Donald Trump was officially impeached by the House of Representatives, more or less along partisan lines, in the past few days. It did not come as a shock to most, given that it has been something that has been brewing ever since the Democrats took control of the House last year.
But the Democrats had to carefully gauge just what they would seek to impeach Trump on, particularly after the Mueller report did not find explicit evidence of collusion between Trump and the Russians (although some in his campaign were convicted of similar crimes). Now that they have moved ahead with impeachment, was it a good idea, or a bad idea for the Democrats to pursue this strategy?
Here are a few reasons for both:
Good reason # 1: Presidents have to be held accountable
Trump’s actions in trying to twist Ukraine’s arm to investigate Joe Biden’s son, in order to undermine Biden’s political campaign for the 2020 election, is an abuse of power, and to allow such an action to go without consequence would set a bad precedent for the country as a whole. The Democrats would have been seen as weak and ineffective, despite having control of half of the legislative branch.
Good reason # 2: It will unify the Democrats in the run up to the 2020 election
The Democrats will be able to use the impeachment to unify them as they head into an election year. There is currently a fight for the soul of the party, where those on the left, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are facing off against the more moderate centrists, like Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg. Impeachment provides them with an opportunity to focus their attacks on the President more vigorously than they otherwise might have in a period in which the Democrats are trying to figure out just what it is that they stand for. Also, if the Senate, as expected, declines to convict the President, then Democratic voters may be more energised to go out and vote in November 2020.
Good reason #3: It will force Trump to focus on national, rather than global issues
Had you asked me six months ago what Trump’s strategy would be going into 2020, my answer would be simple: Trump will focus his energy on global affairs, given that he has lost the ability to push his legislative agenda after the loss of the House to the Democrats. Now, the situation is a little less clear cut. Trump may still focus on some global issues, like trade and North Korea. However, if you notice, he has also spoken a lot less about those things and a lot more about his impeachment. President Trump is known to take personal slights very poorly, and this will ensure that his focus is shifted towards American shores, rather than away from them. At least for the next few months. That is a good thing.
On the other hand though, there are some drawbacks to the impeachment process. Particularly from a Democratic perspective.
Bad idea #1: It will further polarise the country
Partisanship in the United States is currently at an all-time high. The divides are deep in a society that already suffers from divisions between race, religion and gender. Throwing politics into the mix makes it worse. Democrats will cheer for impeachments, Republicans will feel enraged. But once he remains in office (and he will remain, trust me) after the Senate trial is over, it will further polarise the country, and ensure that the 2020 Presidential Election is even nastier than the 2016 had been.
Bad idea #2: It will further paint Trump as a victim of the establishment
Trump has painted himself as the anti-establishment politician. He has railed against Washington politicians and bureaucrats alike, claiming that there is a ‘deep state’ conspiracy against him. This will further solidify his grip over his core supporters, although whether he actually needs to do so is open to debate. This may actually invigorate his supporters more than the Democrats expect. The question is: will it also sway independent voters and those in the key swing states to his side in the run up to November? At this point, it is hard to gauge.
Bad idea #3: Impeachment has helped, not hurt Trump in the polls
If the Democrats thought the impeachment process would hurt Trump’s poll numbers, they were wrong. According to Gallup, his approval rating has increased by 6% to 45% ever since the proceedings began, and his disapproval rating fell by the same amount to 51%. Moreover, 51% do not believe he should be impeached, whereas 46% believe he should be. Opinion polls are a good indicator of public sentiment, and perhaps the Democrats factored this into their calculations and are playing the long game. But so far, they are losing the battle for hearts and minds.
To conclude, was impeaching Trump a good idea or a bad idea? Politically, the answer is mixed. But morally and legalistically, I would argue that the answer is more clear. The final response, however, will be given by American voters in November 2020.