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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Why Impeaching Trump is a Weak Message for Democrats

At The Boston Globe, Victoria McGrane and Astead W. Herndon explain why “Trump impeachment is wrong 2018 election message, Democrats say.” As McGrane and Herndon write,

Given how unlikely it is that the House Republican majority would approve articles of impeachment (no American president ever has been impeached when his own party controlled the House), the real political prize for Democrats is winning the House in 2018.

And making impeachment the major theme of 2018 elections is not a winning formula, at least not yet, in the view of party strategists.

Electing Democrats and flipping the House to Democratic control is the only way to provide a real check on Trump’s reckless ways, they argue. And the way to do that is by maintaining a focus on pocketbook issues, criticizing the Republican policy agenda, and, in swing districts, winning over some who voted for Trump in 2016 and may be turned off by strident talk of impeachment.

That emphasis makes sense for several reasons. If Democrats took the bait and made impeachment their central priority, they would look pretty ineffectual if it didn’t happen, which remains at least a strong possibility. They would also become the new ‘Party of No,’ which is also risky, since voters are growing tired of do-nothing government which investigates more than it legislates.

That is not to say that Dems should avoid getting involved in moving impeachment of Trump forward. It’s really about not making it the Democratic party brand. Democrats can’t dodge their responsibility to defend America’s national security, which Trump has grotesquely compromised. They should be eager participants in the impeachment process when the time is ripe. But Democrats who make impeaching Trump the focal point of their identity as a 2018 candidate risk courting defeat.

Another strategic argument against Democratic candidates leading the campaign for impeachment is that Republicans really ought to be held more accountable for their Frankenstein. They created the climate that nurtured the Trump disaster, and they should be forced to spend their time, energy and resources on getting rid of him. Trump’s impeachable offenses are also a wedge that can further divide the Republican Party, thereby helping Democratic candidates to chart a path to victory.

There is also an argument that Pence could be even worse for Democrats, since he doesn’t have Trump’s immaturity and arrogance, and might end up looking like a significant improvement to scandal-weary voters. In the worst case scenario, Pence could legally serve as President for 10 years or longer. Dems should not rush to give him that opportunity.

“…At this early stage,” report Herndon and McGrane, “many party leaders contend, putting impeachment front and center in House races across the country would be a mistake. Most elected Democrats are proceeding with extreme caution, avoiding the word impeachment and in most cases refusing to straight-out accuse Trump of committing crimes.” Further,

Strategists say Democrats are right to tread a careful line. Focusing 2018 messaging on impeachment — at least at this early stage — runs the risk of getting ahead of public sentiment. Democrats are better served, they say, by talking up the Republican effort to replace the Affordable Care Act. Polls show the House-passed GOP bill, which would cause an estimated 23 million people to lose insurance, is highly unpopular with voters of all political stripes.

“Impeachment is so high-stakes that you have to be very careful moving forward with that,” said Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion analyst with the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute. “The waters are so muddy now, with Comey and Mueller, and the committees looking into that. I’d certainly focus on health care, where Republicans look very vulnerable.”

Priorities USA, a major Democratic super PAC, in a recent memo offering guidance on political messaging, cautioned Democrats against losing focus on health care. Trump’s ongoing crisis does not necessarily rub off on House Republicans, it said.

As the chorus for impeachment grows, Democrats will likely face increasing pressure to get out in front of the effort to rid America of Trump. But Democrats should keep focused on the essential task — creating a message that brands Democrats as the only political party that fights for working people of all races and their families. Give Trump and the GOP the room they need to self-destruct, while Democratic candidates show American voters what serious leadership looks like.

One comment on “Why Impeaching Trump is a Weak Message for Democrats

  1. Jack Olson on

    Donald Trump didn’t cause the Democrats to lose the House in 2010. He didn’t cause them to lose the Senate in 2014. Nor did he cause them to lose all those state legislative seats and state governorships. The people who did that are the voters who, like Donald Trump, voted Democrat until 2009 and started voting Republican thereafter. President Trump didn’t create the political weaknesses of the Democratic Party, he merely capitalized on them and impeaching him will not solve them.


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