Friday, January 11, 2019

The Only Impeachment Guide You’ll Ever Need

It’s been barely a week since Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, and already the I-word is flying around Washington. “We’re going to impeach the motherfucker,” Rashida Tlaib declared jubilantly mere hours after being sworn in. Longtime members Brad Sherman and Al Green filed articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on the first day of the new session. And the president, for his part, is clearly spoiling for the fight, declaring in a Rose Garden news conference, “Well, you can’t impeach somebody that’s doing a great job.”

Now what?

The Democrats could pass articles of impeachment tomorrow on a party line vote. As you may have noticed, they haven’t. The Sherman-Green impeachment measure was always seen as dead on arrival, and for political and practical reasons, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has no plans to change that anytime soon. But, with a boisterous and empowered Democratic majority now stalking the halls of Congress—one half of it, anyway—the impeachment question is now suddenly real in a way it hasn’t been since Trump was elected.

The progressive left, a key part of the Democrats’ base, isn’t likely to stop agitating. New York Times editorial writer David Leonhardt published a detailed, count-by-count bill of charges against Trump last Sunday that mentioned the I-word no less than 12 times. Billionaire activist Tom Steyer this week traveled to Iowa where he announced he would sink more money into his campaign to impeach Trump instead of mounting his own White House bid. Since the midterms, the question has gone from anti-Trumpist fantasy to practical gamesmanship—something being discussed in Capital Hill offices and hallways, at law firms and among party strategists and leaders.

In one sense, Trump is as vulnerable as he’s always been. In another, the risk is huge. The collision of anti-Trump forces with his powerfully loyal base—to say nothing of the president’s own thirst for conflict—would guarantee the most explosive political disruption in generations. If the effort misses, the blowback could easily propel Trump back into office in 2020, with a reinvigorated base bent on revenge.

“If they’re dumb enough to impeach him, they’re going to lose the House and he’s going to be reelected and there won’t be a Senate trial,” said Joseph diGenova, an informal Trump adviser and frequent Fox News pundit. “That’s what’s going to happen, and I hope they do it.”

So, what would an impeachment really take in the Washington of 2019, and how would it all go down? To answer these questions, POLITICO interviewed more than two dozen sources, including sitting Republican and Democratic senators and members of Congress, current and former Capitol Hill aides, political operatives, historians and legal experts. The story that follows is the most detailed accounting, anywhere, of what dominoes need to fall if House impeachment articles were really to move forward, how a Trump trial in the Senate would go down and what—if anything—might break the Senate GOP majority apart enough to vote to remove their own president from office.

The picture won’t be consoling to anti-Trumpers who hope it will be easy, but neither will it reassure loyalists who see any attack on the president as off-limits.

Impeachment is rare, and every generation comes with its own set of complications, but with Trump there are parts you really can game out, from how the known details of his misbehavior might play to the bigger economic and political factors that would serve as impeachment’s backdrop. It’s also possible to work through the Senate Republican Conference vote by vote, with a likely breakdown of just where, and when, the necessary splits might start to occur. There are also wildly unpredictable elements, starting with just what special counsel Robert Mueller turns up in his investigation—and ending with a Senate proceeding that has many of the features of a courtroom trial, but that is also much looser, and could require far more, or far less, than a courtroom for conviction.

As you read this, remember: No president has ever actually been removed from office by impeachment. The House impeached Andrew Johnson on 11 different counts in 1868, angry about how Abraham Lincoln’s successor was handling reconstruction after the Civil War, but he ultimately avoided Senate conviction by one vote. More than a century later, Richard Nixon resigned from office rather than face impeachment; in late 1998, in a highly partisan vote, the House impeached Bill Clinton on two counts, but he didn’t come close to being removed by the Senate—a lesson in overreach not lost on today’s Congress. “If and when the time comes for impeachment—it will have to be something that has such a crescendo in a bipartisan way,” Pelosi, the decisive player in any potential move by Democrats to impeach Trump, told CBS in an interview that aired Sunday.

If Trump were really to be the first, here’s what to watch for as the dominoes fall. Welcome to the Only Impeachment Guide You’ll Ever Need.

I. The Mueller Factor

Nothing is hanging over Trump’s head like the investigation into whether his 2016 campaign conspired with Russia to win the White House. Mueller, legendary as one of the most ambitious, aggressive and methodical directors ever to lead the FBI, is perhaps the most widely respected investigator in America. And since he’s a lifelong Republican, only the most die-hard wing of the Trump base can dismiss his work as the kind of partisan-driven overreach that discredited the investigation into Bill Clinton.

Mueller was appointed under a different set of rules than Clinton investigator Kenneth Starr, and this time there is no requirement that he deliver a detailed report to Congress. (Starr’s report in 1998 nearly broke the earliest iterations of the internet, with some 20 million Americans logging on to read his graphic account of the president’s sexual trysts with a White House intern.) Mueller needs to send his findings only to his Justice Department supervisor, although the expectations are high that Congress will ultimately get its hand on some version of that document, and that its details will make their way to the public.

So far, Mueller has cut a wide swath through Trumpworld, securing guilty pleas from Trump’s former national security adviser; his longtime personal lawyer; and the chairman who helped run his 2016 presidential campaign, along with his deputy. Federal prosecutors working with Mueller have also implicated Trump in a set of campaign finance crimes, and the president has posted tweets and made public statements that many legal experts say could be used to charge him with obstruction of justice and witness tampering.

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Any of those scandals, on their own, might have brought down a president in the past. With Trump, none has moved Congress any closer to impeachment. And despite the party handover in the House, they’re still not that close. So when Mueller does complete his work, his findings would need to include something genuinely big, and genuinely new—at least one or more pieces of irrefutable evidence that Trump has committed “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” the loosely defined grounds for impeachment spelled out in the Constitution.

In the case of Trump, the experts I spoke with said that for the Senate to actually move toward conviction—meaning at least 20 Republican senators voting to remove a Republican president—Trump would likely need to be incriminated for betraying the nation itself, not just for campaign violations, or improper behavior like paying hush money to porn stars.

What could rise to that level? Bear in mind that Trump has already faced accusations similar to those that brought Nixon down—he admitted on national television to firing FBI Director James Comey to end the Russia investigation; and there’s plenty of evidence that he has tried to intimidate witnesses who could deliver incriminating evidence against him and lied to the public about his actions as part of a wider cover-up. Several sitting senators and members of the House, along with other close observers of Congress, told me Trump would need to face charges bigger and darker, and with the smoking-gun clarity of Nixon admitting to his schemes on tape.

For instance: actual documents showing that Trump himself knew his 2016 campaign was working in concert with Russia to win the White House, and signed off on the arrangement. Or a money-laundering scheme run through the Trump Organization on behalf of foreign governments or oligarchs, rendering the president susceptible to blackmail and extortion. If there’s hard evidence that those foreign powers shaped his policies while president, that could seal the deal even for some Republicans.

Whether Mueller’s investigation will uncover anything like this remains the most addictive guessing game in Washington. The special counsel has been on the job for nearly 20 months, and has so far shown himself to be a by-the-book operator, which cuts two ways: He won’t be scared off a scent, but it’s unclear how far he’ll stray from the original mission. Remember that the investigation that led to Clinton’s impeachment started with a 15-year-old real estate deal, but the impeachment charges themselves came from a long side investigation into whether the president obstructed justice and lied under oath about his affair with the White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

Mueller has yet to reveal any public threads of a conspiracy directly connecting Russia and Trump’s campaign, though attorneys for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort earlier this week disclosed an intriguing detail that raises new questions about collusion: Their client shared polling data during Trump’s 2016 race with a Ukrainian associate who has ties to Russian intelligence.

Even the Republicans I spoke with acknowledged that serious revelations about the president that aren’t yet in the public domain would be hard for their party to defend. “I think a lot of people would shift if the president clearly illegally evaded taxes the way his father did, or that he is beholden to a foreign government,” said Rick Tyler, a Republican operative who has worked for Newt Gingrich and Ted Cruz, and has been an outspoken advocate of the Never-Trump camp even as his former bosses contorted themselves into presidential allies.

John Cornyn of Texas, a senior member of the Senate GOP leadership whose job until January involved whipping votes in the upper chamber, said the Senate was far from likely to support removing a sitting president and called the act of impeachment “basically a futile gesture.”

But pressed on whether the special counsel’s investigators could uncover anything that would alter those Senate dynamics, Cornyn replied, “If the president is actually indicted for a crime, that obviously changes everything. But right now all I see is speculation and people who have no knowledge of what Director Mueller actually has speculating on what could happen. I don’t think that’s particularly productive. It may be interesting, but it’s not based on facts.”

Mueller may not be only important source of fresh evidence. There are the federal prosecutors in New York who convicted Michael Cohen, the former Trump attorney, and with whom Cohen continues to cooperate. There’s the newly elected Democratic attorney general in New York, who campaigned on a pledge to investigate Trump’s finances, businesses and charitable foundation. And there are the House Democrats, whose newly won congressional subpoena power could be a game-changer. They plan to launch a slew of investigations in 2019, including a re-examination of Trump campaign ties to Russia; allegations of money laundering between the Trump Organization and foreign interests; and whether Trump as president has personally enriched himself in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. House Democrats also are planning a careful push to make the president’s personal tax returns public.

Trump could dig himself in deeper, as well. Though he’s restrained himself from ending the Mueller probe, I spoke to one senior Republican official in touch with the White House who predicted Trump’s reaction could cause the president problems if the Russia investigation turned personal and Trump’s closest family members—his son Donald Trump Jr., daughter Ivanka Trump or her husband, Jared Kushner—faced criminal charges. “Everyone knows he surrounds himself with dirtbags and weak people and psychopaths,” said the official. “But the family is the family and that’s a lot closer to Trump than anything else.” That’s the situation where Trump might overreact, issuing blanket pardons or ordering up a Nixon-like Saturday Night Massacre, firing Mueller and the senior ranks of his own Justice Department.

“To me, that’s the red line,” said the official. “If that gets crossed, then everything changes in both parties.”

II. The Big Picture

Though Americans tend to think about impeachment as a legal proceeding, it’s far more a political matter than a legal one: The Constitution’s vague language leaves it up to congressional interpretation by design. Political scholars and D.C. insiders agree that impeachment simply won’t happen unless a sitting president looks politically vulnerable. A sudden downward turn in a couple of important barometers will go a long way toward determining whether Trump’s core supporters across the country—and their elected representatives—would actually abandon him.

This means, first and foremost, the economy. A president sitting on a booming economy is likely to be reelected, and a president likely to be reelected sits in a political castle that his own party would never storm. But a shaky economy—or, worse, a serious downturn—makes even a celebrity president with a die-hard base look vulnerable.

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Nixon’s resignation came on the heels of not just a spiraling scandal, but a crash in the global stock market, an international oil crisis and a recession on the domestic home front that would have cast a pall on his administration even without Watergate. Clinton, president during a years-long growth spurt, survived an impeachment attempt easily.

Trump, over the past two years, has governed through an economic roller coaster, with about 4 million new jobs created and rising wages but fears of a recession and global economic decline never far from the surface. In just the past month, stock prices have taken record turns in both directions, while a government shutdown reaches historic lengths with no end in sight.

Politically, ousting Trump would require the same kind of seismic wave he successfully surfed during his 2016 campaign—nothing less, in fact, than another shakeup and realignment of the Republican Party. A pair of data points will help tell the story here. First, there’s Trump’s overall public approval ratings, which have been at historic lows throughout his presidency. The Real Clear Politics’ average currently has Trump at around 42 percent. His floor to date: 37 percent, in mid-December 2017. “Nothing’s going to change until he hits 30,” said Jim Manley, a former Senate operative who worked for former Democratic Leader Harry Reid.

But perhaps an even more important indicator on the impeachment front is Trump’s standing among likely GOP primary voters. The latest Gallup tracker shows the president holding an 89 percent approval among Republicans, the very same number he enjoyed right after he was sworn into office in January 2017. As long as figures like that don’t slide dramatically—and Republicans haven’t budged in their support despite nearly two years of White House turmoil—Trump is probably safe from seeing his own party toss him under the bus.

For Trump to be meaningfully vulnerable, Republicans in a handful of states would need to start seeing polling data that show their support for him could sink their own political futures, including in key purple state battlegrounds like Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina. In Trump’s case, there’s another, unique indicator: if he starts to lose Fox hosts like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson.

III. The House

Impeachment starts in the House, where any member can introduce a resolution seeking to remove the president. Though it’s not technically a bill, it would work much the same way—with majority votes required in committee and on the floor.

But nothing will move, officially, until it gets a green light from Democratic leadership—which means the real power for determining what happens on the impeachment front rests with Pelosi. No stranger to hardball politics, Pelosi sees impeachment as a nuclear bomb that she’d rather not have to detonate unless and until the time is right. In the meantime, she’d like to get some potential policy wins under her belt, and so the California Democrat has spent the better part of the past year pleading with her party to remain patient in any bid to remove Trump until a more complete picture has emerged spelling out the evidence of any presidential illegalities.

While Pelosi has the authority to create a special committee to consider impeachment, she’s signaled that the Judiciary Committee led by Rep. Jerry Nadler will serve as the primary venue for any hearings on the topic, and will handle any resolutions that are likely to move forward.

The institutional Democrats’ hesitation is rooted, in part, in the recent history from the Clinton era. If they fail, the damage could be enormous, both to the country and to their own party. Just as Clinton did, Trump could come out on the other side of an unsuccessful impeachment attempt with greater public sympathy and an improved prospect of winning reelection in 2020.

And House Democrats will need allies across the aisle, which also requires a cautious approach. The experts I spoke with said that without some Republican votes, it would look far too much like a belated effort to overturn the 2016 election results—and would fail to provide the bipartisan cover that Senate Republicans would need to actually vote to convict the president later.

What’s the magic number? Elaine Kamarck, a longtime Democratic operative who worked in the Clinton White House and later on Al Gore’s 2000 campaign, estimates that Pelosi would need impeachment votes from about 20 Republicans, giving a total House vote of 255-179, assuming the Democrats hold together and vote as a bloc (with one seat still vacant in North Carolina). Donald Ritchie, the retired Senate historian who helped the chamber navigate Clinton’s impeachment proceedings, said the target should actually be higher—much, much higher.

“If there’s any chance of getting two-thirds [of Senators] removing the president, you’d have to have two-thirds of the House of Representatives voting to impeach,” or closer to 100 House Republicans, with a vote of 335-99, he said. “Anything less than that, and I don’t think it would fly in the Senate.”

IV: The Senate

This is where the impeachment fight gets real. Like both Andrew Johnson and Clinton before him, Trump would still be president even if the House voted to impeach him. Trump’s fate actually rests with what happens in the Senate, where, pending a trial, a two-thirds majority vote is needed to remove a president from office.

That’s a threshold that’s never been met in the 229 years since George Washington took the first oath of office. And it’s the reason Clinton’s impeachment was more of a partisan backfire than a politically destabilizing event: Nobody believed the Senate would actually vote to convict him. Republicans held a 55-45 majority over the Democrats in 1999, and the anti-Clinton forces needed to capture a dozen votes from the president’s own party. Not only did they net zero, they didn’t even hold onto all the Republican votes. Clinton emerged from his impeachment battle with the best public approval ratings of his presidency, and his final Gallup numbers were the highest for any outgoing president measured since the end of World War II.

As in the House, Trump’s presidency would hinge on what happens with Republicans. The math is simple: If the Democrats can secure all 47 votes in their caucus, they’d need 20 Republicans to secure a conviction. To feel comfortable moving forward with impeachment proceedings at all, they’d need to get signals from maybe half that number.

Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian from Rice University, said that even a Senate trial fueled by serious charges against Trump won’t be seen as a real threat to his presidency unless a sizable number of Republicans step forward early. “It’s got to hit the 10 mark to be eye-opening,” he said. “Then, you are 10 away.”

Long before the case hits the Senate floor, there will be plenty of time for the Republicans to consider the evidence and send those signals. “Remember, you’re going to have a lot of time while the House actually figures out what the articles of impeachment are supposed to be,” Kamarck said. “During that time I think you’ll see the Senate reacting or holding their cards tight. You’ll know pretty early who the ringleaders are in the Senate, if there are any.”

In Washington, the parlor game has begun: As the Mueller probe keeps drilling closer to the president, the 53 Republicans’ records and statements are being scrutinized for any signs of who potentially would ever break with Trump.

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The first group of possible defectors is fairly obvious. You might call them “establishment figureheads”—lions of the pre-Trump GOP who have been uneasy with the president’s character, disagree with him on policy, and might be looking for a way to decisively detach their distinguished careers from his name.

This group starts with Mitt Romney, the freshman from Utah who marked his arrival in the Senate with a blistering op-ed attacking the president as unfit for office. It also includes Pat Roberts of Kansas and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, two senior Republicans who have announced they won’t be running for reelection in 2020, freeing them to think more about history than their political futures. There’s also Richard Burr of North Carolina, who as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee has led his chamber’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and seen much of the still-classified evidence firsthand.

Other Republican senators who could be in the first group to peel off are Ben Sasse, the first-term Nebraskan who refused to vote for Trump in 2016 and even compared his party’s nominee to the white supremacist David Duke; and Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska senator who has already defied Trump by not voting to confirm his most recent Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

If those senators were to abandon Trump—and there’s no guarantee that even with their significant personal and policy differences they will—that gives a tentative count of six Republican defectors, and 47 still in Trump’s camp.

To get to the 10 required for a realistic Senate trial, another group would need to come into play—the “vulnerable 2020 class.” These are the handful of incumbents from swing states who are up for reelection in less than two years, and who could easily lose their seats if enough of their home-state Republican voters turned against the president.

This group consists of five: Susan Collins of Maine, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. They’re genuinely caught in a political vise: A vote against Trump could kill their chances if it comes before they’ve faced their own primary voters, but a vote to save the president could torpedo them in the general election. For these senators, Trump’s approval among the primary electorate is a key indicator, as is the exact timing for when they’d be forced to take any vote for conviction.

The next category would be the Republican senators who won’t face voters again until 2022 or ’24—let’s call them “anxious incumbents.” Not all of the GOP senators in those election cycles are likely to peel away from Trump, but some could: Mike Braun of Indiana, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Mike Lee of Utah, Rob Portman of Ohio, Rick Scott of Florida, Tim Scott of South Carolina and John Thune of South Dakota.

That now makes 23 senators who could be considered in play based on home-state politics, Trump’s popularity and staying power and a variety of other factors. If even half started to signal they’d consider impeachment charges, the debate would take on far more significance and likely trigger a last-stand defensive campaign from the president.

Scott Mulhauser, a former aide to Vice President Joe Biden, said he expects GOP senators would look for guidance to the likes of Vice President Mike Pence and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on what would likely be the most historic vote of their careers.

“To have this land in a real way, not only will the work of Mueller and his team of course have to be ironclad. But it will also have to be damning to the point where these guys have no choice,” he said. They also should anticipate a full-throated fight from Trump: “If it’s his future, the wrath is coming.”

V. The proceedings

Once any impeachment charges are before the Senate, there’s no guarantee here but one: It will be a hell of a show.

Republicans could disregard anything the House does and simply table the matter, which Trump allies say would be a viable position for GOP leaders to take. “If I’m McConnell, I say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to have an election in 2020. It will be the trial,” said diGenova, a former federal prosecutor who nearly joined the president’s legal team last year.

But public pressure leading into the next election cycle could also be hard to ignore. “If the House acted, I don’t think the Senate could not act,” said Ritchie, the historian emeritus of the Senate.

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If there is a trial, all 100 senators would be serving as Trump’s jury, meeting in a solemn courtroom-like atmosphere where they’d be asked to sift through reams of evidence and, potentially, live witnesses. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts would preside, while House Democrats would serve as the president’s prosecutors, and Trump’s attorneys as his defense counsel. Rudy Giuliani vs. Jerry Nadler, anyone?

To convict, the Senate needs to get to 67 votes. Depending on the signals we’ve seen from that first group of senators, that means about a dozen or more additional Republicans would have to brave Trump’s rhetoric, which will no doubt be escalating as he digs in, and also flipping on the leader of their own party.

Who else could Trump lose? Once truly damning evidence started coming out, the president would need to watch his back for another group, aptly dubbed “his former political foes”: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham and even McConnell. All have accommodated themselves to the president in the interest of power. But none are likely to have forgotten Trump’s mean tweets, nasty nicknames and other personal, out-of-the-norm attacks on their appearance, family, and more. Any or all of these could see a vote for his conviction as the ultimate payback. They might even take a special relish in watching the whip count nudge up to 66 and then casting the decisive vote.

“The question is: Do any of these people feel they owe Donald Trump anything?” said Kamarck. “I think it will get very personal. It will devolve on a personal level. What you have to ask yourself is, who has Donald Trump gone out of his way to be a total, utter asshole to?”

Beyond golfing with a couple of Republicans, Trump has built few of the personal relationships that might help save him in the Senate. “You should hear the way these guys talk about him behind his back,” Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democratic senator who lost her reelection bid in 2018, told The New Yorker Radio Hour when asked whether Republicans were really loyal to Trump.

Roger Stone, the longtime Trump political adviser, told me that this—the president’s lack of Senate friends—rather than the substance of the impeachment articles, could be a problem if impeachment proceedings did actually kick into gear.

“I don’t see a real charge that’s problematic,” Stone said. “On the other hand, most of the Senate Republicans are establishment Republican, country club, neocon types. I don’t think Donald Trump is terribly popular with them to begin with.”

Interviewed on the record, Republican senators right now have one consistent message on impeachment: We know nothing. “I think we’ve got to let this process continue and we’ve got to allow the facts go to where they will and not have any political interference,” Rob Portman said; John Thune, the new Republican Senate whip in 2019, also demurred: “I think we just don’t have the full picture yet.” Ron Johnson said of an impeachment: “If that were to occur, you’re acting as a juror in a trial, and you need to take a look at all the evidence. That’s how I’d approach it.”

As for Senate Democrats, they plan to work their own individual relationships across the aisle to size up what’s possible. “I think all of us will be having conversations just as we’ve been discussing the investigation and protecting it,” Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal told me. They’d be reporting what they hear from Republicans up the chain to party leaders Pelosi and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who’d be in charge of counting votes. “Park yourselves on the sidelines,” explained Illinois’ Dick Durbin, who as the Senate Democratic whip would also have a big role to play ahead of a conviction trial, told ABC’s “This Week” in December when asked about the president’s legal and political liabilities.

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To be sure, many observers still don’t see any way that 20 Senate Republicans and a corresponding number of House Republicans would ever risk their own political futures abandoning Trump absent something jarring—something that to date Mueller or other investigators have yet to produce.

“They’re going to have to really have a smoking fucking gun to show this is a bipartisan exercise,” said Sam Geduldig, a former House GOP leadership aide. “There are not a lot of Republicans who’d want on their tombstone: ‘Impeached President Trump.’”

“Renaming a post office is one thing. To have them do substantive work on a controversial issue and have 67 agree is virtually unheard of,” explained Mulhauser, who also has worked for several Senate Democrats.

There are of course many other possible scenarios for Trump beyond impeachment. Neal Katyal, the former acting Obama solicitor general, suggested last month that the president already faces enough legal jeopardy once he’s out of office that his attorneys may want to consider negotiating a deal with prosecutors to resign rather than face jail time when his term is up.

Democrats have other political calculations to keep in mind, too, including their chances of winning back the White House in 2020. If they succeed in impeaching Trump in the House and somehow convicting him in the Senate, they’d need to draw up an entirely new general election playbook for going up against a different Republican, presumably a President Mike Pence.

“You don’t want the Republican Party reinventing itself post-Trump” if you’re the Democrats, said Brinkley, the presidential historian. “The longer Trump is in legal limbo, the more of this sort of drip-drip about Russian collusion and the financial dealings, the longer it goes on, the better for the Democrats.”

But if an impeachment process starts and fails, Trump could effectively use the fight to his electoral advantage. Democrats would also need to consider their own election prospects in the House and Senate in 2020 if Trump is still at the top of the ticket, only more popular because he’s withstood his opponents’ assault. It may be that impeachment—as much as it excites some of the Democratic base—is in nobody’s immediate political interest at all.

“That’s the problem with an impeachment strategy,” Brinkley added. “The Democratic Party is better off running against a deeply damaged President Trump that seems to have a lot of terrible legal woes and ethical damage. It’s better off to run against a wounded Trump than to drive Trump out of office.”

James Arkin contributed to this report.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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Source: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/01/11/trump-impeachment-guide-house-senate-2019-223912
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