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How Impeachment Affects Vulnerable House Democrats

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“I think they are better off trying to send a unified message,” he said. “It may be not true in a handful of districts…but they want to make a statement this is not just partisan politics, it is upholding the Constitution. And under those circumstances, unity is a much more powerful statement.”

Sena told me that for House members in marginal seats, how the party handles impeachment may matter more than whether Trump is impeached. “I think the process may matter more than the actual result, because my suspicion is the electorate will go back to where they have been” on Trump after the impeachment debate ends, he said.

Masket, the University of Denver political scientist, cautions that the ACA precedent signals that for some of the House Democrats in Trump districts, voting no on impeachment may still be the safest course. “I think that same logic holds,” he says. “It’s not necessarily an exact mirror of the ACA, but there still are moderate districts, and there still are voters who can draw a distinction between a conservative rural Democrat and, say, Nancy Pelosi.”

Public support for Trump’s removal, Masket says, could reach a point where the risk of voting for impeachment is minimal even in most of the Trump districts. But he notes that House Democrats are unlikely to obtain the one thing that could make it easiest to defend an impeachment vote in such places: support from enough House Republicans to give impeachment a bipartisan veneer. “I think if there are Republicans going along with this, that gives those marginal Democrats a lot more cover,” he told me.

Absent that cover, swing-district Democrats are heading toward difficult choices in the weeks ahead. Most of them appear on track to vote for articles of impeachment; all but eight have endorsed the impeachment inquiry. But whether they support impeachment or not, their fate in 2020 may hinge less on their individual votes than on the country’s verdict on the overall impeachment process—and even more so, on how it assesses Trump’s term in office.

Swing-district Democrats will likely try to buck their party, but the political calculus on whether they survive in 2020 may be a lot more simple than they are likely to believe. As the Never-Trump Republican Bill Kristol put it, vulnerable Democrats “are going to get reelected if it’s a Democratic year, and if it’s a really good Trump year, they are going to lose.”

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