For months, the biggest hurdle for Democrats pushing the House to open impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump was the party leadership’s concern that such a process would politically endanger the members at the far edge of their majority, especially the 31 representing districts that voted for the president in 2016.
But there’s considerable evidence—both in contemporary polling and the experience of former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment—that impeaching Trump might not be nearly as risky as it’s been portrayed for them.
In 1998, Clinton’s impeachment hit Washington, D.C., like a nuclear weapon, obliterating all other political concerns for months. But its blast radius, measured in its impact on voters beyond the capital, proved surprisingly modest in both the 1998 and 2000 elections. That precedent suggests that even a House vote to remove him might not radically change the 2020 political equation for either side.
The movement of some Trump-district Democrats toward impeachment—particularly the four first-term congresswomen who joined three other members on Monday in a stinging Washington Post op-ed supporting an investigation—triggered the avalanche inside the party that convinced Speaker Nancy Pelosi to endorse an inquiry on Tuesday. The shift followed the revelations that Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination, over his son’s business dealings in the country. This morning’s release of the internal whistle-blower complaint that ignited the controversy—with its charges that White House officials tried to hide evidence and that administration officials signaled to Ukraine that interaction with Trump was conditional on the country opening an investigation into Biden—immediately appeared to harden the determination of House Democrats to move toward impeachment.