Leading Democratic strategists are greeting the increasing likelihood of President Donald Trump’s impeachment with a mixture of resignation and determination. They acknowledge, almost uniformly, that their party has no choice but to impeach the president following reports that he tied military aide to Ukraine to an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden’s son. But they remain unsure ― and in some cases, deeply concerned ― about the political impact of impeachment.
For now, Democrats are planning to move full speed ahead with their existing plan for 2020, which bears a striking resemblance to their successful 2018 campaign: a focus on health care, gun control and making the case that Trump is more focused on helping the rich than the middle class.
Republicans, meanwhile, are publicly gleeful about the latest developments and insist Democrats won’t be able to get their broader message out to the public amid the impeachment focus.
Priorities USA, the largest Democratic super PAC, had long argued against a focus on impeachment and the Russia scandal. But on Monday night, Guy Cecil, the group’s chairman and top strategist, backed an impeachment inquiry.
Still, the group, which is expected to play a leading role in attacking Trump in the runup to the 2020 election, doesn’t plan to change strategies, and hasn’t even been polling on impeachment. Other Democratic groups and candidates are adopting similar stances. The thought process is simple: If impeachment isn’t popular, Democrats will focus on other topics. If it is popular, voters will know about it because of wall-to-wall media coverage.
“It’s Congress’ job to conduct oversight of the president and defend the Constitution, and it’s our job to win an election,” Priorities USA spokesman Josh Schwerin said. “We’re going to stay focused on talking to voters about the kitchen-table issues that impact their lives every day. Our strategy hasn’t changed.”
The Democratic lawmakers leading the charge insisted they weren’t considering the political fallout.
“I’m not thinking about that,” Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the second-highest ranking Democrat in the Senate, told HuffPost when asked about the political impact of impeachment. “We have a serious problem with our country right now.”
The strategy can be seen in the behavior of the party’s presidential candidates. While Biden himself said Congress should impeach the president if the Trump administration continues to stonewall Congress, his campaign has spent the week hammering the president on health care. Roughly an hour after Biden announced he’d be making an on-camera appearance in Delaware on Tuesday, his team blasted out another release condemning Trump’s work to undermine the open enrollment period for Obamacare.
“I will continue to focus my campaign not on how Donald Trump abused his power to come after my family, but on how he has turned his back on America’s families,” Biden said. “Donald Trump has failed working people and middle class families in this country by trying to take away their health care, by giving tax cuts to the wealthiest, and by failing to combat the climate crisis head-on.”
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, meanwhile, has been publicly silent on impeachment. But the group did announce a new slate of digital ads attacking GOP senators for supporting Trump’s move to take money away from military construction projects to pay for the border wall.
“Republican Senators paved the way for this harmful raid on critical military construction funding, and they just knowingly voted again to uphold this bogus emergency declaration and allow the Trump administration to keep diverting money away from their own states,” said Stewart Boss, the DSCC’s press secretary.
Many Democrats are confident impeachment will become at least marginally more popular in the short term, as members of the party who were skeptical rally around the process. But there were also signs of caution from the party’s moderates.
While more than a dozen of the 31 Democrats who represent districts won by Trump have endorsed starting an impeachment inquiry, there have been notable holdouts. Rep. Jared Golden, who won a mostly white, rural district in Maine by just over a percentage point in 2018 after the president won it by more than 10 percentage points in 2016, released a statement that carefully avoided using the “I” word. He instead emphasized the need for the White House to turn over to Congress a whistleblower complaint reportedly focused on the allegations against Trump.
“This isn’t negotiable ― it’s the law. The House of Representatives must take every action necessary to combat this administration’s stonewalling of the rule of law,” Golden said. “Ensuring that the Intelligence Committees receive the full text of the whistleblower’s complaint is a necessary first step.”
Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist who has previously worked for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said his party should emphasize Trump’s threat to end legislative progress on trade, guns and other issues if impeachment moves forward.
“That undercuts any ability the White House has to show the American people they’re focused on what’s important,” he said.
Republicans, meanwhile, have eagerly attacked Democrats for supporting an impeachment process that remains unpopular in public polling, predicting it would fire up the GOP base. The National Republican Campaign Committee greeted announcements of support for an impeachment inquiry with releases proclaiming that Rep. Andy Kim (D), who represents a swing district in Southern New Jersey, had committed “political suicide,” and that Rep. Matt Cartwright (D), whose rural district in Pennsylvania backed Trump, had walked “off a cliff.”
“They have become so radicalized by their hatred of President Trump that they are willing to plunge the nation into a constitutional crisis based on secondhand gossip,” NRCC Chair Tom Emmer said in a statement. “Democrats have lost their sanity and any remaining credibility with the American people. Make no mistake about it: backing impeachment will cost the Democrats their majority in 2020.”