Opinion - Politics

Democrats need to realize that impeaching Trump may not accomplish anything at all

Key Points
  • Now that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asked House committee chairmen to draft articles of impeachment for President Donald Trump, it's a virtual certainty that he will be impeached and tried in the U.S. Senate.
  • But Democrats should consider at least four burning questions before moving forward with impeachment.
U.S. President Donald Trump smiles during the 97th Annual National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019.
Oliver Contreras | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Now that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asked House committee chairmen to draft articles of impeachment for President Donald Trump, it's a virtual certainty that he will be impeached and tried in the U.S. Senate.

But Democrats should consider at least four burning questions before moving forward:

1. Does this energize the Democrats for 2020, or take their eyes off the ball?

It's hard to deny that anti-Trump sentiment and a desire to oust him from office is a unifying issue for Democrats.
Some pundits argue that while impeaching Trump is not likely to lead to his removal by the Republican-majority in the U.S. Senate, failing to at least bring him up for an impeachment trial risks turning off the Democratic base.

But that argument seems like a stretch, judging by the constant rage we see against Trump from his opponents on the left. Would Democratic voters really stay home and not vote for Trump's 2020 opponent if no impeachment vote passes?

It's also hard to imagine large numbers of voters angrily voting against Trump at the top of the ballot, and then simply leaving the bottom of the ballot blank or opting for pro-Trump GOP candidates in Congressional races

2. Do the Democrats really need more anti-Trump publicity?

As the impeachment process moves forward and likely moves to a trial in the Senate, the Democrats are getting what amounts to a free 24/7 negative political ad against Trump on the TV news networks.

So what else is new?

In case you haven't noticed. Just about all the TV news coverage of this president has been negative and those networks have barely covered anything else. A recent study by the conservative Media Research Council found that 96 percent of network news stories covering President Trump were negative since the impeachment inquiry began. But that's only four percentage points higher than the same group's results from a study about one year ago.

Democrats should focus more on positive stories about their own still crowded field of presidential candidates, and something that defines them other than just being anti-Trump. They need something more like the inspirational story of Barack Obama's quest to become the first African-American to win the White House in 2008, or a young Bill Clinton's push to move us past the older generation's Cold War focus in 1992. Focusing only on replacing Trump won't get that done.

3. This helps Trump… a little.

The White House and several Trump supporters have been arguing that the impeachment process is solidifying the president's chances at re-election. Their argument is that the Democrats are coming off as vindictive and derelict in their duties as lawmakers by focusing on attacking Trump.

That seems a little too optimistic. But what is demonstrably true is that a good section of President Trump's loyal base has indeed been fired up. The Trump re-election campaign has been using the impeachment as an excuse to ask for more donations and online engagement, and by all accounts it's paying off. One can argue that added funds don't make a major difference for an incumbent president who already has the power of his office and Air Force One to spread his message across the world.

But it doesn't hurt.

4. It's not all about Trump.

The need to present something other than an attack on the president is about more than just inspiring personalities. Yes, anti-Trump sentiment came off as a key national theme for the Democrats running for Congress in the 2018 elections. But the Democrats would be wise to remember that they retook the House in a midterm contest that saw healthcare consistently ranked as the top voter concern. The Republicans' failure to repeal and replace Obamacare as promised surely added to their midterm woes last year and a failure to get anywhere on the issue in this session of Congress could be a similar liability for the Democrats in 2020.

Since the midterm election, things have only gotten worse with healthcare costs rising and the percentage of Americans without health insurance rising. The Democrats still have a shot at crafting a unified message on healthcare packed with plenty of attacks on the Trump administration and the Republicans for failing to rein in costs.

But good luck getting that message the attention and repetition in the news media it would need to get noticed in the midst of the impeachment obsession. Don't even think about the Democrats putting together a major Obamacare overhaul bill right now either.

It's not often that a #1 voter issue doesn't even get much lip service from politicians. But that's happening now.

Of course the impeachment will still go forward, despite the above questions and concerns. It's also not too late for the Democrats in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail to make the proper adjustments to avoid all the impeachment-related pitfalls they face. But that will take a lot more foresight than we're seeing evidence of right now.

The most likely outcome is that what was once considered the absolute nadir for a presidential administration will end up barely moving the electoral needle one way or another.

Jake Novak is a political and economic analyst at Jake Novak News and former CNBC TV producer. You can follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.