Democrats are rightly concerned about the optics of impeaching Donald Trump. “There’s a valid strategic theory among Democrats that a presidential impeachment, particularly one that fails to convict in the Senate, aids the re-election of President Trump,” Steve Israel, the former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told me. With just 39 percent of Americans in favor of impeaching Trump, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, the fear is that Democrats will appear overzealous—just as Republicans did in 1998 when impeaching Bill Clinton.
Impeaching the attorney general, on the other hand, could be a creative way for Democratic leadership to placate the progressive and activist wings of the party. Because Barr is a lower-value target, Democrats argue, impeaching him would come with fewer risks. Still, Israel cautioned, Democrats must tread carefully to avoid being labeled the “the impeachment party.” “What’s revealed at [a Barr] impeachment trial may actually increase the pressure to go higher,” he said. “For some, he could be the appetizer to the main course. Which is why impeachment as a political strategy instead of a constitutional imperative is a bad idea.”