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Would Democrats Be Harmed By Impeachment Push? History Offers Some Insight

Would impeachment proceedings produce a poor political outcome for Democrats in next year’s elections and beyond? It’s difficult to say, but if history is any indicator, it’s not likely to hurt them too much.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The last time a (serious) case for impeachment was made against a president was in the late 1990s. Former President Bill Clinton faced impeachment from a Republican-led Congress, which ultimately led to the House impeaching Clinton but failing to indict and remove him from office after failing to secure the two-thirds necessary votes in the Senate to do so.

As a result, Clinton’s popularity went up, according to reporting from CNN at the time, and the public ended up hold a negative view of Republican lawmakers in Washington who went after him.

From that point of view, it’s understandable why Democrats may be reluctant to push for impeachment against Trump. He may well deserve to be impeached, some may argue, but without the Senate in their control — and with many polls indicating the public doesn’t want to go through with impeaching Trump — it may be a move that could hurt them politically.

On the other hand (because in politics, there’s always another view to consider), going after Trump may also help Democrats. It certainly didn’t hurt Republicans electorally in the following election when they impeached Clinton.

In fact, as impeachment fervor was growing in Washington in 1998, the midterms saw Republicans lose a net total of just five House seats, according to FiveThirtyEight.com. Those losses were not problematic for the GOP in any big way — the party still held onto a majority in the House, and in the Senate they had a 10-seat lead over Democrats.

What about the election after imeachment occurred? Republicans once more lost a net number of seats, allowing Democrats to gain two more, but again held onto the majority of Congress, according to the House’s historical website. In the Senate, nothing changed in terms of raw numbers: Republicans maintained their 10-seat lead.

Importantly, Democrats failed to win the White House in 2000 as well. Although Al Gore had won the popular vote over his Republican opponent George W. Bush, in terms of the percentage voting for him, the Democratic candidate lost the support of 1.3 percent of Americans compared to what Clinton had won in 1996.

After that year, Republicans saw more gains in Congress while Democrats saw losses. Before Democrats retook the House in 2007, Republicans had gained back their minimal losses after they tried to impeach Clinton — and then some. In fact, they held more seats in the House in 2006 than they did in 1997.

Every situation is different, of course, and what happened for Republicans after attempts to impeach Clinton will probably not be the same for what may happen to Democrats if they try and impeach Trump. Still, historical lessons like these could possibly serve to upend the “conventional thinking” on the subject — and demonstrate that impeachment isn’t necessarily going to result in “political harm” for Democrats.



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