Dec 17, 2019

GOP monetizes impeachment as Dems try to change the subject

Animated GIF of a text-in-progress ellipsis made up of peaches instead of periods

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Republicans have embraced impeachment as a boost for fundraising and messaging more easily than Democrats, who are playing up a few impeachment "villains" to swing voters — but are also making it clear they’d rather talk about health care.

Why it matters: Assuming Trump gets impeached by the House this week and acquitted next month by the Senate, Republicans and Democrats are already looking beyond the legislative exercise to shape next November's elections.

By the numbers: Republicans are more than happy to talk about their impeachment fundraising — a big contrast to how Democrats talk about it.

The Republican National Committee has seen over 600k new donors since the start of impeachment, deputy chief of staff Mike Reed tells Axios. "Voters are consistently expressing how they want Washington to focus on real issues," he said.

  • The Trump campaign and RNC combined took in more than $10m in small-dollar donations last week alone, as the House Judiciary Committee adopted two articles of impeachment, according to a campaign official.
  • In the 72 hours that followed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s initial September announcement that she would move forward with the impeachment inquiry, Republicans raised $15m.
  • Since the impeachment inquiry began, an official said, a quarter of Trump rally registrants are self-described Democrats or independents, and about the same proportion are low-propensity voters.

By contrast, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said it has no specific donor or dollar figures to share on impeachment.

  • But a Democratic National Committee official said their impeachment-related ads are 70% more effective than their average ad.
  • And there are signs it has helped some Democrats. Phil Arballo, the Democratic challenger to the House Intelligence panel's ranking Republican, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, has raised more than $500,000 (average contribution: $25) in roughly one month since the public impeachment hearings began Nov. 13, Axios has learned.
  • He's been running ads about Nunes’ phone records and conversations with Lev Parnas — the now-indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani.

Three Republican foils beyond Trump have emerged in Democratic messaging: Nunes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

  • The National Democratic Training Committee (NDTC) — a Democratic PAC — has raised $651,802 in the past month, and tells Axios that criticisms of Nunes, McConnell and Graham are "strong performers" for them. Their average contribution has been just over $12.
  • "Graham and Nunes have both been excellent villains," said Kelly Dietrich, NDTC CEO. Democrats see Graham as a "hypocrite" after watching old clips of him agitating for President Bill Clinton's impeachment, and see Nunes as being personally involved in Trump's dealings with Ukraine and against the Bidens.
  • House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) helps Democrats with their donor base, while Republicans tap into their base's animosity toward Schiff.

But, but, but: Health care is the preferred focus for Democratic officials because of the margins they see in polling, especially with swing voters.

  • Recent polls show voters trust Democrats over Republicans to handle health care by a 16-point margin, but there's only a 4-point margin among the voters who think Trump should be impeached.
  • Last week, in the thick of the impeachment hearings, the DNC conducted a big health care push in battleground states.
  • "Our war room was doing stuff on impeachment, but our program focused on the battleground states and non-national narrative was focused on health care," one party official said. "I'm not saying impeachment won’t have salience with swing voters, but what we know right now is that health care is incredibly effective with those voters."

Our thought bubble: While impeachment may be good for GOP fundraising, it's not a given that it helps Trump, whose legacy after Wednesday's vote will forever be tied to impeachment.

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