The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Democrats threw everything they had at Trump. He’s still standing.

President Trump delivers his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday night. (Leah Millis/Pool via AP)

Democrats’ drive to impeach and remove President Trump was destined to fail. But more than fail, it has backfired on them — strengthening Trump for the 2020 campaign and increasing his odds of winning a second term.

First, impeachment appears to have raised Trump’s approval rating to the highest point of his presidency. In mid-October, just before the House impeachment hearings began, Trump’s Gallup approval rating was just 39 percent — a few points above his all-time low. This week, as his Senate trial wound up, Gallup reported that Trump’s approval has risen a 10 full points to 49 percent — his all-time personal best. The number of Americans who want Trump removed has plummeted. In October, a 52 percent majority of Americans supported his removal, today a 52 percent majority opposes it. For Democrats, this is the very definition of failure.

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Far from advancing their case for removing Trump, Democrats have convinced more Americans that he deserves a second term. Before the 2018 midterms that put Democrats in control of the House, just 41 percent of the country said Trump should be reelected; today, after the Democratic House’s failed impeachment effort, 50 percent want to give him four more years. Since impeachment began, Trump’s standing with the voters has improved by almost every measure.

Second, impeachment has energized Trump’s base. According to Gallup, the president’s approval among Republicans is now a record 94 percent — up six percentage points since January. The more Democrats tried to take him down, the more Republicans have united behind the president.

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Third, the failure of their impeachment drive has dispirited the Democratic base. An Associated Press poll finds that just 33 percent of Democrats are excited about the 2020 election. At the Iowa caucuses, where Democratic voters had their first chance to show their enthusiasm for replacing Trump, turnout was a dismal 170,000 — a 30 percent decline from 2008, when 240,000 Iowans turned out to give Barack Obama his first presidential primary victory.

Fourth, impeachment has put moderate House Democrats in grave peril. A New York Times/Sienna College poll recently found that almost two-thirds of voters in six battleground states who cast their ballots for Trump in 2016, but then voted for House Democrats in 2018, plan to back Trump again in 2020. That’s bad news for the 31 House Democrats elected in Trump districts in the midterms. How many people are going to vote to give Trump a second term and vote for the Democrats who tried to take away their right to do so? Not many.

Pundits and reporters who lament this erosion in decorum are wildly missing the point, says Post opinion writer Greg Sargent. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Fifth, impeachment forced Democrats to unlock the legislative floodgates and give Trump major victories. Democrats knew that voters saw them focusing on impeachment at the expense of getting things done, so as they voted to approve articles of impeachment, they also voted to approve the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Trump’s tax bill that repealed three Obamacare taxes, and Trump’s $738 billion defense spending bill that created his Space Force and enacted his parental leave policy for federal workers, without restricting his use of defense dollars to build a border wall. The effect was the opposite of what Democrats intended, creating the impression that while Democrats were busy impeaching, Trump was busy governing.

Finally, impeachment has helped Trump raise an enormous war chest. In the last three months of 2019 — the period during which the House conducted its impeachment inquiry — Trump raised $46 million, giving him $102.7 million in the bank. The Senate trial will likely have a similar impact on his fundraising in the first quarter of 2020. Impeachment not only energized Republican voters, it has energized Republican donors.

And the Democrats’ self-inflicted wounds keep coming. During Trump’s State of the Union address, the House impeachment managers sat together in the chamber, sullen and stone-faced. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) broke protocol and refused to utter the traditional words of introduction — “it is my high honor and distinct privilege to introduce the president of the United States” — and then dramatically tore up Trump’s address on national television when he concluded. The image Democrats projected to the country was that of a bunch of sore losers.

Trump now goes into the 2020 election strengthened and emboldened — the first president in U.S. history to carry an impeachment acquittal into a general election. For three years, Democrats threw everything they had at Trump. They accused him of bribery, extortion, campaign finance violations, obstruction of justice, obstruction of Congress, abuse of power, conspiracy and even treason. Three years later, he’s still standing — and thanks to impeachment, he may still be standing after the dust settles in November.

Read more:

House managers: Trump won’t be vindicated. The Senate won’t be, either.

Greg Sargent: Romney’s stunning vote to convict Trump will put the GOP to shame

Max Boot: Was impeachment worth it?

The Post’s View: It’s not over. Congress must continue to hold Trump accountable.

The Post’s View: History will remember Mitt Romney

David Von Drehle: The key impeachment verdict is in. And no, it didn’t come from the Senate.

Donna Edwards: Pelosi’s page-ripping was a fitting ending to impeachment

The latest commentary on the Trump impeachment

Looking for more Trump impeachment coverage following the president’s acquittal?

See Dana Milbank’s Impeachment Diary: Find all the entries in our columnist’s feature.

Get the latest: See complete Opinions coverage from columnists, editorial cartoonists and the Editorial Board.

Read the most recent take from the Editorial Board: It’s not over. Congress must continue to hold Trump accountable.

The House impeachment managers weigh in in an op-ed: Trump won’t be vindicated. The Senate won’t be, either.

Stay informed: Read the latest reporting and analysis on impeachment from the Post newsroom.

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