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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned last week that President Donald Trump "is goading us to impeach him" in order to energize his supporters. It's a new twist to the argument she has been making to her fellow Democrats: Oppose impeachment not only because most Americans are against it, but also because the president is for it.

There is an even better case to make against impeachment--and an anti-Trump message more broadly: It won't help the Democrats win the White House.

The temptation for many Democrats is to keep the focus on Trump himself. Until fairly recently, a simple anti-Trump message was good politics; Democrats rode a wave of anti-Trump sentiment to win back the House just six months ago.

As the economy has continued to improve, so have Trump's approval ratings, reaching a record high of 46 percent last month in the Gallup tracking poll. That's in the middle of the pack compared to recent presidents.

Historically, presidents end up with a share of votes close to their approval rating. Given the slight Republican advantage in the Electoral College, that puts Trump within striking distance of re-election.

More troubling for Democrats, Trump's approval rating on the economy is at 56 percent.

If the anti-Trump sentiment is already fading, then there is reason to believe it may be gone altogether 18 months from now. For Democrats, the key to winning the presidency will be making an affirmative case.

That's yet another reason to want to avoid an impeachment spectacle: It would drown out any policy arguments Democratic candidates might want to make.

There is a way forward for Democrats, and it comes from Italy. Just after Trump was elected, Italian economist Luigi Zingales wrote a prescient column warning about the dangers of building an opposition around personal attacks. In the 1990s, Zingales had watched a mercurial scandal-plagued billionaire rise to power on the Italian right. Silvio Berlusconi would go on to dominate Italian politics for almost two decades, becoming prime minister several times despite regular attacks on his bad behavior. Berlusconi's opponents were able to defeat him only by focusing on policy.

To be fair, several candidates are doing exactly that, Elizabeth Warren most prominently. Whoever the Democrats choose, however, he or she has to be selling something new. As long as the economy and geopolitics stay on their present course, "Anyone But Trump" is not likely to be viable campaign strategy.


Karl W. Smith is a former assistant professor of economics at the University of North Carolina's school of government and founder of the blog Modeled Behavior.

Editorial on 05/13/2019

Print Headline: Impeachment is the wrong call


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