Editor’s Note: John Avlon is a CNN senior political analyst and anchor. He is the author of “Lincoln and the Fight for Peace.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.
The tail is wagging the dog. Trumpists like Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene have demanded the impeachment process begin, and they control enough of the GOP caucus that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy had to agree, to placate the base. This is a sign of weakness, not strength.
One measure of this weakness is the fact that McCarthy is trying to move this impeachment inquiry forward without a floor vote, just days after pledging to do the reverse. The reason for the flip-flop is self-evident: he doesn’t have the votes. With a five-vote margin in the House — and 18 House GOP members representing districts President Joe Biden won — the math just doesn’t work.
Let’s be clear: this baseless impeachment inquiry is part of an elaborate revenge fantasy designed to blur the differences between Trump, who has been indicted four times, and Biden ahead of the 2024 presidential election. Rather than helping Republicans politically, it will provide just the latest example of overreach leading to backlash. A tit-for-tat impeachment vote is not going to appeal to swing voters in swing districts. It will look like the hyper-partisan pantomime that it is — an exercise in putting party over country.
Impeachment is a serious constitutional remedy for high crimes and misdemeanors by a sitting president. It has also been vanishingly rare in our history until recent years.
The impeachment of President Andrew Johnson during Reconstruction and the impeachment inquiry into President Richard Nixon for Watergate were separated by more than a century. The impeachment of President Bill Clinton and the double impeachment of President Donald Trump were separated by a little more than 20 years. In each case, exhaustive investigation provided indelible evidence of a significant moral failing or abuse of power that appeared to violate the president’s oath of office.
But impeachment has gone from being a once-a-century occurrence to a biennial one, like the Olympics. Even worse for the integrity of our democratic republic, Republicans are threatening to impeach Biden over nothing. They don’t have the evidence and they don’t have the votes.
To be clear, it is entirely appropriate to investigate whether Biden illegally or unethically enriched himself from his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings. But it is absurd to fast forward to impeachment with no concrete evidence to back up the allegations.
There’s no getting around the fact that President Biden’s recent poll numbers are awful — especially with independent voters, with whom he currently has an anemic 31% favorable rating and a 57% unfavorable rating.
The only silver lining in this dark cloud over the Biden White House comes from independents’ take on the alternative. Trump’s favorability rating is an even worse 26% among independent voters with a 61% unfavorable rating.
Likewise, when independent registered voters were asked by CNN whether “any Democrat is better than Trump,” 47% answered yes. On the flipside, just 27% of registered independents surveyed said that “Trump is better than any Dem.”
No wonder that one of Biden’s favorite aphorisms is “don’t compare me to the almighty; compare me to the alternative.”
Independent voters aren’t on board with the rush to impeachment over Hunter Biden’s business dealings. As our colleague Harry Enten points out, just 33% of independents think Biden did something illegal, according to a recent Fox News poll. Compare that to the 62% of independents in the same poll who say that Trump did something illegal regarding his attempts to overturn the election.
GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley was on to something when she said that Trump is “the most disliked politician in America.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Haley is also the only GOP candidate who decisively beats Biden in a head-to-head matchup in CNN’s recent poll.
This deep disaffection helps explain why so many independents say they would like to see different candidates at the top of the ticket, leading to an opening that third party candidates can exploit, from the Green Party’s Cornel West to the nascent No Labels Party effort that has gotten on the ballot in 10 states.
Biden has been a consequential president overseeing a successful legislative record, but concerns about his age and vigor are not going away. Right now, his strongest argument for a second term is being made by radical Republicans who lionize a candidate who tried to overthrow our democracy and now are pushing for his successor’s impeachment unencumbered by evidence.
Relying on negative partisanship to get re-elected, however, is a dangerous game, especially in a fractured field. It reflects the ongoing danger to our democracy — and that’s the real issue in the 2024 presidential election.