Politics & Policy

Negating History

Trump arrives for his inauguration, January 20, 2017. (Reuters photo: Lucy Nicholson)
The Democratic message in 2018 will be that 2016 shouldn’t have happened.

There’s a strange and sudden consensus in the political world about what topic will dominate our national discussion for the coming year or two: whether or not President Trump should be impeached.

Ben Domenech sees Representative Ted Lieu (D., Hawaii) reading up on the House procedures of impeachment and predicts, “Democrats will impeach Trump if they win the House regardless what the investigation finds.” Washington Post columnist David Ignatius predicts the 2018 midterms will be “the ‘impeachment election,’ and it may be as bitterly contested as any in decades.” (Perhaps it will mark the seventh or eighth consecutive “most important election of our lifetimes.”) The Economist declares that Democrats and activists on the Left want “a speeded-up Watergate, fit for an on-demand age.”

In other words, what unites and galvanizes Democrats today is the idea that the 2016 election should be undone.

If, sometime between now and Election Day 2020, the FBI or other investigative agencies find something that is broadly recognized as a “high crime or misdemeanor” under the Constitution, this is a different conversation. But for now, the discussion about impeachment is frequently driven by an adamant belief that somewhere out there is evidence that demonstrates President Trump illegally colluded with the Russian government to break U.S. laws and swing last year’s presidential election.

Or it’s driven by the idea that Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey — a universally recognized legal exercise of presidential authority — is an impeachable offense because of Trump’s private and public whining that former national security adviser Michael Flynn was such a good guy and the investigation of him was unneeded.  No doubt a president skates on thin ice when he kvetches about how unfair a criminal investigation of one of his associates is, as those comments can be construed as attempts at intimidation or an effort to influence the investigation. But the argument of the impeachment crowd would be that while the act was legal, the motivation constituted an impeachable offense. Under this thinking, the firing of Comey would not have been an impeachable offense if Trump’s decision had been driven by, say, Comey’s decision to pay more than $1 million to hackers to open the iPhone of a terrorist gunman in San Bernardino. An impeachment over a legal act for a self-interested motivation would be shaky ground for the first removal of a president in American history.

As many have noted, quite a few Democrats called for Comey’s firing in the months before the decision. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said that he no longer had confidence in Comey, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said she thought he might not have been in the right job, and former Senate minority leader Harry Reid accused Comey of withholding key information from Congress. We’re left with the odd spectacle of high-profile Democrats’ suggesting that taking their advice constitutes an impeachable offense.

This isn’t really about the Comey decision; this is the Democratic party intensely desiring an outcome and eagerly embracing any justification that comes along. Quite a few groups on the Left were calling for Trump’s impeachment long before Comey was fired. Liberal activist groups set up an online petition calling for Trump’s impeachment on Inauguration Day, declaring, “From the moment he assumed the office, President Donald Trump has been in direct violation of the US Constitution.” In mid-March, localities such as Berkeley passed resolutions calling for Trump’s impeachment. Representative Maxine Waters (D., Calif.) tweeted simply, “get ready for impeachment” on March 21.

This isn’t really about the Comey decision; this is the Democratic party intensely desiring an outcome and eagerly embracing any justification that comes along.

On February 10, about three weeks into Trump’s presidency, the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling offered a survey finding that 46 percent of all respondents supported the impeachment of President Trump, and 80 percent of all self-identified Democrats did.

A few Democratic lawmakers understand how cynical the appetite for impeachment looks. Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Democrats can’t let discussion of removing the president “be perceived as an effort to nullify the election by other means.”

Except . . . that’s pretty much what this is about, at least when you hear liberals debating whether they should leave Trump in place because Mike Pence would be more consistently conservative and less likely to create problems for his own administration. If this effort is entirely about holding a president accountable for high crimes and misdemeanors, then the political views of the vice president shouldn’t be relevant. But if this effort is mostly about liberals’ exploring every possible avenue to get the policy outcomes they want . . . well, then it makes sense to hear debate about the impeachment decision focused on the criteria of partisan self-interest. If Democrats win control of Congress in 2018 and suddenly discuss impeaching Trump and Pence simultaneously, the cynics will be vindicated again.

At the core of the epic melodrama in American politics is the fact that Democrats simply cannot believe Donald Trump won 1.4 million votes in Wisconsin, 2.97 million votes in Pennsylvania, and 2.27 million votes in Michigan, and with that, the presidency. Yes, it’s terrible the way the Electoral College snuck up on Hillary Clinton’s campaign like that, and it’s a crying shame that no one bothered to tell her strategists how the presidency is won.

The effect of this widespread denial of an election outcome is a bizarre sort of Groundhog Day repetitiveness in our national politics: The biggest issue of 2018 will be an attempt to undo the outcome of 2016.

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