If Donald Trump’s presidency is going to end before 2025, it should end at the ballot box.
A lot of what has been revealed by Trump’s desire to see Ukraine investigate Joe and Hunter Biden — or at least publicly announce an investigation — merely confirms character traits, instincts, and habits that have been on display since Trump was inaugurated, if not dating back to the campaign and his whole public life.
You didn’t have to be a master detective to figure out that Trump had an unusually sympathetic view of Vladimir Putin and Russia; he repeatedly expressed it on the campaign trail in 2015 and 2016. No one could be surprised by the idea that Trump publicly humiliates, berates, and scapegoats those who work for him. No one could be surprised that Trump demanded absolute loyalty and then extended almost no loyalty to those who worked for him. Jeff Sessions should have known exactly whom he was endorsing and later serving under as attorney general.
You didn’t have to be a master detective to figure out that Trump thinks everyone who opposes him is deeply corrupt in every imaginable way. He does not care about perceptions of hypocrisy; he mocked Mark Sanford for marital infidelity on Twitter.
Trump chooses to believe what he hears if it fits a narrative of his own excellence or his foes’ nefariousness. Trump said that a man who charged the stage at his event in Dayton, Ohio, was connected to ISIS; when Meet the Press host Chuck Todd said there was no evidence of his being linked to ISIS and that Trump had fallen for a hoax, Trump responded, “All I know is what’s on the Internet.” No one should be the least bit surprised that Trump would easily believe any claim that some vital DNC server was secretly smuggled out to Ukraine and that Hunter Biden was the linchpin of a vast international bribery and corruption ring.
Any American voter who was paying attention could figure all this out, and enough Americans in enough states voted to make Trump president anyway. If you don’t like that outcome, blame whoever you like for that. If enough Republican voters had united around one non-Trump alternative, Trump would not have won the Republican nomination. If enough anti-Trump voters of any party had united around one alternative candidate in the general election, Trump would not have become president. The American people knew what they were getting when it came to Trump and they voted for him anyway . . . And now here we are, three years later, with the consequences of that decision.
If 20 Republican senators join with 47 Democrats and say to the American people,”‘No, you are not allowed to have that choice, we have decided that this presidency cannot continue and that you are not permitted to render your own judgment a year from now,” a significant percentage of Americans will be apoplectically angry, and with good reason.
Trump’s actions and statements are obvious and clear. If they are self-evidently serious enough to warrant ending his presidency, then the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shouldn’t need to conduct focus groups in key House battleground districts testing messages related to impeachment, as they have in recent weeks; the president’s attempt to strong-arm the Ukrainian government should be sufficient to defeat him in the general election. Sanford dropped out of the presidential primary because he said that “impeachment noise” had proven too much of a distraction to his campaign. If an impeachment process cannot strengthen your argument against renominating the current president, you really shouldn’t be running.
When Trump was elected, roughly 90 percent of Democrats thought it was a terrible idea, a total that probably includes all of their elected representatives. It is likely that the vast majority of U.S. State Department personnel shared that opinion, and the same goes for the White House national-security staff that isn’t appointed by the president. They are free to have that opinion. If a president’s worldview, beliefs, decisions, and actions bother them to the point that they no longer wish to be a part of the government, they always have the option of resigning. Others soldier on, anonymously telling reporters, “I fully intend to outlast these people,” meaning the Trump administration. The vast majority probably will; despite predictions of an exodus of federal workers under President Trump, the number of federal employees is up by about 17,000 since January 2017, although that probably reflects an increase in preparation for the Census. The Constitution does not include a provision of “advise and consent” with the civil service. A president’s decisions may be unwise, but there is no requirement that those serving under him must approve of his actions in order for them to be enacted.
This is a country that backed away from removing Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, and that avoided the first successful impeachment of a sitting president because of Richard Nixon’s resignation. A Senate vote to remove Trump would effectively declare that Trump’s phone call to the Ukrainian president, and other efforts to hold up congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine, was the worst decision of any president in American history, and the only one that warranted this ultimate punishment.
If you see Trumpism as a terrifying menace, as most members of #TheResistance insist, or think that Trump is an aspiring authoritarian, as most #NeverTrump conservatives insist, then you have the most to lose if Trump’s presidency ends with impeachment and removal. If Trump is removed, he will become a martyr in the eyes of his supporters. They will believe or convince themselves that the “Establishment” turned to impeachment because Trump’s reelection was certain. (It’s not certain in either direction, and the lesson of 2016 should have been to never believe any outcome is 100 percent certain.) Future Republicans will seek to campaign on Trumpism without Trump, adopting his positions and perhaps his tone on immigration, racial and religious minorities, the rule of law, and nonchalance towards foreign dictators — and perhaps with quite a bit of “waving the bloody shirt” of the impeachment fight. There will be a “stabbed in the back” narrative built around Republicans who support impeachment. If you genuinely believe that this country has taken a terrible turn for the worse since January 2017, then you want Trump defeated at the ballot box, soundly and thoroughly. Only then will the Republican party look at Trumpism in toto and conclude, “That doesn’t work, we need to try a different approach.”
Removing President Trump from office would say to the American people, “Don’t worry if you make a choice that turns out bad. We will save you from the consequences of your actions.” If you want the American people to exercise better judgment in future elections, you need to make them live with the consequences of their bad decisions. The lesson of a successful impeachment of Trump would be that Americans should vote for whoever they want and not worry about electing a seriously flawed president, because if he ever got too bad, Congress would step in and take him out. The narrative is clear: The will of the people matters, until the stakes get really high, and then the grown-ups will step in, reverse decisions, and put out the fires.
Democrats can argue that their impeachment effort reflects the will of the people, too. Anyone who ever contended that a Democratic House would never impeach the president was willfully blind; various members of the party have been talking about it since the beginning of Trump’s presidency, and Rashida Tlaib made her intentions profanely clear upon taking office. On Election Day 2020, Americans will get to make their own judgments about the president, the senators who will probably vote on impeachment, and the House Democrats who voted for it as well. And that’s how it should be.