At the latest debate to decide the next Democratic nominee for the 2020 US election, the top candidates were asked whether they supported the impeachment of Donald Trump. The answer was unanimous: all the frontrunners want him gone, and now that articles of impeachment have been officially introduced, there’s no going back.
This is not exactly a new tune for the Democrats. Even before Trump was sworn in as President, the party was calling for his removal, and for good reason: it wins votes. Beating Trump remains the number one priority to Democrat voters, so politicians have doubled down on that sentiment, priding themselves on how anti-Trump they are. Several 2020 candidates, including Joe Biden, have built their campaigns up as a prosecution-style counter to Trump. Even the less Trump-focused candidates, like Andrew Yang and Bernie Sanders, have noted how well positioned they are to beat him in 2020, thanks to the broad coalitions they represent.
Discussing impeachment is the culmination of the Democrat’s electoral strategy. By running on a policy of beating Trump at both the 2018 November midterms and several by-elections, they have tied their future to Trump’s failure. This makes impeachment, the ultimate humiliation for any president, a game-changing political move for the Democrats, because whenever Trump has looked weak, they have made decisive gains in terms of political capital, polling, and control over the legislature.
However, impeachment is a double-edged sword. In benefitting from Trump’s losses, the Democrats have ensured that the opposite is also true: when they lose, Trump gets a boost. Take the rise in his approval ratings after the Senate Democrats led a messy campaign against his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as an example of what could happen if the impeachment enquiry is conducted the wrong way. Trump’s base is fuelled by the 'Trump Derangement Syndrome' caricature of the American Left: the Democrats would be playing right into that image if they conducted what many would see as a partisan attack on Trump directly before an election.
It should also be noted that impeachment will not, under any circumstances, result in the removal of Trump from office. The Senate is comfortably in Republican hands, and there is no chance that two thirds of senators will vote against Trump. Therefore, the only real benefit to impeaching him is to humiliate him, which would play well with the Democrat base but would likely only strengthen Trump in the eyes of the people that put him in the Oval Office. The Senate vote in favour of Trump will be seen by many as an exoneration, an endorsement that he has sought since the beginning of the Mueller investigation.
Impeachment is ultimately a high-risk, low reward move, and with an election looming, the Democrats should focus on building on their strengths for 2020 rather than on Donald Trump.