The Democrats who impeached President Trump knew they did not have a prayer of removing him from office. But they also knew impeachment might have another effect — to weaken the president and reduce his chances of winning reelection in November.
It was an unprecedented plan — an election-year gambit in which Democrats used the House of Representatives’ constitutional power of impeachment as perhaps the most audacious oppo maneuver of all time.
But will it work? One, will voters even remember impeachment when Election Day comes around in nine months? And two, if they do, which way will impeachment cut? Will it help Democrats, or help the president?
It is often remarked that news is happening at a never-before-seen pace in Trump’s Washington. A story that in an earlier era might dominate coverage for weeks is supplanted by an equally big story a day later, and then by another a day after that. It can all blend together and fade in the voters’ minds.
On the other hand, impeachment was big. And even if it does fade in memory, Donald Trump himself appears determined to keep it alive.
“The radical left’s pathetic partisan crusade has completely failed and utterly backfired,” the president told a crowd of 12,000 at a rally in Manchester on the eve of the New Hampshire primary. “While the extreme left has been wasting America’s time with this vile hoax, we’ve been killing terrorists, creating jobs, raising wages, enacting fair trade deals, securing our borders and lifting up citizens of every race, color, religion and creed.”
After his “full, complete and absolute total acquittal,” Trump will not let voters forget what Democrats did. On the campaign trail in coming months, he will take care to place the Democratic impeachment in the context of his administration’s accomplishments, economic and otherwise.
By the way, Trump drew a capacity crowd in New Hampshire, dwarfing any crowd drawn by Democrats in their hotly contested primary. He did the same thing in Iowa just before the caucuses, speaking to a packed house of more than 7,000 in Des Moines.
In Iowa, Trump also put impeachment in the context of his administration’s goals: He is doing the country’s work, while Democrats are consumed with partisan rage.
“We’re having probably the best years that we’ve ever had in the history of our country — and I just got impeached!” Trump said. “Can you believe these people? I got impeached!”
The president’s base is particularly receptive to that message, because they believe strongly that Trump has been the target of unfair treatment in Washington. But look for the president to deliver the same message to all audiences in the campaign: I’m working hard creating jobs, raising wages, keeping us safe, and all Democrats could come up with was impeachment.
Indeed, three of the president’s top opponents — Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar — all voted to remove him from office. But it has often been noted that neither they, nor any of the other Democratic candidates, make a big deal of impeachment on the campaign trail.
Yes, Democrats wanted Trump removed from office; Democratic support for conviction was sky-high. But voters knew that was not a realistic possibility, so they have consistently placed health care, climate change, gun control and inequality at the top of their list of concerns.
Indeed, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, fresh from pushing impeachment through the House on a partisan vote, recently tweeted that the “three most important issues to America’s working families” are: “1) Health care. 2) Health care. 3) Health care.”
But don’t look for the president and Republicans to allow Pelosi to slip away from impeachment.
“I believe the overtly partisan, fumbling and bumbling fashion with which House Democrats conducted the process will boost GOP/right-of-center voters and demonstrate to progressive/left voters that the Democrats cannot deliver,” said veteran Republican strategist David Carney in an email exchange. “Their incompetence in impeachment, the Iowa count and stopping the Trump agenda lowers confidence in establishment Democrats to red-flag levels. Overall, the whole impeachment circus has been a net negative for the Pelosi forces.”
It’s always possible that could change. Maybe the entire country will move on. But not if Trump can do anything about it. In Des Moines, he told supporters the entire impeachment saga was about Democrats trying to bring him down, one way or another.
“It’s not gonna work,” he said. “Watch. Just watch.”
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.