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Trump's impeachment strategy plays to his base. But he needs independents in 2020.

Among the people who propelled him to victory in 2016 — swing voters — Trump's golden sheen is losing its luster.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn of the White House on Oct. 4, 2019.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

It's widely acknowledged that, when facing the heat, President Donald Trump plays to his base — mostly on Twitter, where, as the impeachment inquiry has gained steam, he has referred to the House intelligence committee as "a totally compromised kangaroo court," suggested impeaching its chairman (who he decided to refer to as "Liddle") as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though the House expels but does not impeach members and, after mocking the intelligence of NBC News' Chuck Todd, reiterated "I did NOTHING wrong."

But it's as widely acknowledged that it's not just his base that he has to bring back to the polls in 2020: It's centrist voters — 43 percent of whom voted for him in 2016, while 42 percent voted for Hillary Clinton, according to a Pew Research survey, but who elected Democrats in the 2018 midterms. And the support for Trump’s impeachment and removal from office is picking up public support especially among that key demographic of voters. A new CNN poll shows that among independents, support for impeachment has risen to 46 percent. (Notably, support for impeachment rose to 14 percent even among Republicans.)

According to a March Pew Research Center survey, independents outnumber both Republicans and Democrats — but are hardly as “independent” as the term implies. Overall, 81 percent of independents lean toward one of the two parties, while only 7 percent describe themselves as truly having no partisan preference.

However, in the age of Trump it is important to note that among those who have no partisan preferences, about a quarter approve of Trump’s job performance while 58 percent disapprove. This proves that, even among the “true” independents, Trump's golden sheen is quickly losing its luster.

No wonder the White House is in full panic mode.

While Republicans will continue to argue that this is a witch hunt orchestrated by Democrats, it’s hard for those with no axe to grind to deny the reality that Trump most likely broke the law and his offenses are probably impeachable under the constitution of the United States. Mounting evidence continues to show that Trump pressured the leader of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, his top Democratic presidential rival, which is an abuse of power that should give us all pause.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a big political risk through pursuing impeachment, and so far it’s paid off. A new Washington Post poll released Tuesday morning showed that a majority of Americans support the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry (58 percent) and only 38 percent of those polled believe House Democrats were wrong to pursue the inquiry. This poll goes to show that the Republicans are losing control over the narrative around the impeachment inquiry, especially as its momentum continues and new revelations about the president's behavior and that of the people around him continue to drop.

Even though the outcome of this impeachment inquiry is unclear — after all, it will be up to the Republican-controlled Senate to actually remove Trump from office — what’s clear is that Trump will face an extremely tough re-election battle.

And, once again, it'll boil down to the swing states, particularly the ones where Republican lawmakers could break ranks with leadership, feeling that supporting the president through an impeachment inquiry could be a death knell for their campaigns in tight races.

The fact that this voting bloc is beginning to lean in favor of the Democrats' investigation (and that support for the inquiry continues to rise) doesn’t bode well for the president’s chances of re-election — something that can help some of us sleep easy at night if impeachment itself fails.

However, Democrats are walking a bit of a tight rope: They need to seize the moment and capture the interest of these independent voters and nominating a far-left, progressive candidate may not be the answer. Nominating a candidate such as a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren who appeals to their own extremely liberal base risks losing independent voters, who might begrudgingly vote for Trump again or throw their vote to a third-party candidate. An IBD/TIPP poll this week shows that, in head-to-head races, Trump bests Warren among independent voters 49 to 43 percent; against Sanders, independents supported Trump 48 to 44 percent.

After the 2018 midterms, 2020 should favor the Democrats — but only if they play their cards right. They need to be prepared for an election fight against Trump and put themselves in the best possible position to win, especially if impeachment doesn’t move forward or result in Trump's removal from office.

This much is certain: Republicans have everything to lose and Democrats have everything to gain — and Trump knows it, as one look at his Twitter feed over the last couple days proves.