Why haven’t Democrats begun impeachment hearings against
President Trump after the special counsel could not exonerate the president on charges
of obstruction of justice? The answer that many Democrats are giving is that they
think that Donald Trump wants to be impeached.
“The President is almost self-impeaching because he is,
every day, demonstrating more obstruction of justice and disrespect for
Congress’ legitimate role to subpoena,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday to CNN.
Yet despite Trump raising the stakes, Pelosi still resists launching a formal
House impeachment effort. The speaker
has stated on several occasions that she does not support impeachment and that
seems unchanged, but why?
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff answered
that question Sunday on ABC
News, saying, “Part of our reluctance is we are already a bitterly divided
country and an impeachment process will divide us further. He [Trump] certainly
seems to be trying and maybe this is his perverse way of dividing us more …
He thinks that’s to his political advantage, but it’s certainly not to the
Why would impeachment be to Trump’s political advantage? The
most obvious answer would be to shore up his base as the trade war heats up and
core parts of the Trump coalition feel more and more economic pressure. A Morning Consult poll from
early May showing state-by-state approval of the president found that Trump’s approval
was underwater all across the vital Rust Belt as well as soft in many traditionally
Republican farm states. President Trump has a net approval of fewer than five
points in Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, and Texas. Impeachment
hearings might cause Republicans in these states to circle the wagons and defend
Trump from the Democrats just as they rallied in support of Brett Kavanaugh
Impeachment would also lend credence to Trump’s claims that
the Mueller investigation was part of a coup attempt aimed at removing him from
office. The president may hope that he could spin an impeachment attempt as the
preordained conclusion to a corrupt investigation. This might not sway
independents, but it would help to stoke support from Republicans.
Both Trump and the Democrats might also be looking back at
the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998. CNN polling in December 1998 found that Clinton’s approval jumped 10 points after
his impeachment by House Republicans while approval of the GOP fell by 10 points. Gallup reported that Clinton received a record-high approval rating at 73 percent
after his impeachment. Donald Trump, a longtime friend of Bill Clinton, likely
remembers how impeachment backfired on the GOP and hopes to repeat history.
Both Trump and the Democrats can also read polls and the
data shows that most Americans do not favor impeachment. A Harvard
CAPS/Harris Poll from early May that, while 56 percent of Democrats supported
impeachment, 65 percent of the total were opposed to the idea. More recently, Reuters/Ipsos poll found more support for impeachment but still only a minority of 45
percent. The president may hope to goad Democrats into following an unpopular
strategy that would become the major issue of the 2020 campaign.
Finally, Trump is probably willing to take the embarrassment
of impeachment in the House because he understands that it would be
meaningless. Democrats lack the votes to remove him from office in the Senate
where Republicans retain a majority. The president may well be willing to go
down in history as one of the few presidents to be impeached if he could turn
the tables on Democrats by remaining in office and possibly rallying voters to
give him a second term.
It is most likely the last reason that prevents Nancy Pelosi
from giving the go-ahead to the impeachment effort. The risk that Trump’s
impeachment would have a Clintonian effect on the president’s reelection effort
is one that she is unwilling to take unless the president goes so far that even
Republicans abandon him in large numbers.