Impeachment is a Mistake
by Benjamin Studebaker
Remember 2017? President Trump tried to repeal and replace Obamacare. Over the summer, the Senate debated various permutations of healthcare legislation, and Trump’s approval rating sagged. When the House leadership introduced their first plan, on March 6th, Trump’s approval rating was 44%. When the Senate defeated even the “skinny repeal” bill on July 28th, Trump’s approval rating had been reduced to 38%. From there, the president turned to cutting taxes for rich people. When the tax legislation was first introduced, on November 2nd, Trump’s approval rating remained 38%. When the Senate passed the legislation under budget reconciliation a month later, Trump’s approval figure sagged as low as 36%. Over the course of that year, Trump had lost about 18% of his approval, and he’d lost that approval betraying his core supporters on issues that mattered to them. He had tried to take their healthcare away, and he had taken their money and handed it to rich people. Many Americans who voted for Trump could see that this stuff was not cool. The opposition was making real progress.
Then, everything changed. By February of 2018, Trump’s approval rating was back over 40%. A year later, it was 42%, and as I write this Trump’s approval rating is over 43%. Virtually all of the progress the opposition made in the first year of the Trump presidency has been rolled back. What happened? We stopped talking about issues and started talking about the culture war and character issues. Let me show you the steps.
In January 2018, the New York Times broke the Michael Cohen story. For ages, the late night talk show hosts focused obsessively on Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels. Trump moved the political conversation away from healthcare and taxes, shutting the government down over immigration policy. Democrats took the bait, spending much of 2018 arguing about borders and ice.
Then, in February 2018, the Parkland shooting happened. Now the conversation was on two cultural war issues–immigration and guns. Once more, the Democrats took the bait, focusing news coverage around the Parkland kids’ March for Our Lives movement. The economic issues that had really made a dent in Trump’s approval rating faded further into the background.
In March, Daniels filed a lawsuit, keeping that scandal in the news. March for Our Lives rallied in DC. In April, Robert Mueller raided Cohen’s home. In May, the Trump administration announced the family separation policy. The focus continued to be immigration, guns, and scandals.
Then Trump began waging his trade war. This made him look good–Trump appeared to be taking discrete action to win back jobs lost overseas. Economists derided the tariffs, but they came at a time when the annual GDP growth rate was rising:
Very quickly, these tariffs became associated with economic success rather than failure.
In June, Trump called for a Space Force and met with Kim Jong-un. His supporters thought the Space Force was cool and the Kim meeting stately. But in July, the Democrats were talking about Trump’s meeting with Putin and Russian election interference. August was all about the convictions of Cohen and Paul Manafort. September was all about Brett Kavanaugh. October was all about the alleged migrant “caravan” on the border.
No one was contesting the administration’s narrative that its tax cuts and tariffs were responsible for delivering a strong economy. Instead it was more of the same. Immigration. Guns. Scandals.
In November, the midterm elections enabled the Democrats to retake the House, but left them without the Senate. During the Obama administration, the House Republicans often used the House to propose legislation that inspired their supporters. The House GOP knew they wouldn’t be able to repeal Obamacare while Obama remained in office, but they voted to do it anyway, over and over. Republican base voters liked that–it kept them feeling enthusiastic about the future. But the House Democrats have instead mainly used their power in the chamber to investigate the President, avoiding substantive issues altogether.
In December, Cohen was sentenced and Trump shut the government down again. Once again, the shutdown was tied to immigration. It lasted well into January.
In February, Trump declared a national emergency to get the wall built. In March, the Mueller report concluded. In April, Trump threatened to close the border with Mexico and gave a speech for the NRA. In May, Trump refused to provide his tax returns. The House judiciary committee demanded an unredacted version of the Mueller report. Soon after, Mueller resigned as special counsel. More immigration, more guns, more scandals.
July saw the House fight with the administration over adding a question to the census about citizenship. Mueller testified before congress. The Supreme Court ruled that the administration could use military funds to build the wall. August focused on the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso. In September, a new scandal concerning Trump’s phone call with Ukraine broke. Over the past three months, the House Democrats have been in the process of impeaching Trump over that phone call.
All the while, the Trump administration has been able to develop a simple argument for itself. It goes something like this:
Unemployment is lower than ever. The economy is strong. This is because of the tax cuts and the tariffs. The Democrats are distracting you from the real results the administration is delivering.
We aren’t challenging that narrative. We’re feeding into it. And by voting to impeach the president, the House has ensured that we continue to play into it for some time to come.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We could point out that this economy is a paper tiger. We could point out all the people who are still forgotten. We could talk about the administration’s recent decision to strip more than 2 million struggling American households of the food stamps they need to survive.
Millions go hungry, and the Democrats are too busy protecting Hunter Biden to care. When they lose, they’ll have earned it.