Impeachment Probe a Wildcard for Both Parties in 2020 Campaign

Former White House national security aide Fiona Hill, and David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, are sworn in Thursday to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump’s efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

(CN) – Throughout the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar has taken to Twitter, feeding two birds with each tweet.

While fulfilling her role as an elected representative of the Gopher State, she also highlights her own qualifications for president as one of the now 17 candidates vying for the Democratic nomination.

After all, it’s not like candidates get to stop campaigning while the U.S. House of Representatives examines allegations that the sitting president hinged Ukrainian military aid on the investigation of a political rival.

“It’s the challenge of governing versus the challenge of campaigning and it has to be done simultaneously,” said Dr. Meena Bose, director of Hofstra University’s Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency.

As the first witness in the public hearings testified on Nov. 14, Klobuchar tweeted: “Our nation’s Constitution most deliberately included patriotism checks on corruption. This is how it works. In America, the president is not king.”

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 10, in Des Moines. (Photo by ROX LAIRD/Courthouse News Service)

If the impeachment continues into a trial before the U.S. Senate, six Democratic presidential candidates, including progressive front-runners Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, will be pulled off the campaign trail.

But C.J. Warnke, deputy national press secretary for Amy for America, isn’t worried. Instead, Warnke recalled one of Klobuchar’s many quips: “I have the most endorsements of anyone from elected officials in the presidential race, so I have a lot of nice surrogates.” Klobuchar was speaking of Iowa, where the surrogates could campaign for her if the impeachment proceedings end up in the Senate and she’s needed in Washington.

Helping Biden

Although the impeachment inquiry rained from a cloudy phone call in which Trump appeared to ask Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Biden is weathering the storm with a good raincoat.

“I learned something about these impeachment trials,” Biden said during the Nov. 20 debate in Atlanta. “I learned Donald Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee. I learned Vladimir Putin doesn’t want me to be president.”

Vice President Joe Biden, left, with his son Hunter, right, at the Duke Georgetown NCAA college basketball game in Washington on Jan. 30, 2010. Since the early days of the United States, leading politicians have had to contend with awkward problems posed by their family members. Joe Biden is the latest prominent politician to navigate this tricky terrain. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)

Biden leads the Democratic candidates in the polls with 32% of national support and 29% of support in early primary states, according to Morning Consult’s weekly ranking of voters. In the fallout of another White House scandal, Biden’s campaign is counting on voters being drawn toward someone they see as a levelheaded centrist.

“I think that it helps Joe and I think Joe does it right because his response doesn’t go overboard,” said Tracy Haverstick, who runs a Joe Biden for President group on Facebook. “Joe is in an unusual circumstance because he is the target.”

Many analysts echo her sentiment.

“I used to think that every day they talked about this and Hunter Biden was a bad day for Joe Biden,” said Larry Ceisler, a public affairs executive and former Democratic political consultant. “Now every day they talk about it that’s a good day for Joe Biden because they’re saying we’re afraid of Joe.”

Firing up the bases

Trump, a former reality TV star, has always been comfortable with the adage that “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” On the first day of the public impeachment hearings, his re-election campaign raised over $3 million.

Between the Trump Make American Great Again Committee and Donald J. Trump for President Inc., the president’s re-election campaign spent $12.2 million on Google Ads this year, according to the tech giant’s transparency report. Trump also spent $15 million on Facebook ads, according to the website’s ad library. The campaign spent $1.27 million on Facebook in November, including $266,100 spent on Nov. 13 – the first day of the public impeachment hearings.

Some see dollar signs, others see votes.

“The Pelosi impeachment scheme has enraged our voters at the grassroots level, which is why you’re seeing record-breaking fundraising for the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee,” said Brett Buerck, CEO of the consulting firm Majority Strategies.

“That’s not spin, that’s real-time feedback from Republicans who are voting with their wallets,” Buerck added. “When the story of the 2020 election cycle is finally written, I’m confident we’ll owe a debt of gratitude to House Democrats.”

Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University and Trump supporter, described the inquiry as a weak attempt “to disable the president.”

“I think that the impeachment is going to hurt the Democrats politically,” Bauerlein said. “This pleases the bases of course, but the goal here is to reach that squishy middle, that’s where the elections are decided – with moderate liberals.”

President Donald Trump speaks during a Nov. 19, 2019, cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

The president continues to tweet daily updates on his opinion of the impeachment inquiry and his re-election campaign.

“The Republican Party, and me, had a GREAT day yesterday with respect to the phony Impeachment Hoax, & yet, when I got home to the White House & checked out the news coverage on much of television, you would have no idea they were reporting on the same event,” Trump wrote on Nov. 21. “FAKE & CORRUPT NEWS!”

Many Republican lawmakers have picked up Trump’s strategy of discrediting the impeachment entirely, from downplaying witness testimony as hearsay to dismissing Trump’s orders to “talk to my personal lawyer” as mere interpretations. While this strategy may play to the Republican base, it also comes with long-lasting consequences.

“It leads people to be skeptical of information and calling it fake news essentially is saying don’t believe what you read,” cautioned Bose, the Hofstra University professor. “A democracy is supposed to be founded on the will by the people and we want the electorate to be informed, to get news, and make decisions for themselves.”

Others worry about the long-lasting impacts of polarization.

“The political atmosphere is so poison right now that hyperpartisanship rules. That’s unfortunate and the impeachment inquiry is obviously just throwing acid on the wound,” said Michael Genovese, political science professor and president of Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University.

While about half of Americans agree the impeachment inquiry should move forward, the opinions are largely divided by party. As of Nov. 20, the aggregator website FiveThirtyEight reported 82% of Democrats supported the inquiry – and just 10% of Republicans.

Playing to the middle

Genovese supports Democratic presidential candidate Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, whose centrist strategies have been not popular enough to qualify him for recent primary debates.

“Bennet doesn’t take extreme positions, he’s very thoughtful, he’s very rational. He sees all the signs and he tries to sort of be a unifying figure,” Genovese said. “That’s not what the political domain is looking for right now. It may be what we need, but what we like is someone who bashes the opponent.”

Bennet, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has long cautioned against drawing conclusions before the completion of the impeachment investigation. Bennet is also skeptical that any articles of impeachment will be passed by the Republican-led senate.

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, D-Colo., greets voters during a rally with young voters on the campus of the University of Colorado on Oct. 24, 2018. Bennet is seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

And so his recent messages weren’t aimed at voters so much as potential allies across the aisle. In response to a clip of U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s testimony Bennet tweeted, “Now the question is: Will my Republican colleagues stand up and defend our Constitution?”

With early caucuses and primaries months away, both Democratic and Republican candidates vying for races in 2020 are playing to their bases – except swing-state senators who can’t. That includes Democratic Senator Doug Jones in Alabama, Republican Maine Senator Susan Collins, and Republican Colorado Senator Cory Gardner.

“If you want to be re-elected you don’t want to go against your constituents; if you want to be able to have opportunities and perks from leadership you don’t go against your party,” Ceisler, the former Democratic political consultant, said.

A University of Colorado poll of 800 voters in November found more Coloradans – including purple-state Republicans – supported the impeachment inquiry than the national population.

“For Cory Gardner, if for some reason he voted yes on conviction, he just bought himself a Republican primary, but if he votes no and the feeling of Coloradans is that the case was made against Trump, that just energizes voters more than anything,” Ceisler explained.

The Centennial State’s popular former governor John Hickenlooper and progressive Andrew Romanoff are leading the Democratic charge for Gardner’s seat in 2020. But Gardner’s next move, like many other Republicans, largely depends on the next witness’ testimony.

“On the Republican side right now, people are just trying to figure out how to tread water because there seems to be more and more information coming out every day that is bad,” said Washington-based Republican strategist Liz Mair.

“I think people are trying to figure out what that’s going to do to the president’s poll numbers, how that impacts their poll numbers,” she added. Those factors will determine “whether they need to move towards being more supportive for interest in impeachment.”

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