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Vigorous #impeachment discussion yesterday between polls and elections expert @NateSilver538 (con) and former Harry Reid person @AJentleson (pro). The subject is worth a thread.
2. As with most issues before Congress, substance and politics are closely related but distinguishable. As to substance, the argument -- persuasive to me -- is that obstruction of justice, contacts with Russians seeking to influence a US election, corruption and the rest...
3...will do mortal damage to American democracy if tolerated. Not proceeding toward impeachment proceedings means tolerating all of these things, though it is possible to deceive oneself on that point. The political argument @NateSilver538 makes is about American voters.
4. Polling shows voters aren't demanding impeachment, or even focused on lower-profile investigations of Trump administration wrongdoing. They are instead most interested in policy issues directly relevant to their lives, like the economy and health care. Therefore...
5...@NateSilver538 sees the refusal to countenance talk of impeaching President Trump by @SpeakerPelosi as strong leadership, because it gives Democrats their best chance of re-running the successful 2019 midterms next year and increasing their House majority.
6. Does it? Let's acknowledge up front the temptation for people who think of politics in the context of polls, campaigns and election results to consider impeachment in that same context. In other words, they may be prone to disregard the substance in favor of the politics.
7. I don't mean people like @NateSilver538 primarily, but rather the vast infrastructure of large donors, pollsters, and campaign consultants on which Democratic politicians rely. So how clear are the politics?
8. Historical precedent is limited, and not particularly helpful. The 1974 Watergate election delivered big gains for Democrats, but took place during an economic downturn that would have been expected to hurt the party holding the White House anyway. The 1998 midterms...
9...and the 2000 Presidential election, respectively held just before and a year after the Republican Congress conducted an impeachment proceeding shot through with bad faith and hypocrisy, took place during an economic boom. Republicans did less well than they hoped in 1998.
10. However, they recovered well enough by 2000 to come close to winning the popular vote in the Presidential election that year, winning it through a fluke of the Electoral College and a friendly Supreme Court majority.
11. That leaves current polling. How much can it tell us about whether voters will care about a President putting himself above the law, using his office to enrich himself, and all the rest (neither Nixon or Clinton faced nearly as many accusations of misconduct as does Trump)?
12. I don't think it's clear. Most voters -- a large majority, actually -- have heard of the Mueller Report but have not read it, or a summary of it. Most voters do not follow current events that closely. Moreover some of the issues it raises are fairly novel.
13. One could argue persuasively that televised hearings into its details, as well as other subjects outside Mueller's scope, would penetrate the public's consciousness enough to make a political impact by Election Day, 2020.
14. Forced to choose, most Americans are likely to disapprove of a President above the law, a President compromised by Russia, a President in debt to Saudis, paying hush money to porn stars with whom he's cheated on his wife, using his office to enrich himself, & so forth.
15. They may also, of course, think all of these things are OK as long as the economy is good. If the economy continues the post-Great Recession expansion it started during Barack Obama's first term, of course, this will be a political factor, impeachment or not.
16. Trump hurt his party in 2018 by emphasizing his hostility to non-white immigrants, and talking less about an economy in relatively good health. @SpeakerPelosi may count on (and @NateSilver538 may expect) that again. But it's not a given.
17. There is another factor we should consider, one I think @AJentleson recognizes. Key to Trump's support among Republicans is his image as a strong leader. This image will be reinforced if House Democrats shrink from beginning impeachment proceedings.
18. Trump will campaign on the message that his enemies sought to end his Presidency, and in the end were defeated; they talked about impeachment, but were made to slink away without doing anything. Trump's base -- which is most of the GOP by now -- will love this.
19. Republican candidates down the ballot will draft off GOP voters' enthusiasm. Without impeachment proceedings, they will not need to address what they think of the Russians, obstruction of justice, corruption & the rest. They'll run on a strong economy & a strong President.
20. Now, Republican electoral success is not guaranteed if House Democrats shrink from impeachment. The economy may go bad, or Trump may blunder into a war. These will be possibilities, impeachment or not.
21. What I'm saying -- it's a distasteful thought, to be honest -- is that one aspect of the politics of impeachment is a test of raw power. Are the defenders of American institutions and the law willing to defend them using means the Constitution provides, or are they not?
22. Will a President subverting American institutions and the law be allowed to do so, or will he be fought? Will Republican elected officials, Trump's enablers, be held to account, or will Democrats surrender? Surrender, in general, is not an electoral winner in this country.
23. People are naturally prone to overvalue the risk of the unfamiliar, and to exaggerate their own competence in areas they believe they know. @SpeakerPelosi is sure the path of least risk in 2020 is to stick to the Democratic campaign messaging she thinks worked last fall.
24. Formidable though her judgement is in certain respects, she is wrong about this. I would be for moving briskly toward House impeachment proceedings on the substance of the matter alone. It is also the path of least political risk for Democrats in 2020. [end]
Addendum: this observation by @qjurecic seems self-evident to me.
Further addendum: Fordham law professor @jedshug makes a case that impeachment is legally easier than fluttering away at the administration with subpoenas. Again, either this is a crisis or it isn’t.
....and one more: Is @SpeakerPelosi, or anyone in the House of Representatives’ leadership, taking note of this? Or is the President sending his lawyer overseas to solicit foreign help for his re-election just another thing voters don’t care about?
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