The leading Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, seemingly managed to wring one last concession out of the impeachment trial: the final vote – that is expected to acquit Donald Trump – will be held on Wednesday.
That means that the president cannot use his State of the Union address on Tuesday night to crow about the fact that the process has lasted much less time than the Democrats wanted and ended without his removal. The only issue is the vote may also overshadow the Iowa caucuses on Monday, the first step on the way to picking the Democrats’ presidential nominee.
But the reality is that Democrats should concentrate on what comes out of Iowa – and I don’t necessarily mean the winner. When it comes to ousting Trump, the only clear way to do that now is at the ballot box. And to do that will require an impressive election ground game – the network of volunteers and activists that will knock on doors, try to change minds and also help get out voters on election day.
That is not to say Congress can’t still have a say in helping make up minds. Subpoenaing former national security adviser John Bolton to testify in front of the House of Representatives about the Ukraine situation and what he discussed with Trump could still help shift the needle of public opinion. Even if it is outside the larger impeachment process. But what the last few months have shown us is that while the impeachment process has had an effect on the opinion polls, the real way of shifting the views of independents is on the ground.
Trump and his team know what they need in November, it is exactly the same as what they had in 2016. The president makes such a big deal about firing up his supporters – whether via Twitter, the TV or at rallies – because if they head to the polls in the same numbers that they did four years ago, then he has a decent chance of retaining his seat in the White House. Trump doesn’t need to push any further and has made little attempt to do so. A happy base should lead to a happy Trump in November.
It is the Democrats who need to push further, bringing independents on board and ensuring that they too can bring the maximum turnout. Given the size of the Democrat field for the presidential nomination, all the major players – Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg – have made great efforts to create good operations in states where they are strong, or need a good result. For example, Buttigieg’s team is said to have trained about 5,500 precinct leaders in Iowa, while Sanders has also created an enviable network.
Whenever the nomination race comes to an end, the party as a whole has to make sure that these individual ground games are utilised correctly – particularly if the nomination process turns into a close-fought, drawn-out affair. Some candidates, past and present, have made clear that they would look to turn their operations towards helping the eventual nominee. That chance should not be wasted by any petty squabbling. Any nominee will need all wings of the party to come together – nobody should forget the larger goal of beating Donald Trump.
Trump has all the advantages of an incumbent. Knowing who he is talking to and what gets them out to vote, and a Twitter/media profile that always ensures he will garner attention. If the Democrats want to win, they need to remember that the president is also polling numbers that have refused to move above the low to mid-40s for pretty much most of his presidency. The independents are there to be won.
Democrats have tried to make the big argument via the impeachment process, something which has been curtailed in a way that will sting. But if the building blocks of a good ground game are put in place now – via the candidates for the presidency and activist groups – and then kept in place through to November, they have a decent shot of taking the White House too.
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