Democrats Can Both Impeach Trump and Win 2020 | Opinion

By now, we are well past debating whether Donald Trump deserves to be impeached. His latest argument that he would again accept help from a foreign government to win in 2020 serves as a coda to the first half of the Mueller report and suggests he would also obstruct justice again if it helps him. Trump has abused his power, obstructed justice, and believes that he is above the law—from directing his agencies to defy the law at the border, to taking actions to enrich himself and his family, to the corruption at the heart of the Russia probe, to all the obstruction of justice and contempt of Congress since. As many have argued, that should be all we need for Congress to begin an impeachment inquiry.

But Democratic lawmakers have been reluctant if not downright unwilling to begin impeachment proceedings for fear of political retribution, thinking a call for impeachment will hurt their re-election chances—or worse, secure another four years for Trump. The truth is, there is little evidence to support that. In fact, there is plenty of evidence of the exact opposite.

Let's look at the numbers.

More Americans than not want to impeach Trump. That figure has only increased since the Mueller report was released and Special Counselor Mueller's subsequent statement. That suggests that the more evidence that comes out against Trump—which would happen during an investigation—the more popular impeachment becomes.

Moreover, a higher proportion of Americans today support impeachment than when Congress began impeachment inquiries into Richard Nixon. That number steadily rose over the course of Nixon's public impeachment inquiry, until Nixon resigned to avoid an impeachment vote. If the nation was shocked to hear in Mueller's retirement press conference that one of the core conclusions of his report—that there was too much damning evidence to clear Trump of criminal wrongdoing—imagine a daily, televised digestion of those findings. Nixon's impeachment-forced resignation gutted trust of the Republican party for years.

The 2018 elections gave Democrats a landslide victory in the House and showed that voters are eager if not desperate to hold Trump accountable. And last weekend, in nearly 150 cities and towns, Americans who have had enough have staged events demanding an impeachment inquiry.

The idea that the American public is opposed to impeachment, or that impeachment would ruin re-election chances for Democratic lawmakers? It's just not true.

What's worse? Democratic lawmakers aren't simply ignoring the facts in avoiding calls for impeachment, they're ignoring their base. A base that consists largely of people of color, and women of color in particular. As Michael Harriot noted in an article for "The Root," people of color overwhelmingly want to begin impeachment inquiries into Trump. The article rightly points to a recent CNN poll showing that 59 percent of people of color agree with impeaching Trump while just 31 percent of white people do. Democratic lawmakers increasingly rely on people of color to show up at the polls to remain in office, but following an unfortunately familiar pattern, then ignore the views of the very people responsible for voting them into office.

In avoiding impeachment inquiries, Democrats are disheartening both voters who elected them into office and the organizers who helped galvanize them. This could prove detrimental in 2020, where Democrats will need all the enthusiasm they can get to take back the White House.

Some Democrats, like Reps. Al Green and Maxine Waters, have known this for a long time, based on Trump's attacks on the communities they serve. Others, like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), have responded to Mueller's report and Trump's continued descent into authoritarianism by announcing support for an impeachment inquiry.

While support in the caucus is mounting, by and large Democratic lawmakers are still reticent. They may think that by avoiding the question of impeachment they're protecting themselves. But the truth is, by ignoring their base and allowing Republicans to get away with an election tainted with foreign interference, they're risking more politically than they're gaining. Meanwhile, Republicans are becoming bolder with the kinds of corruption they're trying to get away with.

Some argue that it's not the Democratic base that Democrats should be concerned with, it's the elusive undecided swing-district voter. Trump will use impeachment to electrify his base by playing the martyr amidst Democratic overreach, they say, while freshman Democrats will alienate the white, suburban moms responsible for part of the 2018 Blue Wave.

Wrong again, for three reasons. First, let's assume Trump will rile up his base by demonizing anyone he can, impeachment or otherwise. Avoiding a head-on confrontation didn't work for "Little Marco," and it's a bad strategy for Democrats. Second, this overlooks the critical maintenance needed to engage their own base, as argued above. Third, this rests on the fallacy that we win the center by being centrist. In the same way that Medicare for All is a bold, principled position that Republicans actually like, supporting the constitution steadfastly is a principled position, though I'm not sure "bold." Just look at this Saturday's event in deep-Red Battle Creek, Michigan—a town represented by the only Republican in Congress on the record for impeachment.

Avoidance and delays aren't neutral; they send a very clear message. And that message is that the president is above the law and that the Democratic party is unprepared or unwilling to challenge that fact. That's the message Democratic lawmakers avoiding impeachment proceedings are sending right as we head into 2020, which could be one of the most important elections of our lifetimes.

Today, we have the chance to decide whether or not the president is above the law. That's a question that can't wait until 2020.

Karine Jean-Pierre is the Chief Public Affairs Officer for MoveOn and an NBC and MSNBC Political Analyst. Her professional experience has ranged widely from presidential campaigns to grassroots activism, to local politics, to working in the White House.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​