Poised to pass two articles of impeachment in the full House this week, Democrats have remained extraordinarily united throughout the process while nearly half the country stands in favor of taking the drastic action of removing Donald Trump from office. Yet press coverage in recent days has suggested (surprise!) that Democrats are in a state of disarray, a favorite fallback position for much of the Beltway media, where Democrats are constantly portrayed as scrambling and being outsmarted by Trump and the GOP. In the process of focusing on Democrats and the alleged struggles impeachment presents, news outlets continue to eliminate Republicans from the entire process. The GOP, apparently, faces no impeachment fallout, only Democrats.
Stressing “the quiet hand-wringing” that now consumes Democrats, The Washington Post last week insisted the party was bracing for Democratic defections when the articles of impeachment are soon voted on by the full House. Democrats are bracing? Really? From a political perspective, I’d suggest that if 10 or 20% of the Democratic caucus in the House balked on impeachment and voted no, that would represent a stinging defeat for party leadership. Ten or 20% of the 233-member caucus today would mean 20-40 Democratic no’s. But how many Democrats are poised to vote no on Trump impeachment? According to the Post, possibly six members will vote no, or roughly 3% of the Democratic caucus. Sorry, but that just doesn’t qualify as big news.
Yet the press seems obsessed with the idea of a sizable impeachment fracture among Democrats. Previously, when 231 out of 233 Democrats voted in favor of starting an impeachment procedure, one of the two Democrats voting no turned into a media darling overnight. Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey has been showered with media attention for months now (see: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) as the press doggedly tracks down one of only two Democrats not currently onboard with impeaching Trump. But again, that’s not news and it certainly doesn’t suggest Democrats are in disarray regarding Trump.
The truth is, Democrats remain extraordinarily unified on the question of impeachment—more united, in fact, than any other party overseeing such a inquiry. Back in 1998 when Republicans in the House impeached Bill Clinton, they offered up four articles of impeachment. In the vote on the first article, which accused Clinton of lying under oath while being interviewed by independent prosecutor Ken Starr, five Republicans voted no. On the second article, 12 Republicans voted no. On the third article, 28 voted no. And on the fourth article, nearly one-third of the Republican caucus joined with Democrats and voted no.
Can you imagine what the Beltway media meltdown would look like today if one-third of House Democrats decided to vote against one of pending articles of impeachment that Trump now faces?
Don’t forget that over the summer, before the Ukraine scandal broke and Trump admitted to pressuring a foreign government to help his reelection campaign, the press (led by The New York Times) was pushing the narrative that impeachment was a problem if Democrats did not launch hearings. Over and over reports appeared about how impeachment was splitting the party and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was facing an internal mutiny over the push for some members to impeach Trump in the wake of Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Back then, the press presented impeachment as a looming problem for Democrats if they didn’t go through with it. Then almost immediately after Democrats announced the impeachment inquiry, the press (again led by the Times) flipped the script and suggested impeaching Trump posed a grave political danger for Democrats. In other words: heads Democrats lose, tails Democrats lose.
Meanwhile, where are all the reports about Republicans and how voting no on impeachment might hurt them next November? Apparently most journalists don’t think Republicans have to return home to their districts and face uncomfortable questions, possibly from independent voters, about impeachment and about a president who’s admitted to openly colluding with a foreign power in order to dig up dirt on his domestic political rival. Wouldn’t the common-sense narrative be that it’s Republicans who face an uncertain path as they prepare for a 2020 campaign season that will likely feature an unpopular Republican president facing an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate?
Instead, the press coverage remains centrally focused on “moderate” Democrats who are supposedly facing political peril next year. But again, who are all these Democratic moderates facing steep reelection challenges in conservative-leaning districts? As I recently noted, there’s not a single Democratic member of the House who is expected to lose their seat next year, according to The Cook Political Report newsletter. Also, House Democrats representing districts Trump won in 2016 have already faced voters during the 2018 midterms, when Democrats mounted a blue wave and won 40 seats in the House.
Increasingly, the press has just eliminated Republicans from the impeachment coverage, and specifically what the political hurdles may be for the party. Politico last week published a story that emphasized how Democrats are facing a post-impeachment “dilemma” and “paradox” because if a remorseless Trump keeps committing impeachable offenses, Democrats will be boxed in, having just reprimanded him. “A post-impeachment Congress will present a tricky dynamic for Democrats,” Politico reported. It just seems odd that we’ve arrived at the place where possible future lawbreaking by a Republican president is framed as a “dilemma” for…Democrats.
Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.