Senate Republicans discover their impeachment silver bullet is backfiring

It wasn't supposed to be like this. After House Democrats opened an impeachment inquiry, Republicans were supposed to be able to flail around wildly while hurling words like "witch hunt" and "socialist" and "Soviet," at which point frenzied GOP voters would rush to the polls and deliver whopping, stinging electoral defeats to Democrats. That was the plan—and even the conventional wisdom—until Tuesday, when Democrats bested Republicans in yet another off-year election as we move toward the all-important 2020 presidential contest.

Actually, voters did go to the polls in droves but, if there was a motivating factor, it seemed more about sending Trump the signal that many, many Americans are damn sick and tired of watching him defile our republic. There is simply no other way to read the results in Virginia, where turnout surged from 29% in 2015 to nearly 40% four years later and delivered control of both legislative chambers to Democrats. Some observers wondered whether scandals that have plagued Democrats in Virginia's executive branch might offset some of the anti-Trump fervor. Nope. The issues were also clearly on the side of Democratic candidates in Virginia, but the notable spike in turnout seems to be as much a product of anti-Trump rage voting as anything else.

And in Kentucky, no amount of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin's railing against impeachment and Trump begging voters to protect his reputation could save a candidate who Kentuckians despise, though Bevin has not conceded defeat to Democrat Andy Beshear yet. Turnout also surged in Kentucky to 42%, 11 points above what the secretary of state had projected. And while it's true that Bevin was a uniquely unpopular governor (i.e. basically, the worst), it's also true that Trump's appeal to anti-impeachment resentment failed to buoy Bevin in a state that Trump won by nearly 30 points three years earlier.

What Senate Republicans are most unnerved by—and rightly so—was their trouncing in the suburbs in basically every state, including not just Kentucky and Virginia, but also Pennsylvania and Mississippi. But Tuesday wasn’t just a one-hit wonder, the suburbs have turned on Republicans almost entirely over the course of a mere three years since Trump was elected.

“We’ve seen this now in ’17, in ’18 and in ’19, so there’s no anomaly here," noted John Weaver, a longtime GOP strategist who advised the late Sen. John McCain. "We’ve seen Republican suburbs in four or five years go from plus-20 Republican to plus-25 or 30 for the Democrats. They are very blue. The exurbs are turning blue as well."

The prescription? “The senators running in swing states will need to run well-ahead of the president in the suburbs to win reelection,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres told The Hill.

In other words, not only is Trump not the Senate Republicans' silver bullet; impeachment or no impeachment, he's the bullet they have to dodge in order to prevail in 2020.

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