The Political Strategies of Impeachment – “Sunday Political Brunch” - December 15, 2019

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – The nation is sharply divided on whether President Trump should be impeached, or not. Whatever side you take is your prerogative and I’m not here to support or dissuade either argument – except to say some of the points on both sides have merit, while others are silly. That’s politics! What I’d rather focus in on is the strategy from each side. This may be a Constitutional process, but it can’t escape the political implications. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“The Democrat’s Dilemma” – The current breakdown of the 435-member House is 233 Democrats, 197 Republicans, 1 Independent, and 4 vacant seats. You need a simple majority of 218 votes to pass an article of impeachment. Now Democrats came to power in 2018 by winning about 30 seats in toss-up districts that Donald Trump carried in 2016. The leadership will likely “allow” up to 15 Democrats to vote “no” on impeachment, so that they can save their own seats, and preserve the overall Democratic majority in the House. The House may indeed pass articles of impeachment by the slimmest of majorities.

“Republican Redux?” – If the above scenario sounds a bit cynical, well it is. But are Democrats doing something new? Hardly! Republicans have done similar. Back in 1996, two years after Republicans seized the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years, the GOP faced a dilemma. With President Clinton steaming towards a second term, there were concerns his coattails might pull Democrats back in charge of the House. In order to preserve his majority, House Speaker Newt Gingrich told a handful of moderate-to-liberal House Republicans to run against him if they needed. In fact, they could trash Gingrich – and some did – if that would help them get reelected. Crazy you say? No, Gingrich needed their votes on big deal items like the budget. And he needed them to win to stay in power. It worked as the GOP held the House.

“Gee, Oh? People Concerns” – While it seems a foregone conclusion that Democrats will impeach President Trump, there don’t appear to be the 67 votes in the Senate to remove him from office. But that doesn’t remove the political pressure. Republicans hold a thin 53 to 47 majority in the U.S. Senate. But Republicans are at a strategic disadvantage. They will defend 23 seats in 2020, while Democrats will defend just 12. That imbalance bodes well for the minority party which only needs a net gain of 3 or 4 seats to retake control of the Senate.

“Trump v. McConnell” – How the impeachment trial will go in the Senate is the subject of much speculation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would very much like to call the Senate into session and immediately make a motion to acquit, which would likely pass. But President Trump is wanting a lengthy trial in which he can call witness to testify, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Not only does Trump want vindication, he wants the political leverage of securing his own base, and perhaps reaching a good number of independents who view the impeachment process as a colossal waste of time and money.

“Be Careful What You Wish For!” – First of all, a quick trial and acquittal from McConnell’s Senate Republicans could backfire if the public feels like “the fix was in.” And remember, McConnell is one of those 23 Republicans up for re-election in 2020. Plus, if it looks like he coordinated his quick “song and dance” with the While House, Democrats will cry jury tampering, since the Senate is acting as the jury! If they go with Trump’s lengthy trial strategy, there could be pluses and minuses. Obviously, a long trial, say from January through April, could freeze the Democratic presidential candidates who are also Senators, and that helps Trump. But if Trump appears so focused on his lengthy trail, what else will get done in Washington? Likely nothing – as we learned from Bill Clinton’s impeachment - and that potentially hurts Trump.

“The Side Show” – The problem for all sides in this is that there is other business to attend to. Yes, on the very day the House Judiciary Committee passed two articles of impeachment against Trump, the China-U.S. trade war was seemingly fixed. That looks like Trump is busy working and getting stuff done. On the other hand, the U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade deal still needs to get fixed, and then there’s that pesky continuing resolution to keep the government funded and open beyond the Friday deadline. If Trump and the Senate can’t get this done, they’ll be labeled the “Do Nothing Republicans” by Democrats.

“The Parallels of History” – As I wrote about a few weeks ago, Trump’s impeachment is more like President Andrew Johnson’s, and less like Presidents Nixon and Clinton whose impeachment inquiries began after they were elected to a second terms. Trump and Johnson were facing impeachment within their reelection year. Johnson’s trial dragged into May, and he was so wounded (though not removed from office), that he lost his renomination effort just two months later in July. Perhaps this is another reason why Trump needs a shorter - not longer - trial, if he is to survive politically.

To impeach, or not impeach? Please weigh in with your position and reason, by clicking the comment button.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states, and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is a National Contributing Political Writer for “The White House Patch” at www.Patch.com.

© 2019, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images.

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