It’s official. The House of Representatives is starting an impeachment inquiry after Donald Trump’s recent phone call with his counterpart from Ukraine. As we all know, this will have tremendous political ramifications up and down the ballot in 2020.
What does this mean for the electoral outlook? In short, this is not good news for Republicans, especially those that have backed Trump in the last few years. However, the severity of the impact on their electoral chances lies in how the White House and the Republican party handles this scenario. The impeachment process is a long and extremely political one, with plenty of opportunities to stir the base along the way.
Impeachment will certainly dominate the headlines in the media, which will take much-needed airtime away from Democratic candidates vying to be the next Commander-in-Chief. Whereas that has been one of Trump’s strategies in the past, this news coverage is going to damage the public image of a President that is already struggling in the polls. The silver lining for Republicans is that Democratic candidates have to fight harder and spend more money just to get the same message distribution that they would have had before the impeachment proceedings were announced. This means that Democrats are likely to burn a whole lot more money than Trump.
Impeachment is a very partisan issue. Around 5% of Republicans and 75% of Democrats are in favor of impeachment, showing a divided America that will only get worse as the process moves forward. This is going to become the big issue that defines the 2020 Democratic primary election, with much else falling by the wayside. However, Democratic candidates can take advantage of the freedom that this offers. Instead of trying to make the case that they can beat Trump, they can juxtapose their positions against their Democratic rivals to set themselves apart in a field that is likely to easily defeat the damaged President. Current Senators running for office, such as Harris, Sanders, and Warren, can (and likely will) politicize their votes on impeachment when it reaches the Senate, which will give them an advantage over Biden, Buttigieg, and O’Rourke.
Down-ballot, the same issues will still arise. If the proceedings conclude prior to the election in November 2020, the outcome will dictate whether the blue wave continues. If Trump is successfully removed from office, his popularity will plummet. Those that supported him will have targets on their backs in their re-election campaigns. Even safe Republican districts will experience a shift in voting patterns. While this does not mean that they will flip, it does mean that these districts will start to lose faith in their elected officials that had strongly supported a President that committed a “high crime or misdemeanor” significant enough to warrant the impeachment process.
If the impeachment goes nowhere, we can look to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton for a clue as to what will happen. In general, the electoral outlook did not experience significant change in the 1998 or 2000 elections. Democratic voters still came out to support their candidate, and there were a few instances of the impeachment backfiring on Republican lawmakers. It is reasonable to assume that in our current time of partisan division, those divisions will hold through the process. If Trump is not removed from office, there will only be minor impacts on Republicans.
In summation, there is likely to be a great deal of time, money, and effort put forth to remove Trump from office. Every step of the process will be politicized on both sides of the aisle. If Democrats are successful in removing him from office, it will crush the Republican party moving through the 2020 elections. If they are unsuccessful, it will be pretty close to business as usual at the ballot box.
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