How impeachment will hurt Democrats

It won’t.

Oh, my, that is so tired based on mis-readings of 1998 history.  Short version is Jamelle Bouie in two tweets:

Okay, now to Ron Brownstein for the longer case:

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…

“If voters see this as being about significant abuses of power and serious attempts to undermine the rule of law, then I don’t worry particularly about a backlash against Democrats who vote for impeachment,” says the longtime Democratic pollster Geoff Garin. “If it is seen purely as a partisan exercise, the answer may be different. But I have a good level of confidence that it will not be seen that way, that the moderates in the Trump districts who eventually support impeachment will be seen as having done so for serious and sober reasons.”

Much of the Democratic concern about the impact on more vulnerable members is rooted in misperceptions about what happened after the House Republicans impeached Bill Clinton on two counts. [emphases mine] As I’ve written before, the GOP did pay a price for that decision. In the November 1998 election, a month after the GOP majority first voted to authorize the impeachment inquiry, Democrats gained five seats in the House. That was the first time a president’s party had won House seats in the sixth year of his term since Andrew Jackson’s administration in 1834…

But those gains weren’t enough to cost Republicans control of the House. The GOP won a majority of the nationwide popular vote that year. Just 17 seats changed hands between the parties, at the time the smallest shift ever in a midterm election…

Even more relevant to today’s political calculations than these overall results may be the experience of House Republicans who represented districts that voted for Clinton in 1996, the equivalent of today’s Trump-district Democrats. In an era when voters split their ballots more often, there were many more of these split-district members: Ninety-one of the House Republicans in office in 1998 represented seats that backed Clinton two years earlier. In a three-way race involving GOP nominee Bob Dole and the independent Ross Perot, Clinton had won a majority of the vote in 30 of those seats and a plurality in 61 more.

In the march to impeachment in the 1990s, many analysts (myself included) questioned whether enough of those Republicans would vote to, in effect, nullify the decision their constituents had made two years earlier in electing Clinton. But when the House considered impeachment in December 1998, almost all of them voted for at least one of the two articles of impeachment that the chamber approved. (Just four House Republicans, each of them representing districts that voted for Clinton, opposed both articles.)

And then, after effectively voting to cancel out their constituents’ presidential votes, almost all of the Clinton-district Republicans who sought reelection won it in both 1998 and 2000…

But, taken together, that means that over two election cycles, voters ousted just seven of the 91 Republicans from Clinton-supporting districts who had voted on impeachment. (A few others retired over those two cycles.) Jacobson says Clinton’s impeachment, while unpopular, still probably hurt Democrats somewhat more than Republicans in 2000, though it didn’t have a big impact either way. You can argue at the presidential level it was an issue, in the sense there was some Clinton baggage—Clinton fatigue, as people talked about it,” he says. “But it did not reverberate down the ticket at all.”

I did a local news interview yesterday where a question was, essentially, “but, really… really, it won’t hurt the Democrats?”  This is a strong view out there and it needs to be forcefully rebutted.  Now, of course, we don’t know what exactly is going to happen and politics can be strange, but I summed it up thusly, and very much stand by it… the impeachment presents far more downside risk for Republicans than Democrats.

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