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The Pitfalls of Trying to Impeach Trump

Democrats seem to be playing a game of chicken on whether to begin an impeachment inquiry against President Trump.

“The young and the Jacobins” of the Democratic Party are demanding that their leadership start the inquiry. They have the social media wherewithal to rally their troops, but they don’t have the necessary support within their party to start an inquiry. Or as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said referring to four Democratic congresswomen who opposed the recent border-funding bill, “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world.”

The most ardent opponents of Trump think impeachment is the surest way to terminate the presidency of a man they think should had never been president in the first place. Others in the Democratic Party think that impeachment is a moral imperative, even if it could hurt their chances of defeating Trump in 2020.

The old guard of the party, led by Pelosi, doesn’t want to be seen as opposed to impeachment per se. They usually respond that while they agree that impeachment is justified, the current political environment could make the procedure counterproductive or even disastrous for their goals for 2020. They are trying not to do anything to publicly stop the efforts of the left wing of the party while trying their hardest not to go down that route.

That is the game of chicken the leadership of the party has been playing for a long time. The repeated mantra, “wait for the Mueller Report,” was a useful way to avoid a decision about impeachment before. But the publication of the Mueller Report didn’t produce the dramatic impact that many in the Democratic Party expected.

Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress was another effort to get the game-changing moment that his report didn’t produce. According to polls, his testimony didn’t have a significant effect on the public opinion about the impeachment question.

Impeachment, of course, is a constitutional mechanism to hold the president accountable to the law. But any impeachment inquiry is a political decision, too.

The grueling process of putting a president through an impeachment inquiry has a high cost for the entire nation. You don’t go down that road without ample popular support. And the majority of the American electorate — according to recent polls — opposes it.

Three data points indicate that impeachment wouldn’t be profitable for the Democrats — the 2.8 percent gross domestic product growth rate in 2018, the 3.8 percent current unemployment rate and the 53-45 majority Republicans have in the Senate.

The first two numbers mean that the economic situation of the country won’t generate the necessary opposition against Trump. The majority in the Senate indicates that the impeachment, even if passed by the House, won’t result in the removal of Trump after a trial in the Senate, where a two-thirds supermajority is needed in order to remove the president from office.

It’s useful to remember the most recent impeachment process against a president — President Clinton in 1998 — didn’t produce the results Republicans were expecting when they decided to initiate the process.

Since the beginning of his campaign four years ago, Trump’s strategy has been to rally the base without trying to appeal to the center. And nothing will help him more in rallying his troops that an impeachment attempt. Impeachment will allow him to present himself again as the outsider fighting the Washington establishment, the underdog fighting the system. The same process that could put an end to his presidency a few months before deadline could give him four more years in the White House.

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