Republicans Raise Specter Of Impeachment In Effort To Motivate Their Base

Republicans are raising the fear of impeachment to motivate a base that could become disaffected heading into November.

With the signs for the 2018 midterms looking increasingly grim, New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin notes that Republicans are likely to rely on the fear of impeachment proceedings as a way to motivate a base that could become disillusioned as we get closer to November:

WASHINGTON — As Republican leaders scramble to stave off a Democratic wave or at least mitigate their party’s losses in November, a strategy is emerging on the right for how to energize conservatives and drive a wedge between the anti-Trump left and moderate voters: warn that Democrats will immediately move to impeach President Trump if they capture the House.

What began last year as blaring political hyperbole on the right — the stuff of bold-lettered direct mail fund-raising pitches from little-known groups warning of a looming American “coup” — is now steadily drifting into the main currents of the 2018 message for Republicans.

The appeals have become a surefire way for candidates to raise small contributions from grass-roots conservatives who are devoted to Mr. Trump, veteran Republican fund-raisers say. But party strategists also believe that floating the possibility of impeachment can also act as a sort of scared-straight motivational tool for turnout. Last week, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas used his re-election kickoff rally to introduce a video featuring a faux news anchor reading would-be headlines were conservatives not to vote in November.

“Senate Majority Leader Schumer announced the impeachment trial of President Trump,” one of the anchors says.

And when Representative Steve Stivers of Ohio, the chairman of the House Republican campaign organization, convened about two dozen party strategists in February for a private dinner at a French bistro here, the attendees were surprised when he addressed an issue not included in his formal PowerPoint presentation: the threat of impeachment against Mr. Trump, which he said fired up the party base.

Then there is the most prominent Republican to have started invoking the specter of a Democratic-controlled House impeaching Mr. Trump: the president himself. In just the last month, he has used three separate speeches to warn that Representative Maxine Waters, a veteran California Democrat he has casually insulted as a “low-I.Q. individual,” aims to impeach him.

Advisers to the president say they have made clear to him that Republican control of the House is tenuous, and some have encouraged him to more aggressively lay out the stakes for the midterm elections, including who exactly would be in charge of key committees should Democrats retake the chamber.

“Everybody has told him that,” Corey Lewandowski, Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager, said about the prospect of a Democratic takeover of the House. “The threat of impeachment is something that unifies everybody in the party, even if you’re not a big Trump supporter.”

Democrats are divided on how to respond to the charge. Many top officials in the capital fear it is a political trap that would distract from their core message and possibly even boomerang back to harm them in November. But other more progressive figures see impeachment as a rallying cry of their own to galvanize the left’s anti-Trump base.

“I’ve been urging members to refrain from discussing impeachment,” said Representative Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, adding: “I think we should let these investigations conclude and see what evidence is found.”

The mere thought of impeachment could energize Trump supporters who may otherwise be disinclined to vote in the midterm elections without him on the ballot, supporters of the strategy say.

So far at least, Democrats have been mostly silent on the issue of impeachment outside of a small cadre of hard leftists who have been talking about the idea from virtually the first day that Trump took office. One reason for that, obviously, is that veteran Democrats are as good at reading political tea leaves as everyone else:

The Democratic leadership, though, has sought to tamp down these impulses. They believe Republicans are setting a trap and are irritated that the billionaire donor Tom Steyer, who recently said he wants to host a series of primary debates this year, is trumpeting the issue. These Democrats argue that the party needs to focus on a substantive agenda and assure voters that they will exercise sober and reasonable oversight of Mr. Trump.

On Thursday, the House Democratic campaign organization released a memo based on an internal poll that urged candidates to “express a willingness to work with the president when his agenda might help the district.”

“If impeachment becomes a political tool instead of the end result of a credible investigation, then you are as guilty as Trump, in some ways, of taking a hammer blow to institutions,” said David Axelrod, former President Barack Obama’s onetime chief strategist, adding that it would also create risks in swing districts. “To say I’m for impeachment come hell or high water is to promise chaos.”

And Democratic lawmakers say they are wise to the bait that Mr. Trump is placing before them when he invokes Ms. Waters, an outspoken black woman whose jeremiads against the president conservative media outlets delight in amplifying.

“They’re trying to encourage us to be more out front on impeachment so then they can use that to rev up their base and say, ‘That’s all the Democrats care about,'” said Representative Dina Titus of Nevada, a political-science professor by training.

Democrats are wise to be cautious on the issue of impeachment as we head closer to November for a number of reasons.

First of all, there’s the fact that, at least based on what we know now, there’s no real evidence to support anything that could plausibly be said to give rise to the kind of “high crime” or “misdemeanor” that would be the subject of an impeachment charge. Sure, Trump is proving to be an erratic, irrational, crude, rude, and arguably incompetent President but these are generally not considered impeachable offenses and seeking to use the heavy hammer of impeachment for reasons like this would be as blatantly political as the Clinton impeachment. Even in that case, though, Republicans could point to strong evidence that the President had committed perjury which is, of course, a crime under both Federal and state law. So far, there is no such evidence against Trump and banging the impeachment drum ahead of the 2018 midterms could potentially backfire by both motivating Republicans who might otherwise be disaffected to head to the polls and by establishing expectations among Democratic voters that a Democratic Congress would be unable to meet. That could pose problems for Democrats in 2020.

Additionally, any consideration of impeachment at any point ought to take into account the likelihood of whether or not it could potentially lead to removal from office. One of the biggest problems with the Republican-led impeachment of President Clinton, for example, was the fact that it was obvious from the start that there would not be a sufficient two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict Clinton on either of the charges against him, thus making the entire exercise seem to be even more obviously partisan than it already was. The same is likely to be true in this case unless there is some kind of smoking gun evidence that would cause enough Republican Senators to convict the President. That evidence doesn’t exist right now and, unless it comes into being, impeachment under any circumstances would arguably be politically unwise since an acquittal in the Senate would likely strengthen Trump’s hand heading into the 2020 elections.

Much of this could change, of course, depending on the outcome of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. At this point in time, though, it seems clear that this investigation is not likely to be completed prior to the election, and may not be wrapped up until well into 2019. Moreover, even when the investigation is finished it’s not clear if whatever report Mueller prepares will end up being made public at all. As a first step, that report will be presented to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and it would be up to him to decide what to do with that report. Rosenstein could decide, for example, to make the report publicly available immediately, or he could decide to turn it over to Congress with the understanding that the report will remain classified until such time as a decision to declassify it is made. Alternatively, Rosenstein could decide to keep the report in-house and not make it public or turn it over to Congress, although that seems unlikely given the nature of the investigation and the concerns it is likely to raise vis a vis national security at the very least. All of that, though, is a long way off and is not likely to be decided before November.

All of this notwithstanding, raising the fear of impeachment is an entirely understandable strategy on the right. As things stand, Republican voters are likely to head into the midterms discouraged by what many perceive as a lack of accomplishments even though the GOP controls both the Executive and Legislative Branches. This discouragement is only likely to increase if polls continue to show, as they do now, good news for the Democrats on the Congressional front and bad news for the President on the job approval front. If they come to believe that staying home on Election Day could mean making impeachment more likely, even if that isn’t entirely true, then they are more likely to turn out to vote and, of course, to donate to Republican campaigns between now and November. So, expect the specter of impeachment to be something the GOP falls back over the coming months. Democrats would be wise to avoid the issue entirely and not take the bait.

Photo via The New York Times

FILED UNDER: 2018 Election, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. KM says:

    Sooooo….. instead of giving a damn that nearly nothing of what they expected has come to pass or that he’s making life worse for them, Republicans should care that Dems might impeach Trump because he’s team and that’s all that matters???

    I mean, it’s not like they won’t still be in power. We’d get President Pence after all – something that would probably work out better for them in the long run. The only reason to care about impeaching Trump is Us vs Them and they can’t let the Dems do that to their guy. Party over country, y’all. Elect me to protect the guy that’s not doing what he promised and is actively screwing with your wallet – it’ll be fine, you’ll see!

  2. Kathy says:


    Maybe they do. I found this article halfway convincing.

    It’s tempting to jump on the conclusion and run with it. It validates, after all, my First, Foremost and Most Important Rule of Politics: It’s wrong only when the other party does it. It explains why Republicans, and Trump’s base in particular, would value Trump above all because he gets Liberals mad. It also explains why criticism of Trump, not to mention insults, get trump supporters angry as well; and why their comeback is usually a similar criticism or insult of Obama or Clinton.

    But it doesn’t explain why some policy positions stay in one party exclusively, often for decades. Or why some people leave a party due to such positions.

    It’s also only one study, and we all know about the “replication crisis” in the social sciences.

  3. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    The CBO is going to report that, once again, trickle-down economics is not working and the deificits are going to grow…yugely.
    Sarah Sanders stood in front of the Press Corps and again claimed yuge amounts of voter fraud.
    Mueller executed a search warrant on Michael Cohen, Dennison’s personal attorney, today. The noose tightens.
    Record numbers of Republican House members are calling it quits…more than since 1952.
    And Republicans are also deathly afraid of impeachment.
    So much winning….I’m bored with so much winning….

  4. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    My comments are still getting caught in the moderation queue.
    You guys have been great about getting them posted…but I would love it if that stopped happening.

  5. @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    We’re still having some issues with the Spam filter hopefully it will be resolved soon.

    Thanks for your patience and your continued participation in the comment threads.

  6. @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    I’ve got the deficit issue and the raid on Cohen’s office covered in other posts, just as an FYI

  7. Raymond Smith says:

    To counter this there are 2 points that the Democrats can make .
    1 Apparently the GOP members have information about Trump that clearly demonstrates that Impeachment is viable. Otherwise why worry about it if Trump is innocent?
    2 There will be no attempt to Impeach Trump as long as the Mueller Investigation completes a through investigation and finds no Impeachable offenses against Trump. Simply put Trump is found clean, no Impeachment.

  8. Mister Bluster says:

    There will be no attempt to Impeach Trump as long as the Mueller Investigation completes a through investigation and finds no Impeachable offenses against Trump. Simply put Trump is found clean, no Impeachment.

    I don’t like the sound of this.
    So if the Mueller investigation ends with “Trump found clean” (whatever that means) Pud could then have a White House intern perform fellatio on him without fear of Impeachment?

  9. teve tory says:

    I remember when the president was truly unamerican–guy wore a tan suit one time, and mustard so elitist and fancy you can buy it at food lion!

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    I’m bored with so much winning

    “Winning?” I thought he said “whining”. I’m certainly tired of all his whining.

    Scott Walker fought off recall with a campaign based less on his virtues than on the irregularity of overturning an election. A decision they now regret. However, getting people talking about impeachment, and why it might be on the table, might not be a great strategy, depending on what leaks over the next several months.

  11. michael reynolds says:

    I’ll side with the opposition on this. I know the conventional wisdom, but I’m not convinced it’s correct. The polls have about a 12-15 point gap between Trump opponents and supporters. But the enthusiasm gap is huge and I think there’s a chance that the ‘weak Trumpies’ are people who’ve already started to get tired of the daily clown show. Half his people are weak on Trump, 4/5ths of our people hate his guts.

    If I’m right the weak Trumpies may just need a precipitating event – and it could be any number of things, not necessarily directly related to the investigation(s) – to tip them over. No rational person looking at the numbers would call this a good foundation for going into the sh!tshow that a Mueller firing would bring on. He’s holding a 40% minority, half of them already softening.

  12. de stijl says:

    It would be smart for Rs to quietly offer a deal to Trump: resign before May and the likelihood of prison goes down for you. We can’t save Jared, he’s in too deep. Don, Jr. probably gets a fine and probation, but no guarantees.

    The reason it would be smart for the Rs to do this is that it will dramatically improve their chances in the midterm with Pence.

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    First off, there won’t be an impeachment because there will never be enough Repubs voting in favor to reach the 2/3s necessary.
    2nd of all, the constant drumbeat of Congressional investigations and news reports of them are a opposition wet dream leading up to an election.
    3rdly, I find it hard to believe that a dispirited base will suddenly find the gumption to show up at the polls and save the guys who couldn’t shoot straight. “Save us!” is not exactly the rallying cry of winners.

  14. gVOR08 says:

    Impeachment got a lot more likely with yesterday’s raids on Cohen. They didn’t pull that stunt without knowing they’d find something worth the stink. I still think, though, Trump will resign. He’ll be offered a deal that lets him keep some shred of his dignity and his money in return for going away.