Newton’s Third Law of Motion says every action has an equal and opposite reaction. We are taught this is merely a law of physics. Yet, it is quickly becoming a law of American politics.
A trend has emerged where a sudden and radical change in one party is met with an equally abrasive and extreme reaction by the opposition.
In 1980, after Ronald Reagan’s election made conservatism mainstream, Democrats rallied behind liberals like Ted Kennedy and Walter Mondale. The Clinton Administration’s early attempts at universal healthcare reform and a progressive agenda ran into Newt Gingrich and the Republican Revolution in the 1994 midterms. And in 2010, the Tea Party movement emerged as a fearsome political force in response to Democrats pushing the maligned economic stimulus bill and Affordable Care Act.
When one party steers left, the other steers right, and vice versa.
Today, this cycle repeats itself with the Trump administration and Congressional Democrats. President Donald Trump’s reshaping of the Republican Party triggered the elevation of socialist firebrands such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D‑N.Y. A new strand of the Democratic Party has emerged with the fire of the anti-Trump movement.
It also appears that the 2018 midterm elections have only emboldened this new generation of Democrats in pushing for impeachment proceedings against President Trump. A July survey by The Hill and HarrisX revealed two-thirds of Democratic voters support impeaching Trump. Several prominent Democratic presidential candidates have already expressed support for beginning impeachment proceedings, including Elizabeth Warren, D‑Mass.; Kamala Harris, D‑Calif.; Cory Booker, D‑N.J.; and Beto O’Rourke D‑Texas.
If the Democratic Party plans on reclaiming the White House in 2020, they must immediately cease entertaining the notion of impeachment proceedings.
If history tells us anything, that equal and opposite reaction usually results in disaster for the second actor.
Ronald Reagan clobbered Walter Mondale and the leftward-drifting Democrats in 1984 with a landslide victory for the ages. After the Republican Revolution, the Congressional GOP overplayed its hand with the government shutdown in 1995, virtually handing Bill Clinton a second term. And in 2011, public opinion soured for the new Republican majority in the House after the Tea Party pushed the country to the brink of defaulting on our loans during budget talks with the president. A year later, Barack Obama cruised to reelection despite a weak economy, soaring deficits, and a subpar approval rating.
The American people don’t like Donald Trump. To say his presidency is polarizing is putting it mildly. FiveThirtyEight puts his aggregate approval rating at 41% compared to a disapproval rate of 53%. Any Republican who tells you that Trump is invincible or positioned well for reelection is either lying or ill-informed. Trump is vulnerable and beatable.
But if there is one thing even more unpopular than the current president, it’s the idea of Congress taking it upon themselves to throw him out. Almost 60 percent of Americans oppose impeaching Trump, with only 40% backing the idea, according to a Monmouth University survey.
While most Democratic presidential front-runners lead Trump head-to-head in the polls, Ocasio-Cortez, arguably the most vocal proponent of impeaching the president, suffered a dive in her favorables with her national approvals 13 points underwater.
Some Democrats argue that pushing impeachment proceedings is necessary to motivate their base to turn out in 2020. In other words, if you don’t feed your fans, they will leave. And they are correct to recognize the importance of turning out one’s base in November.
This, however, is a colossal misreading of the current political landscape.
The Trump campaign is already fighting at a severe political disadvantage heading into 2020. One forgotten fact about the 2016 race is that Trump received a smaller share of the vote than Mitt Romney in 2012. Trump finished with 46.1% of the popular vote, compared to Romney who clocked in at 47.2%. Had it not been for the historically inept candidacy of Hillary Clinton presenting voters with the choice of spoiled milk or rotten eggs, Trump would still be hosting “The Apprentice.”
Trump not only has to hold down his voting bloc from 2016 but will likely need to expand his tent to Independents. If the Democratic Party has a shred of common sense, they’ll prioritize denying him those independent voters and pursue a more conciliatory political pitch rather than a base versus base, mano-a-mano strategy.
We will soon know whether or not Democrats will be able to suppress their emotional disdain toward Trump with a rational political strategy or if they will succumb to the temptation of impeachment. If they can resist the urge to respond to Trump with their own version of erratic governance and behavior, the Democratic Party will sit in a comfortable position to reclaim the White House in 2020.
But if they cater to their fringe, they will quite possibly punch the ticket to four more years of a Trump White House.