Why the Democrats won’t impeach Trump

Tony Quinn
Editor, California Target Book

Impeachment is in the air.  Perhaps House Democrats will be forced to pull this trigger before 2019 is out.  But one thing that is holding them back is what it might do to the 40 new Democrats elected to congress in 2018 by taking formerly Republican seats.  How much would voting to impeach President Trump weaken their re-election prospects?

Most of the Democratic gains in 2018 occurred in the leafy suburbs of states such as New York, New Jersey and California, and the seven-seat Democratic pick-up in California was their biggest gain in any state.

So California, with 46 House Democrats, is a good model to examine what could happen if these members vote to impeach Trump.  Thirty-nine of these seats were Democratic before 2018. Thanks to the California Target Book it is possible to look at the Trump-Clinton returns in each of these districts, some of which were formerly Republican seats that drifted away during the decade.

But none of these 39 districts look like they will be a Republican target in 2020, for good reason, because Trump’s 2016 showing in all of them was terrible.  In only three did he break 40 percent of the vote. These are CD 3, (John Garamendi), where Trump got 40 percent; CD 7 (Ami Bera) where Trump got 41 percent, and CD 36 (Raul Ruiz), where Trump got 43 percent.

But Garamendi and Ruiz have been safe in recent cycles, and Bera, while once a GOP target, won with 55 percent in 2018.  So these three Democrats would not seem to be endangered by voting to impeach Trump, and the rest of the 39 pre-2018 Democrats could easily vote to impeach without any political danger.

The issue will be the seven new members, and they could be in varying degrees of danger with an impeachment vote.

  • CD 10 (Josh Harder). Harder was a fairly easy winner against GOP Rep Jeff Denham in 2018, but his district is not that Democratic.  Republican John Cox narrowly carried it for governor. But more importantly, Trump received 45.5 percent in 2016, and Democrats only have a three percent registration edge in this Modesto-based district.  Impeachment could be a costly vote for Harder.
  • CD 21 (TJ Cox).  Cox won the closest congressional race in California, barely beating GOP Congressman David Valadao.  But in fact this district is very Democratic, Trump received less than 40 percent here in 2016, and Democrats won it at every level in 2018.  If Cox were to vote for impeachment, it would not hurt him in this district.
  • CD 25 (Katie Hill).  This long time GOP district was slipping away from the Republicans even before Hill defeated Rep. Steve Knight here in 2018.  Trump received less than 44 percent in 2016 and Democrats carried the seat for every statewide vote but Insurance Commissioner in 2018.  Hill probably would not suffer greatly if she voted for impeachment.
  • CD 39 (Gil Cisneros). This is another district that was safely Republican at the beginning of the decade, but has strongly drifted in the Democrats direction. Cisneros won it narrowly in 2018 but Cox beat Gov. Newsom here.  Trump received 43 percent in 2016. Impeachment could be a difficult vote for Cisneros as the district is now truly marginal.
  • CD 45 (Katie Porter).  Porter won pretty handily against Rep. Mimi Walters in this formerly safe Republican district, but Walters had voted for the Trump tax bill that harmed her wealthy constituents.  The district has six percent more registered Republicans than Democrats, and Cox again narrowly bested Newsom here. Trump received 44.4 percent in 2016. So this may still be a Republican leaning district, just one that does not like Trump that much.  An impeachment vote by Porter likely would endanger her re-election.
  • CD 48 (Harley Rouda).  This is the most Republican of the seats that Democrats won in 2018, and it is clear that Rouda defeated GOP Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who was known as “Putin’s favorite congressman”, due more to Rohrabacher’s weakness than Rouda’s strengths.  Trump received 46.2 percent in 2016, just two percent behind Hillary Clinton who carried the district with 48 percent. Cox won 52 percent here for governor in 2018 and the district still has an eight percent Republican registration edge. Were Rouda to vote for impeachment he would badly hurt his re-election chances, and it looks like he will have a well funded Republican challenger in 2020.
  • CD 49 (Mike Levin).  Republicans nearly lost this seat in 2016, and Trump only received 43 percent here.  Newsom carried the district and Levin won the seat with more than 56 percent. The Republican collapse in this district is as dramatic as anywhere in the state.  Levin could vote for impeachment without suffering much political damage.

So of the seven new Democratic members of congress, only three could vote for impeachment without a backlash.  Leaving aside California, there are 31 districts a Democrat won in 2018 that Trump actually carried against Clinton in 2016.  Most of these are held by first term Democrats who flipped them in 2018.

With only a few exceptions, these incumbent Democrats would likely hurt their re-election chances with an impeachment vote.  Republicans only hold three districts that Clinton won 2016, and none of them would feel much pressure to vote for impeachment.

So Speaker Nancy Pelosi knows something that the Democratic base howling for impeachment and their supporters on cable networks don’t know: her Speakership and Democratic control of the House would be endangered by forcing impeachment to a vote.

Look for the Democrats to convene plenty of hearings but not actually go a vote on impeaching President Trump.

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