It sure seems like President Trump is in serious trouble.
According to the latest CNN poll, about half — 47% — of Americans support impeaching and removing him from office. That’s up from 41% in May. Most notably, and alarmingly for Trump, that shift has come largely from independents and Republicans, for whom support has risen 11 and 8 points, respectively, since May.
As the drip, drip, drip of new information threatens to break the dam each day, that number is likely to rise. But for Democrats and Trump opponents who believe he’s got to go, the question will be: Are they prepared to fail and suffer the political consequences?
Stating the obvious, impeachment has never resulted in the conviction of a sitting president, nor has it ever concluded with his involuntary removal from office. (Yes, it’s fair to say Nixon didn’t happily resign, but he could’ve stayed and fought it out.)
It’s true that Trump is far worse off than Nixon and Bill Clinton were. At the start of the Watergate hearings, only 19% of the American public believed that Nixon should be removed. At the start of Clinton’s impeachment hearings, only 34% supported his impeachment.
Trump is starting with 47%. But there are early warning signs for Democrats, and reasons to set realistic expectations.
The Trump campaign says impeachment has bolstered fundraising. The campaign and the Republican National Committee announced a combined $125 million third-quarter intake. Days after the impeachment inquiry was announced, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale boasted “50,000 new donors in two days ... and growing.” The numbers were alarming enough to raise some seasoned Democrats’ eyebrows — and heart rates.
“This should be a giant wake up call,” tweeted former Obama aide Dan Pfeiffer. “Trump is going to have more resources to deploy earlier and more aggressively than any candidate in history.” Trump is also outspending Democrats in online ads, with plans for a $10 million ad blitz in the works.
“The inequality in online ad spending between Trump allies and Dems is a potential crisis,” admitted former Hillary Clinton aide Zac Petkanas to the Daily Beast.
Trump will also have something Nixon and Clinton did not: Twitter and a powerful cable news outlet that is committed to undermining the impeachment process and spreading his misinformation and smears. Which is to say, the same two entities that helped get him elected will likely help keep him in office.
Moreover, conviction of the president can only happen with two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 members. Alarmingly few Senate Republicans have hinted they are even open to the idea of an impeachment inquiry, let alone its findings, and considering the current political environment, with continuing strong support for Trump among Republican voters, they won’t likely be incentivized to develop any newfound courage going forward.
There is no question, in my opinion, that an impeachment inquiry is warranted at this point. The Ukraine call alone, in which the president of the United States urged a foreign leader to dig up dirt on his political opponent, is reason enough. We’ll see where else this story goes — probably nowhere good for Trump.
Publicly, many Democrats insist that whatever the political consequences, impeaching the president on principle is worth it and the right thing to do. Some are even downright giddy over the prospects; Texas Rep. Al Green, who first called for Trump’s impeachment more than two years ago, boasts that he’s “being vindicated.” Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib had the considerable bad taste to sell T-shirts that say “Impeach the MF” online.
But it’s unclear whether Democrats have truly come to terms with the potential costs — ultimately, the failure to remove Trump from office, and quite possibly losing the House and the presidency in 2020 to energized Republicans as a result.
Those very real consequences might not be reason to refrain from pursuing impeachment, but Democrats should be clear-eyed going in that this effort is likely to inflict more harm on themselves than on the president. In the interest of holding Trump accountable, that just might be worth it.