NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, January 12th, 2020

Donald Trump’s looming impeachment trial could shift the balance in Iowa

On Decem­ber 20th, 2019 the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives vot­ed to impeach Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, to the over­whelm­ing approval of Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers and with a plu­ral­i­ty of sup­port among the Amer­i­can electorate.

Impeach­ment was the prop­er, moral, and nec­es­sary course of action to take. It should have been pur­sued ear­li­er and more vig­or­ous­ly by Demo­c­ra­t­ic leaders.

Although it is extreme­ly unlike­ly that Mitch McConnel­l’s Repub­­li­­can-con­trolled Sen­ate will vote to throw Trump out of office, the House had an oblig­a­tion and a duty to impeach Trump for vio­lat­ing the Unit­ed States Constitution.

The impeach­ment vote was made pos­si­ble by the results of the 2018 midterms, where Democ­rats secured con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives with the largest major­i­ty in the his­to­ry of midterm elec­tions.

How­ev­er, among those Democ­rats com­pet­ing to replace Trump in the White House, the con­se­quences of impeach­ment are more com­pli­cat­ed than the sym­bol­ic con­dem­na­tion of a leader they all see as incom­pe­tent, cor­rupt and dangerous.

Sen­a­tor Cory Book­er of New Jer­sey said it the most blunt­ly, in an inter­view with the Asso­ci­at­ed Press: an impeach­ment tri­al could be a “big, big blow” to his (already strug­gling) pres­i­den­tial campaign.

Senator Cory Booker at a campaign event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Sen­a­tor Cory Book­er at a cam­paign event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Pho­to: Lorie Shaull, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

Booker’s con­cern is not based on the (high­ly con­test­ed) idea that vot­ers will turn against the Democ­rats for impeach­ing Trump, but is based on the nuts and bolts of polit­i­cal campaigning.

The impeach­ment tri­al – which could begin as soon as next week – will take place in the U.S. Sen­ate in Wash­ing­ton D.C. As a sit­ting sen­a­tor, Book­er will be oblig­ed to attend, tak­ing him away from where he will real­ly want to be – Iowa.

The Iowa Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus­es are to be held Feb­ru­ary 3rd, mean­ing that the impeach­ment tri­al in late Jan­u­ary will eat up the pre­cious final weeks that many of the can­di­dates seek­ing the pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion have to campaign.

Iowa is famed for its sta­tus as a test­ing ground for retail pol­i­tics (“shak­ing hands and kiss­ing babies”), and long peri­ods of absence from the state in the run up to Feb­ru­ary 3rd could destroy any chance Book­er has of win­ning over unde­cid­ed vot­ers in the Hawk­eye State – a major blow to a can­di­date who con­tem­plat­ed drop­ping out of the race as ear­ly as last September.

Book­er is not the only can­di­date with this prob­lem. Five Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors are cur­rent­ly run­ning for the nom­i­na­tion, and all want to do well in Iowa.

An impeach­ment tri­al would force all five to return to Wash­ing­ton D.C. from the cam­paign trail, and would give their rivals the chance to out-cam­­paign them in the cru­cial final stretch before vot­ers go to the caucuses.

This con­se­quence of the impeach­ment tri­al is par­tic­u­lar­ly wor­ry­ing for sup­port­ers of the most pro­gres­sive candidates.

Polls in Iowa cur­rent­ly show a three-way tie for first place between for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden, Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders, and for­mer May­or Pete Buttigieg with Sen­a­tor Eliz­a­beth War­ren hot on their heels. A tri­al in Wash­ing­ton D.C. would force the two most pro­gres­sive can­di­dates in the race – Sanders and War­ren – away from the cam­paign and leave the field more open to Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg (both of whom have more neolib­er­al tendencies).

Mayor Pete Buttigieg at a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa. He is expected to perform well at the state's caucus.

May­or Pete Buttigieg at a cam­paign event in Des Moines, Iowa. He is expect­ed to per­form well at the state’s cau­cus (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

This could have dra­mat­ic con­se­quences down the road, espe­cial­ly for Buttigieg. As the pre­vi­ous may­or of a small city, Buttigieg has faced ques­tions over his youth and polit­i­cal inex­pe­ri­ence. A vic­to­ry in Iowa could cement his campaign’s legit­i­ma­cy in the eyes of many vot­ers and qui­et his critics.

Biden campaigns in Des Moines, Iowa

Vice Pres­i­dent Biden cam­paigns in Des Moines. Suc­cess in Iowa would solid­i­fy his sta­tus as fron­trun­ner (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

For Biden, an impeach­ment tri­al in the Sen­ate would remove the only two can­di­dates who have come any­where near to chal­leng­ing his fron­trun­ner sta­tus nation­wide, and put him in an even stronger posi­tion in Iowa.

Iowa Democ­rats are more lib­er­al than Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers in oth­er states, but War­ren and Sanders’ absence in the final weeks might allow Biden to win over those skep­ti­cal of his pol­i­tics with his “Uncle Joe” per­sona – a pow­er­ful tool in a retail pol­i­tics ori­ent­ed state that is over­whelm­ing­ly white and large­ly rural.

Iowa is undoubt­ed­ly plays an out­sized role in pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics — over half of the time, the win­ner of the Iowa cau­cuses goes on to secure the pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion from their par­ty. How­ev­er, that does not mean dis­as­ter for the sen­a­tors remain­ing in the race. With over a dozen can­di­dates still run­ning, a deci­sive vic­to­ry by any sin­gle cam­paign is high­ly unlikely.

Very few del­e­gates are at stake in Iowa, and of the sen­a­tors, at least Sanders and War­ren appear posi­tioned to be able to con­tin­ue cam­paign­ing for many weeks beyond the ear­ly states with the resources they’ve already secured.

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  1. […] when the Pres­i­dent was impeached, it soon became appar­ent that the Sen­ate tri­al would pose a major prob­lem for the six sen­a­tors run­ning for the pres­i­den­cy, Booker […]

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