unless six of 13 key factors turn the White House party. Trump is currently down only three keys, which are the Republican losses in the 2018 midterm elections, the lack of a foreign policy success, and his limited appeal to voters.
An impeachment by the House, even lacking a conviction in the Senate, would cost the president a fourth key, which would be a scandal. It would also expose Trump to dropping other keys by encouraging a serious challenge to his renomination or a third party movement. Other potential negative keys include the emergence of a charismatic Democratic challenger, a foreign policy disaster, or an election year recession.
If warranted, the House should perform its constitutional duty to impeach a president regardless of the election calculus. Still, the impeachment of this rogue president is right not only morally and constitutionally but also politically for the Democrats with a clear majority of House members.
Allan Lichtman is an election forecaster and distinguished professor of history at American University. He is the author of the forthcoming book “Repeal the Second Amendment” and is on Twitter at @AllanLichtman.