According to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, Democrats should not be campaigning on an impeachment of President Trump. “The survey finds that 47 percent of registered voters would definitely vote against a candidate who wanted to remove Trump from office, while 42 percent would definitely vote for a candidate who would make such a promise. Forty-seven percent of independent voters — whose opinions could be decisive — also say they would vote against candidates favoring impeachment.” That said, the president remains a drag on his party:

The better predictor for Democratic fortunes in the midterms may be Trump’s approval rating, which has remained stagnant at 38 percent in this poll, with 54 percent of all adults disapproving of the job Trump’s done, including 40 percent who strongly disapprove.
[Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion,] noted that in the 18 polls Marist has conducted since Trump was inaugurated, his approval rating has been somewhere between 35 and 42 percent — not an encouraging sign for an incumbent president ahead of his first midterm, when the president’s party typically loses seats.

Excoriating Trump for violating the Constitution and obstructing justice, but declining to support impeachment, is a tricky line to walk. If they do think he obstructed justice why don’t they favor impeachment? And if they don’t favor impeachment, why all this investigation?

There are several viable approaches Democrats might adopt. They are not mutually exclusive.

First, Democratic candidates in both the House and Senate, if the report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is not in, should be adamant that they will not prejudge the evidence. The House, in drafting articles of impeachment, acts as prosecutor; the Senate, in holding a trial, acts as judge and jury. To announce a position before reviewing all the facts and legal analysis would be, arguably, a violation of their constitutional obligations. Indeed, they might point out that their Republican opponents should fess up as to whether — regardless of the special counsel’s findings — they would oppose impeachment. (If the special counsel’s findings are out by Election Day, and are damning, the focus will flip to why impeachment should not be pursued.)

Second, Democrats can give their own various definitions of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which is appropriate and helpful in educating the public. For example, one candidate might say impeachment is appropriate when serious laws have been broken, and a serious breach of the president’s oath has occurred; another candidate might tell voters that he or she would also have to be confident the Senate would be prepared to remove the president because it would otherwise be a waste of effort; and still another candidate might say something to the effect that, in addition to all that, he or she would have to see evidence of a broad and deep consensus in the country to justify overturning the will of the people.

Third, Democrats should avoid a binary choice between impeachment and continuing the Republican Party’s passivity. There is a compelling argument that in failing to exercise meaningful oversight (with a sole exception being the Senate Intelligence Committee), Republicans have demonstrated they are not fit to govern. Democrats surely should promise hearings on emoluments, legislation to require release of the president’s tax returns, measures to protect the special prosecutor and an exacting investigation of Cabinet members who are suspected of corruption and/or misuse of taxpayer dollars. Democrats can persuasively argue the real issue is not whether a potential impeachment is appropriate, but rather why the Republicans have done virtually none of these tasks.

Rather than the “I” word (impeachment), Democrats would be wise to make this about the “A” word (accountability). And accountability begins with transparency and fact-finding, which Republicans have generally refused to do. The “constitutional crisis” comes when a president shreds the Constitution and suffers no penalty; the crisis if and when it comes will flow from one party’s partisan insistence the president not be held accountable. Democrats have every right to claim to be the only party defending the rule of law in the Trump era.