If impeachment represents, for a large swath of the voting public, another messy game of inside the beltway DC politics, then who wins and who loses in this scenario? The Democratic Party base is all in favor of impeachment, and candidates like Massachusets Sen. Elizabeth Warren have known that for months now. Former vice president Joe Biden has been much more tempered when asked whether President Trump should be impeached since he’s trying to placate the middle ground of his party, and not alienate too many independent and moderate Republicans in swing states who might be inclined to vote for him next year.
In the end, though, the move by House Democrats to start a formal impeachment probe into President Trump changes the landscape of the 2020 Democratic primary and certainly alters the conversations being had between voters and candidates.
Politico started asking the same question, who does impeachment help or hurt more? Biden or Warren?
So, to be crass, which of the front-runners benefits?
Is it Biden, the candidate who has made Trump’s unfitness for office the centerpiece of his campaign, one that sees removing him as the only important policy proposal?
Or is it Warren, who, despite calling for his impeachment earlier than her rivals, has tried to move Trump to the periphery of the 2020 race and emphasize that just getting rid of him isn’t enough because, she argues, the next president has to have a series of detailed revolutionary plans that will upend a rigged economic system and act as a vaccine against the rise of the next Trump?
On the one hand, it’s sort of strange to see candidates running for president call for the removal of the man they’re trying to defeat at the ballot box. On the other hand, this is what they believe and their base supports it, so better stick with what Democratic primary voters want.
The media narrative is firmly planted on a Biden vs. Warren battle in the Democratic primary, and the impeachment move will swing it one way or another. Warren has been less focused on Trump in recent months versus staying focused on her own policy proposals. It’s a strategy that has worked well for her, as her poll numbers can attest.
What if the Trump-Ukraine story does splashback on Joe Biden through the allegations against Biden’s son? Will Democrats see that and shudder, knowing what Hillary’s email scandal did to her 2016 candidacy?
But a crucial question for Democrats is whether by switching their emphasis from finding the best candidate to defeat Trump to using the machinery of Congress to remove him, they risk the failure of both strategies.
Out on the 2020 campaign trail, Trump is counting on the Ukraine morass to boomerang against Biden the same way stories about Clinton’s emails damaged her. And back in Washington, he’s betting that Mitch McConnell and Republicans’ fear of their own pro-Trump electorates will keep him safe in the Senate.
If Biden continues to lose points on the electability argument, he won’t have much else to build a platform on. In some ways, it’s almost as if Pelosi was willing to toss Biden into this mix even though it puts a dent in his candidacy. If Trump now has a better reason to come up with some nickname for Biden like “Crooked Hillary” and make it stick, then it clearly benefits Warren in bolstering her case as an electable anti-Biden.
Perhaps aside from Biden or Warren, the impeachment move may benefit Trump as a candidate, more than anyone. The Politico story notes that some Democratic operatives believe this is the case:
This is of course a potential nightmare scenario for Democrats: that the impeachment effort against Trump over Ukraine damages one of their leading candidates more than Trump himself. (Several sources on 2020 campaigns refused to allow me to use any comments about the politics of Ukraine either on the record or anonymously because they believed it played into Trump’s hands.)
As Pelosi said months ago, Trump was “goading” Democrats into an impeachment battle because it may be a way to mobilize Trump’s base en masse for 2020.
The Daily Beast even noted that Trump’s 2020 campaign is not displeased with the impeachment move. His White House team, on the other hand, is less than thrilled:
For Trump’s political and campaign team, efforts by congressional Democrats to drive the president from office are being treated internally with political euphoria. Within minutes of news that Speaker Nancy Pelosi would back impeachment proceedings, the Trump campaign was plumbing its base for money and Republican campaigns were tagging opponents who endorsed the effort as do-nothing radicals.
Inside the White House, an entirely different reality is now being confronted, one that involves actually dealing with the likelihood of a painful, cumbersome, intrusive battle that brings what remains of its legislative agenda to a standstill.
The campaign already started fundraising off Pelosi’s announcement within hours on Tuesday. For the White House team, their job is basically to run defense the next 13 months since it’s very unlikely anything legislatively will get done.
We’ll know more in days how the public views the impeachment move, and how Democratic primary voters are reacting. Until then, the campaigns are shuffling to navigate this new landscape created by House Democrats.