The Slatest

Return of the Impeach-O-Meter: Drip, Drop, Drip, Drop

Nancy Pelosi and Ben Ray Luján raise their arms at an election-night victory party.
The individual on the right, Rep. Ben Ray Luján, supports impeachment. The individual on the left still does not.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The original Slate Impeach-O-Meter was a wildly subjective and speculative estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump would leave office before his term ended, whether by being impeached (and convicted) or by resigning under pressure. By now, though, Republican voters and elected officials have established that there’s nothing that Trump could do to lose their support, which makes a conviction in the Republican-held Senate inconceivable. Yet the political situation is not static: The evidence of the president’s criminality and unfitness for office continues to accumulate, and an increasing number of Democrats are willing to say that he should be held accountable via impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, even if party-line Senate acquittal seems inevitable. We’re therefore relaunching, reframing, and re-embiggening the Impeach-O-Meter as a (still wildly subjective and speculative) estimate of the simple likelihood that the House votes to impeach Trump before the end of his first term.

On Monday, Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico’s 3rd District announced his support for “moving forward with an impeachment inquiry.” On a numerical basis, this doesn’t mean much: Luján, by Politico’s count, becomes the 128th member of the House to support some sort of formal impeachment proceeding—90 short of the number that would be required to pass such a motion. (One hundred and twenty-seven of those 128 are Democrats; the other is ex-Republican Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, who’s now independent.)

On a thematic level, though, Luján’s decision is notable. For one, he’s assistant speaker of the House, which makes him the fourth-ranking Dem in the House leadership hierarchy after Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Majority Whip James Clyburn. He also chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the group that provides crucial financial and organizational support to House candidates, during the 2018 cycle—and, if anything, people at the so-called D-triple-C are usually known for being risk-averse and believing that Democrats should worry more about appealing to ostensibly moderate, cautious swing voters than to the proverbial angry grassroots.

While most senior Democrats have followed Pelosi’s lead in arguing that impeachment is politically inadvisable because it would alienate those same swing voters, seeing a dissenting view articulated by someone with as solid a place in the party establishment as Luján could influence rank-and-file legislators who have been on the fence. Luján, moreover, is giving up his House seat to run for Senate in 2020. He’ll face a prominent New Mexico leftist in the primary, but if he wins that he’ll be running in the general in a state that had a Republican governor as recently as last year and in which Trump’s local approval rating matches his national approval rating. In other words, the guy in charge of Democrats’ national campaign strategy in 2018 thinks the way to win in a state that is a rough electoral microcosm for the country as a whole is to announce measured support for impeachment.

On the other hand, if you look at Politico’s handy chart of impeachment support against district-by-district 2016 election results, you’ll find that even if every single Democrat in a district in which Hillary Clinton beat Trump by more than eight points (which was her margin of victory over him in New Mexico) came out for impeachment, the cause would still be about 25 votes short of passing the House. Now, that could happen—and, in fact, there are purple-district Dems like California Rep. Harley Rouda and New Hampshire Rep. Chris Pappas who’ve already announced their support for i––ing the m––f––r. But, given, like, the entire modern history of Democratic Party strategy, it still seems more likely than not not to, right? Therefore:

A meter depicting four Trump faces in increasing states of distress, followed by Mitch McConnell's face. The text under the meter says "40 percent chance of impeachment."
Illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo and Lisa Larson-Walker/Slate. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.