How to bet in 2020: the electoral calculus of impeachment

Conventional political wisdom would dictate that those leaders embroiled in scandal have zero chance of retaining their hold on power. Donald Trump, only the third U.S President to ever be impeached, should be sure to get the boot from voters in November, right? Well, we live in unconventional political times. Impeachment is about more than just the electoral fate of the President—the proceedings could impact the balance of power throughout the United States.

What uniquely marks this impeachment proceeding is it is right smack-dab in an election year. Several House members and Senators are facing competitive races to hold onto their seats and impeachment impacts more than just the top of the ticket. While President Trump is all but certain to be acquitted, there are many open questions on possible Republican and Democratic defections. A third of the Senate is up for re-election as well as every member of the House of Representatives in 2018.
As a quick refresher on how the process works: the House of Representatives serves as the main investigative body, drafting articles of impeachment saying what the President is in violation of. The definition for impeachment was left intentionally vague by the Founders only reserving it for “high crimes and misdemeanours.” The House already voted to impeach the President finding his withholding of aid meant for Ukraine an abuse of power. The President was also charged with a second article, holding him in contempt of Congress for not cooperating with the investigation and urging others not to do so as well. The articles are sent to the Senate where a trial is to take place to see if the President is guilty of what he’s been charged with and whether or not he should be removed. It requires a two thirds majority, 67 Senators, to remove the President. Republicans hold 53 seats and Democrats hold 47 (two independents, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine caucus with the Democrats.)

The primary question of interest is not whether he will be removed, for the President is almost certain to be acquitted. Rather the question is where will the lines be drawn between those Republican (and in some cases Democratic) Senators who have tied their political success to the President and those who wish to do the right thing—or simply hang on to their seats? 67 votes to convict is unlikely, but it is entirely possible that more than 50 Senators vote to convict sending a harsh political statement to the President and the Country. On the Republican side, all eyes are on Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), and Martha McSally (R-Arizona). All three face re-election campaigns in states that are trending towards the Democrats and where the President is deeply unpopular. Susan Collins in particular has made a political career out of being a fierce independent often bucking her own party and focusing on pragmatics and bipartisanship. While she is applauded for voting to save Obamacare in 2017, she earned the ire of liberals and moderates alike when she cast the decisive vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018. Having been elected four times, each with well over 50 percent of the vote, she now faces the hardest campaign of her life, especially having to share the ballot with Donald Trump.

Cory Gardner faces a tough re-election battle in Colorado, a state that has become almost solidly Democratic at both the state and federal level. Martha McSally lost her race in Arizona for Senator in 2018, but when John McCain passed away she was appointed to fill his seat. She’s running again in 2020 to for a full term. How impeachment will impact their votes and electoral hopes remains to be seen, but if all three were to vote to convict then that would take us over the 50 votes threshold.
There are also some Democrats to watch out for. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, while not up for re-election this year, represents a state that voted for Donald Trump with 67 percent of the vote. Doug Jones of Alabama, who won in a special election in a massive upset to fill the seat vacated by then Attorney General Jeff Session, is up for re-election this year and desperately wants to hold onto to his seat.

The Founder’s would lament the political nature that has shaped impeachment, however. They envisioned a politic of interest oriented governance with no parties to speak of. They are a few Senators who might look to the original ideals of patriotism and duty when it comes to the current proceedings. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) could buck party loyalty not out of electoral concern, but instead out of hope to preserve the fundamental parts of the constitution they hold dear. Their votes will be critical as the Senate votes on the rules of the trial. President Trump is betting on a speedy acquittal with no witnesses.

A veritable nightmare for the Founders—and the country as a whole.

Image: The White House via Flickr 

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