One of the abiding fears of many House Democrats who are resistant to opening impeachment proceedings into President Donald Trump is that the public will turn on them, and that the ensuing backlash will carry Trump to a second term in office. They point to the example of President Bill Clinton, who became the subject of an impeachment hearing and became the only president in modern political history to gain seats for his party in the House during his second midterm.
But as former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks writes for Just Security, this need not be a fear for Democrats. In fact, data from former Clinton White House aide Sidney Blumenthal show that political harm to them is unlikely.
“His data decimate the major impediment to holding Trump accountable – the fear that this president would be strengthened by a House vote for impeachment with no conviction by the Senate,” writes Wine-Banks. “Contrary to popular belief, Blumenthal lays out a clear case that President Clinton did not benefit from impeachment and that comparisons to Clinton are highly misplaced. Clinton was at 66% approval before and after impeachment. Impeachment neither improved nor diminished his standing.”
“He was popular before impeachment and just as popular afterward, whereas Trump’s approval ratings are at a stunningly low 39 percent and dropping,” Wine-Banks continues. “Indeed, Trump has never achieved even a 50 percent approval. This means that fears of holding Trump accountable via an impeachment inquiry are unfounded, leaving just the question of whether the evidence supports proceeding. The answer to that is a resounding, almost deafening, yes.”
The instructive case of impeachment, Wine-Banks says, is thus not Trump, but Nixon. “In fact,” she writes, “the case for impeachment of Trump is stronger because he has engaged in a broader stonewalling than Nixon ever did,” obstructing special counsel Robert Mueller, disputing the findings on Russia from every intelligence agency, barring his aides from testifying to Congress, and suing to block the release of his financial records, among much else. “This systematic contempt of Congress combined with the well-established election interference of the Russians and Trump’s failure to take action to prevent its recurrence – or even to acknowledge it happened – is a deadly combination that threatens the role of the first branch of government as a foundational part of our democracy.”
What impeachment hearings could accomplish, Wine-Banks adds, is broadcasting to all Americans a common set of facts that would penetrate partisan echo chambers.
“With the testimony of witnesses who can be evaluated by all Americans, I fully anticipate Trump’s support will further erode. Public hearings made a difference in the case of Nixon,” she says. “As Blumenthal says, ‘the more the public knew of Nixon’s crimes through public televised hearings, the more rapidly Nixon’s poll numbers crumbled.’ And, I’d add, the more bipartisan support for impeachment grew.”
“Not only will impeachment of Trump not hurt Democrats in 2020, it is essential to preserving Congress as a co-equal branch of government as our Founders intended and is essential to Congress fulfilling its constitutional and moral obligations,” Wine-Banks concludes.