Democrats are in a tough spot these days.
They’re staring down the barrel of the 2020 election, they’re trying to keep their base all fired up, and they stand in opposition to a Republican party that is almost unanimously behind the most controversial president in a generation.
Up against all that, there’s a sense that Democratic voters are growing impatient.
They’re clamouring for their party to do something, and it’s safe to say that a good number of them see the impeachment of President Donald Trump as the best, and perhaps the only remedy to the current political situation.
A Morning Consult poll of Democratic voters found they’re hungry for impeachment, and their appetite is growing.
Fifty-three per cent say removing Trump from office should be a “top priority.” That’s up 14 per cent since the party won control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections.
WATCH (March 11): Nancy Pelosi says impeachment of Trump ‘not worth it’
If only it were that simple.
The I-word is a politically loaded term — potentially so dangerous and fraught with problems that the Democratic leadership would really rather not talk about it at all.
“You’re wasting your time, unless the evidence is so conclusive that the Republicans will understand,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi to USA Today when asked about impeaching Trump.
She went on to call any attempt at impeachment now “a gift to the president.”
History is not on the side of those demanding Trump’s removal from office.
“The impeachment process is a very serious remedy,” explained Georgetown law professor Susan Low Bloch.
“It does undermine an election,” she said. “It should only be used if you believe this person should be removed from office.”
There is no question that many Democrats believe Trump should be removed from office, but in this polarized era, the calculation is not that simple.
“There needs to be some clear-cut reason to pursue impeachment,” warned University of Virginia political scientist Kyle Kondik.
“Even though they don’t like Donald Trump as president and don’t think he should be president, that clear-cut reasoning has not emerged for Democrats in the House,” he said.
Only two American presidents have ever been impeached, but no president has ever been removed from office by impeachment.
WATCH (Dec. 19, 2018): The effect of the Bill Clinton impeachment 20 years later
The way the system is structured is that members of the House of Representatives bring forward articles of impeachment, while the Senate conducts the trial and ultimately requires a two-thirds vote to remove a president from office.
Presidents Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson were both impeached by the House and went on to survive the Senate vote.
The calculation today is that things would probably play out the same way.
Republicans have a majority in the Senate, and with over 90 per cent of Republican voters supporting Trump, members of the party aren’t about to impeach the president.
In other words, any impeachment proceedings launched by Democrats in the House would be a lost cause.
In fact, they could strengthen Trump instead of weakening him.
Clinton is the perfect example of how impeachment can all go wrong for the opposing party.
Republicans tried to force Clinton from office for perjury and obstruction of justice over his affair with Monica Lewinsky. The Senate saved his job, and Clinton walked away from the whole ordeal more popular than ever.
“Clinton had obviously made mistakes but they didn’t seem to warrant removal,” explained Bloch, who testified before the Senate during Clinton’s 1998 proceedings.
“I think most people feel like Republicans over-reached on impeachment of Bill Clinton,” said Kondik.
Which brings us back to President Trump.
With Republicans controlling the Senate, with an election looming, and with no clear-cut evidence of collusion with Russia, impeachment may be a lost cause for Democrats.
In fact, Democratic leaders have avoided talking about it for a pretty simple reason: with less than two years left in Trump’s first term in office, they’ve decided maybe it’s better to let voters sort the whole thing out in November 2020.
Now all they have to do is figure out a way to reconcile that wait-and-see approach with their own base, without turning off the voters they need to win the presidency.