The perils of writing newspaper columns in the age of Trump notwithstanding, I’ll make a prediction – the all-but-certain impeachment of President Donald Trump by the U.S. House of Representatives will help Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a stalwart supporter of the president, win his November reelection.
While most pundits fixate on the 2020 impact of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s move to defrock the duly elected president of the United States, Kentucky voters – along with their counterparts in Louisiana, Mississippi and a few other places holding local elections – will render an early verdict on impeachment in just over a month. Pelosi can’t stop the train now, and by Nov. 5 the historic, raging battle to come will have gripped the nation.
Bevin’s winning formula has always been simple: nationalize the race. The more voters think about their general political corner – red or blue, Trump or not, conservative or liberal – the better Bevin’s chances.
If voters think about Bevin’s local controversies – think angry teachers and his use of the state-owned plane – Democrat Andy Beshear has a chance to wrest control of the governor’s office back for his family and party.
Bevin’s campaign and his allies at the Republican Governor’s Association – the group responsible for most of the television ads Kentuckians have seen so far – have worked diligently to nationalize the race for months. After Beshear made an ill-advised remark casting the election as a referendum on “the negative policies of Donald Trump,” the RGA began pounding him with TV ads linking Beshear to Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Hillary Clinton – all proud members of the “radical resistance.”
And now both the RGA and Bevin’s campaign are hammering away on issues that drive great intensity among center-right voters: abortion and illegal immigration, casting Beshear as radically liberal and Bevin as a loyal Trump soldier on these issues.
Private polling conducted for outside groups pegged the president’s approval in the high 50s just before impeachment mania struck. This is terrific news for Bevin, who leads a state where Trump won over 62 percent of the vote. While Beshear and his allies run TV ads about Bevin’s education policies and his use of the state aircraft, all anyone wants to talk about is Trump and impeachment. And just like last year’s Supreme Court battle royale, the attempted removal of the president will become a “whose side are you on” moment for liberals and conservatives alike.
Sure, there are pockets of “resistance” in Louisville and Lexington, but the Bluegrass state remains solidly pro-Trump. Battles like this are clarifying and most Kentucky voters will side with the president against Pelosi and a Democratic Party that has been desperate to reverse the results of the 2016 election since before Trump’s inauguration. Even if some Republicans are uncomfortable with Trump’s Ukrainian phone call, the GOP isn’t about to let the socialists remove their president.
Republican strategists have been concerned that reliable GOP voters in Kentucky aren’t quite as motivated to turn out to vote as the anti-Bevin Democrats, who loathe a governor that has turned Frankfort and its “we’ve always done it this way” culture on its head. They dislike Bevin’s policies, despite his actually funding public pensions at higher levels than former Gov. Steve Beshear, and intensely despise his personality.
And it is that personal dislike of Bevin (even among some Republicans, as evidenced by Bevin’s weak performance in the May primary) that has worried GOP leaders about whether the governor can recreate his winning formula from 2015 – an election that was, to some degree, a polarizing referendum on gay marriage over the license issues created by former Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis.
But just as the Brett Kavanaugh battle unified Republicans nationally ahead of the 2018 midterm, which saw the GOP hold the U.S. Senate, impeachment could turn the upcoming election into a pure referendum on Trump, wiping away thoughts about teachers, planes and personality.
Yes, Democrats won the U.S. House back in 2018. But Kentucky more closely resembles the red states GOP senators won last year than the House districts that went blue. Republican strategists “would rather be us than them” in a fight over Trump in Kentucky.
While our polarized politics may not be good for the country, it advantages Bevin for Kentuckians to head to their partisan impeachment corners. Republicans will outspend Democrats on advertising in October, and GOP strategists believe they’ve sufficiently painted Beshear as a liberal for Bevin to win reelection.