There’s a new way of demonstrating loyalty to Donald Trump and his Republican Party: Claiming that the president could not only survive an impeachment effort, but that it would guarantee his victory in 2020.
The idea gaining currency on the right is that Trump can be Bill Clinton, not Richard Nixon. It depends on a delicate political calculation — that a Republican-held Senate would never follow a Democratic House and vote to remove Trump, and that voters tired of the long-running Russia scandal will, as they did in the late 1990s with Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky scandal, want to move on.
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The notion has surfaced spontaneously among a diverse set of conservatives, including politicians with Trump’s ear and young ultraloyalists of the president whose institutional knowledge of the GOP begins with its new standard-bearer. They’re also the die-hards who aren’t afraid to align themselves with pro-Trump positions even before the president has warmed to them himself.
In interviews, more than a dozen Republican politicians, activists and consultants — including some current and former Trump campaign aides with direct lines to the president — said they are increasingly convinced a Democratic House victory in the midterms and subsequent impeachment push would backfire and ultimately help the president in 2020.
“If they take the House, he wins big,” Barry Bennett, a former senior adviser to the Trump campaign, told POLITICO. “The market always overcorrects.”
While Trump supporters around Washington acknowledge that the idea is merely in the conversation stage — and stress it’s too early for contingency plans, particularly any involving the president — some have come to see losing the House as inevitable, and they want to see the president spend his time campaigning hard to keep the Senate.
Proponents of the go-for-broke scenario argue that Trump’s at his best when his back is against the wall, and that a move to impeach would both rally the base and make the president sympathetic to moderate voters. Some scoff at the notion that there’s anything for Trump to fear from Democratic investigators on Capitol Hill, especially given the threat he’s already facing from special counsel Robert Mueller, and suggested that the House doesn’t matter as long as Republicans retain the Senate.
It dovetails with the growing conviction in Republican circles that the president could use congressional gridlock under a Democratic House majority as a personal battering ram, offering it up as the picture of Washington intransigence as he vies for reelection — rather than having to answer for the ongoing inability of a slim and fractious Republican majority to move a comprehensive agenda through the Hill.
There’s no sign that Trump buys into this view — he spent part of his vacation week in Bedminster, New Jersey, earlier this month plotting out a strategy of stumping and fundraising for Republican candidates ahead of the midterms in hopes of keeping Republican control of the House — but it’s increasingly fashionable among younger, anti-establishment Republicans and pro-Trump members of Congress.
“Well-respected thinkers believe that the more extreme the Democrats go, the more middle of the road voters will gravitate to Trump,” argued one prominent conservative and Trump supporter who spoke with POLITICO on the condition of anonymity to share candid conversations with contemporaries.
The lose-to-win view found an establishment voice with the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, which has been intensely loyal to Trump, suggesting he might not mind a Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a political foil for 2020.
Some also perceive that view as the way to draw the strongest contrast between Republicans and Democrats by exposing what they call the excesses of liberalism, led by Pelosi, Rep. Maxine Waters of California and incoming progressive superstar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “The meltdown in that party will be fantastic to watch,” is how one Republican analyst put it.
Asked if they worried impeachment would hurt Trump, the Republican balked, noting the president’s record of vanquishing skeptical odds-makers, and said: “Of course not.”
Trump’s own midterm calculations, campaign aides and close supporters say, are based the belief that the specter of impeachment — not actual impeachment proceedings — will help him rally his base to match anti-Trump enthusiasm.
Leading Democrats appear in agreement with Trump, with Pelosi swatting away attempts by some, including billionaire activist Tom Steyer, to make it a core plank for the party. Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close friend of the Clintons, has also tried to push ahead, saying on Sunday that Congress should consider impeaching Trump, citing his disastrous news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
Trump is backing an array of Republicans — not just those who have been loyal to him. He’s following up on his recent swing through Ohio on behalf of Troy Balderson, who successfully kept the district of outgoing Rep. Pat Tiberi in the GOP column in a special election, by hitting the campaign trail for House and Senate Republicans at a far more aggressive pace than his predecessors did for their candidates, Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
But while Trump has spent weeks promising a “red wave” in November, the reality may wind up favoring those who are preparing for what happens if he loses the House and gets stuck dealing with impeachment. “It’s not crazy,” an outside Trump adviser said of the scenario of Trump benefiting from impeachment proceedings. “If you’re looking at the politics of it, it’s not a terrible thing for 2020.”
There are comparisons to 1998, when Bill Clinton got more popular after the House voted to impeach him — and Republicans saw their unfavorable ratings go up. Democrats had a strong midterm showing, picking up five House seats and fighting to a draw in the Senate.
Today, Trump would run an impeachment gantlet in his first term, not his second, and he would have to contend with a polarized political landscape and a breathless news environment that could overwhelm his ability to shape the narrative.
Veterans of the Clinton experience say impeachment is hardly a political gift, even if Clinton managed to survive it, improving his popularity while that of the GOP-led Congress declined.
Longtime Democratic operative Jim Jordan, who had a front-row seat for the Clinton impeachment as a special assistant to the House minority leader working on the Democratic side of the Judiciary Committee, said the impeachment effectively paralyzed the Clinton administration.
“For all intents and purposes, the Clinton presidency was over once things got started,” Jordan said. “It’s a distraction beyond description. It’s not a prospect that any administration would hope for.”
But Jordan acknowledged that the reaction from voters reflected the reality that Americans don’t like to see the president diminished by years of cumulative investigation. “These types of things really can engender sympathy,” he said.
Several in Trump’s inner circle of White House advisers and outside allies acknowledged entertaining debates about the possibility, but all of them told POLITICO they remain overwhelmingly convinced the president would fare better under a GOP Congress. The broad consensus is they would rather see him in Rose Garden photo ops and making progress on his “Promises Made, Promises Kept” motif than ceding subpoena power to the opposition and fighting off impeachment.
These people added that, if Democrats take control, Trump is unlikely to find any political upside in moving to the middle, as the Journal suggested, and cutting deals on issues like paid family leave, public-works spending and trade protectionism.
“The reason Clinton could survive is he moved to us. They decided to — as they put it — triangulate between us and the Democrats,” said Trump ally Newt Gingrich, who served as House speaker in the lead-up to the Clinton impeachment. “Somehow, I don’t think that’s what the Democrats want.”
The spectacle of endless House testimony from administration officials could add to public burnout with Washington, Gingrich said.
“If Pelosi and the Democrats get control of the House they will go after every single administration official and have them testifying every week and [the Trump officials] will get nothing done because they will be spending all their time on defense,” he said. “It will just be clutter.”
Published at Thu, 16 Aug 2018 09:04:52 +0000