If you forced yourself to watch significant portions of the House Judiciary Committee’s markup of articles of impeachment, you undoubtedly heard the Republican hypothesis that the entire exercise is an effort to head off a certain Trump reelection next year. This assumption was often hurled at Democrats as a taunt, as the New Yorker’s Susan Glasser observed:
[T]here was a moment during Wednesday night’s talkathon when Buck taunted his Democratic colleagues for proceeding with impeachment despite what he said would be the disastrous political consequences. “Say goodbye to your majority status,” he said, “and please join us in January, 2021, when President Trump is inaugurated again.” Other Republicans echoed him, reflecting the capital’s current conventional wisdom that the President, although he remains disliked and distrusted by a majority of the country, is not only going to emerge from impeachment with a largely unified Republican vote to acquit him but also strengthened for his reëlection campaign.
Impeachment aside, any casual perusal of pro-Trump conservative news and opinion outlets shows an impressive consensus that the president is cruising to a 2020 victory, with impeachment viewed as a base-mobilizer rather than a development that will repel swing voters, as this neat summation from the Washington Times smugly assumes:
American Spectator columnist David Catron offers a handy, succinct rationale for President Trump’s victory in 2020, ideal for use in political skirmishes at work or cocktail parties. Mr. Catron notes that a “failed impeachment” will weaken Democrats, strengthen the president and further motivate his already loyal supporters.
“Trump will win reelection in 2020 for three reasons: First, the voters are always reluctant to replace a president in a time of peace and prosperity, regardless of his perceived flaws. Second, a transparently partisan impeachment vote in the House followed by a fair trial and acquittal in the Senate, will seriously damage the Democratic brand while sparking an internal civil war between its moderate and leftwing factions. Finally, this ideological conflict within the opposition party will result in the nomination of a weak compromise candidate to face a vindicated and politically stronger incumbent president awash in cash and supported by highly motivated voters,” Mr. Catron writes.
The Trump campaign itself is reinforcing this spin forcefully, notes Glasser:
After Pelosi and her committee chairs introduced the articles of impeachment, on Tuesday, Trump’s campaign “war room” tweeted out a video clip of Trump’s face superimposed onto the body of the Marvel Comics supervillain Thanos, a genocidal warrior who aims to use his power to destroy half of all life in the universe. “House Democrats can push their sham impeachment all they want,” the tweet read. “President Trump’s reelection is inevitable.”
This take on impeachment rather notably collides with the claim that it is intended to head off Trump’s reelection, since Democrats infallibly know the Republican-controlled Senate will acquit him. But the fact remains that Trump fans are feeling more, not less, confident about 2020, and they were pretty confident earlier, as National Review observed over a month ago:
A majority of registered voters believe that President Trump will win the 2020 presidential election, according to a Morning Consult/Politico poll released on Wednesday.
The survey shows that 56 percent of voters believe the president will be reelected. Eighty-five percent of Republicans and 51 percent of independents were confident in Trump’s reelection effort, compared to 35 percent of Democrats.
Eighty-five percent is a lot of confidence in a president who lost the popular vote the first time around and has never been anything other than underwater in his job-approval ratings.
You don’t need a poll to grasp that Democrats aren’t remotely as confident about 2020. The simple fact that Democratic voters are obsessed with the electability of prospective nominees tells you all you need to know about that. And this anxiety — if not pessimism — is constantly reinforced by analysis suggesting Trump can again win while losing the popular vote by an even greater margin than before.
This contrast in moods is, to put it mildly, a reversal of the situation going into the 2016 general election. Of all the reasons Trump won, you have to figure overconfidence in the HRC camp — leading to strategic missteps by the campaign, and indifferent turnout and protest voting among the rank-and-file — was a significant factor. There is no polling lead by the Democratic nominee or mistake by Trump this time around that will convince Democratic voters this election is in the bag. But it’s possible that a solid year of triumphalist braying from Trump, his campaign, his party, and his media allies, will persuade some of his own voters that he’s already won, so it’s safe to spend Election Day in other pursuits, or at the grocery and liquor stores stocking up for the big victory celebration. It could be a fatal mistake.