House Speaker Nancy Pelosi began Wednesday by proclaiming that President Donald Trump was "engaged in a cover-up" and ended it by telling an audience at the Center for American Progress that "the coverup is frequently worse than the crime” while professing to be as yet unwilling to begin impeachment procedures.
Now, it’s no secret that Trump is an unpopular president who many Americans believe has a history of lying to the public and not acting in a way befitting of the Oval Office. However, now is not the time for calls of impeachment. Instead, a repudiation of his presidency needs to be carried out at the ballot box in 2020.
That course of action is seemingly what Pelosi has been trying to accomplish even as she faces pushback from those in her party looking for more immediate action to be taken. She recognizes what public polling shows: 56 percent of Americans say they oppose calls for Congress to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump, even in the wake of the release of the special counsel Robert Mueller's report.
And, while I certainly believe Trump has committed impeachable offenses, a formal push for impeachment will only strengthen Trump’s chances of getting re-elected, something that most Americans do not wish to see (53 percent, according to Quinnipiac polling). Trump could — and, with his pre-planned Rose Garden press conference stunt Wednesday, proved that he will — use calls for his impeachment as a political weapon to turn out his base of supporters.
Democrats, then, have a strategic decision to make: Push for an impeachment when the Senate is unlikely to find Trump guilty, or focus that intensity of purpose on preventing a second Trump term.
If the 2018 midterms are any indication, 2020 should favor the Democrats if they play their cards right. Much like in 2016, the suburbs will be where the battleground for the presidency takes place. A USA Today analysis of the 2018 midterm election results found more than 80 suburban counties and cities — with high incomes and large number of college-educated voters — voted more Democratic than in 2016. These suburban and college-educated voters, increasingly aligned with the Democratic party, also describe themselves as mostly moderates looking for a government that compromises.
Pelosi has thus far made a series of skilled political decisions (including allowing Trump to walk out of the very infrastructure meeting he trumpeted having) and knows full well that her party could suffer in 2020 if she pushes for impeachment before Americans have broadly shown they are ready for it. Doing so prematurely creates the potential for those in the suburbs who could be on the fence about Trump to return to his side in his defense; after all, they did vote for him once.
And to his defense most Republicans still will come, as the backlash to Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., shows. He is the only Republican to publicly say that Trump committed impeachable offenses, after he had time to digest the full text of the Mueller report. His comments were met with criticism by those in his party, and the House Freedom Caucus (of which he was a founding member) condemned him. He's also facing a primary challenger, suggesting he may be both the first and the only Republican to call out Trump, saying his behavior was impeachable behavior.
If this turns into solely a political fight connected to the 2020 elections (which is what Trump wants) rather than being seen as a serious, sober-minded investigation, it won't help the Democrats at the ballot box any more than it'll help Amash.
The Democrats need to focus their political efforts on defeating Trump and preventing a second term; they can start by winnowing their unruly field down from 23 candidates, encouraging the lowest polling candidates to drop out after the first debate in June. We’ve all seen how a long and drawn out primary can impede the success of a party in a general election battle — just look at 2012 and 2016.
And, if the Democrats are ultimately unsuccessful in unseating Trump next November and continue (as is expected) to hold the House, then they can pursue impeachment; they will have nothing to lose, especially if Trump holds true to Wednesday's threats to refuse to consider signing any legislation while the investigations remain underway. But to pursue impeachment prior to the election is a losing strategy.
Despite Trump’s unpopularity and the fact that many Americans believe he has lied, impeachment is hardly the first issue on the minds of average Americans trying to make ends meet. Candidates need to be smart and remember that elections are about the “real issues,” not the ones that Washington determines are on the agenda — which is exactly how Trump came into power in the first place.