First off, let’s get this part set and out in the open: If Robert S. Muller III’s special counsel investigation turns up evidence of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” such that he recommends criminal charges against President Trump in regards to his activities during the 2016 election, Congress must take it up, file Articles of Impeachment, and play the process out.
But what about in the meantime?
A lot of experts and analysts agree, the Mueller investigation is moving along more quickly than anyone expected. Compared to the Cox investigation into Watergate, we’re practically moving at warp speed.
That may be why Trump just started work against the political side of the scandal investigation just last night.
“We have to keep the House because if we listen to Maxine Waters, she’s going around saying ‘We will impeach him,’” Trump told a crowd at his anti-White House Correspondents’ Dinner rally in Michigan last night.
It’s no secret that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has been playing for impeachment for months now. And a Quinnipiac poll recently found that 70% of Democrats believe proceedings should be undertaken.
With Democrats keeping a 7-10% lead over Republicans in the “generic ballot,” and President Trump still hanging between 15-18 points underwater on his approval ratings in recent months, it’s not a crazy position to take.
But if Scott Walker’s past is prologue, it could be a strategic error.
As a quick recap, six years ago, Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisc.) made history, not just in Wisconsin, but in American politics. Six years ago, Scott Walker became the first statewide politician to beat a recall. And he did it with a clever tactic…
In early March 2011, just barely two months into his first term, having already convinced outgoing Gov. Jim Doyle (D-Wisc.) to cancel the Milwaukee-to-Madison high speed rail project he ran against, and having announced what would eventually become his infamous Act 10 against public-sector unions, polls were showing that Wisconsinites already regretted having elected then Milwaukee County Executive Walker over Democrat and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
As talk of recall ramped up, and eventually became an actual process that set up the real recall election, and it looked like Wisconsinites would get the Walker/Barrett rematch they wanted, Walker shifted tactics.
Instead of running against Barrett, Walker ran against the recall itself. And it worked.
Walker’s team made the case to Wisconsin voters that recall should only be used for criminal acts, or other much more major problems, not for policy disagreements (even disagreements that were extremely unpopular and led to days of some of the most massive protests in Wisconsin Capitol history). Wisconsin voters bought it.
That’s what President Trump is hoping for as well.
In playing the anti-impeachment-itself card, Trump is hoping that Democrats either will be too worried about the political implications to file Articles, or should they push them forward, will set themselves up for a heavy loss in 2020 should it fail to remove him from office.
Let’s be fair about something else as well: Impeachment is never politically, nor publicly, advantageous. It didn’t do much for Republicans when they threw the book at Andrew Johnson, and it was politically disastrous when they tried it against Clinton (making him the first sitting president to gain Congressional seats in a second mid-term election).
So let’s talk strategy.
First off, Democrats should self-ban themselves from saying the word “impeachment” until the Mueller investigation concludes. If Mueller finds evidence to support charges of conspiracy, fraud, or anything else along those lines, Democrats (or Republicans) must file Articles of Impeachment.
But…what if the strongest charge against Trump is Obstruction of Justice? What if evidence Trump colluded with the Russian government isn’t strong enough to support chargesAt that point, it’s hard to say. It may be more advantageous to raise holy hell over it, in hopes Trump resigns, or failing that, gets mudhole-stomped in the 2020 elections. However, impeachment may not play well politically if Democrats can’t justify removing a sitting president for the first time in American history.
If evidence of conspiracy or fraud, as it relates to Russia, isn’t found, it will be a hard case to press that the investigation was worth having at all, undermining impeachment efforts resulting from it. From there, it may be smarter for Democrats to just let Trump and his fellow Republicans wallow in their own mire they created for themselves, and crush them in 2020.
Impeachment, at that point, may not be popular enough to generate the kind of public support necessary to both see it through successfully (that is, with conviction and removal of Trump).
That’s because, just like the recall in Wisconsin, Trump and his (not all unintelligent) team will press his case against impeachment itself, and Democrats will be left holding the bag.