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Nancy Pelosi has a major impeachment problem

Updated 10:11 AM ET, Wed September 12, 2018

(CNN) - House Democrats look well-positioned to retake the House majority in the midterm elections, fueled by their base's animosity toward President Donald Trump and absolutely committed to using the vote in 55 days' time to send a message to him.

Should the energized Democratic base deliver Nancy Pelosi the speakership she lost in the 2010 election, it would be a remarkable journey for the California Democrat, who has weathered eight years of speculation about her political future and growing calls within her caucus for her to step aside.

It would also present Pelosi with a massive dilemma -- as made plain by a new CNN-SSRS poll released on Wednesday morning.

Asked whether they believe that Trump "should be impeached and removed from office," or not, 47% said Trump should be impeached while 48% said they don't feel that way. Support for Trump's impeachment has grown from 42% in a CNN-SSRS poll conducted earlier this summer. (By comparison, 29% of people said then-President Barack Obama should be impeached and 70% said they didn't feel that way in a CNN poll conducted in late November 2014.)

Those numbers, on their face, are stunning. Less than two years into Trump's term, half the country would like to see him impeached. Like, now.

But dig into the party and ideological breakdowns of that impeachment questions, and Pelosi's potential dilemma becomes very, very clear. Almost eight in 10 (78%) Democrats believe Trump should be impeached immediately, while only 16% don't feel that way. The numbers among self-described "liberals" are nearly the same; 79% want Trump impeached as compared to 17% who don't.

You don't have to be a political genius to see the writing on the wall there: hardcore Democrats, the sort who are likely to turn out in droves come November 6, want Trump gone. Or at the very least, they want their leadership to push for articles of impeachment to be brought against him.

Which brings me back to Pelosi. She has been crystal clear for the last several months that she believes talking about impeaching Trump is a major mistake for her party. "I do not think that impeachment is a policy agenda," she told CNN's Chris Cuomo back in May. Last month, after longtime Trump attorney and personal fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to a number of charges including campaign finance violations, in which he suggested Trump was an active part of an effort to conceal hush payments to two women alleging affairs, Pelosi remained adamant that impeachment was not the right choice for the party. She called it "not a priority," adding: "Impeachment has to spring from something else."

As the new CNN poll shows, that stance puts Pelosi out-of-step with the overwhelming majority of her party's base. Which, politically speaking, is never a good place to be.

Now. Pelosi's arguments about impeachment deal with the here and now. Wary of handing Trump and Republicans an issue to campaign on, she has sought to downplay the idea in the context of the midterms. (Trump, of course, has seized on the idea of Democrats pushing for impeachment -- asking how he could possibly be impeached when he is doing such a good job.) Pelosi's stance on not talking about impeachment right now, her allies would argue, doesn't preclude her from embracing such a move post-election if circumstances change. In fact, Pelosi has nodded to the ongoing special counsel probe by Robert Mueller as something that needs to play out before the party even seriously engages with the idea of impeachment.

But for now the fact remains: Pelosi, who is widely seen as the next speaker of the House if Democrats can re-take the majority in 55 days' time, is not in the same place as the preponderance of the rank-and-file within her party on the impeachment question. It speaks, I think, to the broader disconnect between a base that wants to employ any means necessary to obstruct and remove Trump, and a party establishment -- even among avowed liberals like Pelosi -- that remains concerned over the potential political backlash to the move.

I've covered too many of Pelosi's successful leadership elections to predict that her dilemma on impeachment could lead to her defeat for the top job if Democrats take back the House. But it does speak to a larger divide within the party that will play out between now and 2020 as Democratic politicians try to find the right way to position themselves against Trump.

If the CNN poll is any indication, for the base, the more anti-Trump and pro-impeachment you are, the better.


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