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Politics & Policy

A Failure of Nerve at The Atlantic

Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes write in The Atlantic that President Trump is a menace to the republic because of “his attempt to erode the independence of the justice system” and his “encouragement of a foreign adversary’s interference in U.S. electoral processes”; that the Republican party is enabling this threat; and that citizens should therefore “vote mindlessly and mechanically against Republicans at every opportunity, until the party either rights itself or implodes” — regardless of their views on, say, guns, taxes, and abortion.

On Twitter, Ross Douthat has gone through some of the ways that Rauch and Wittes overstate their case. Here I want to take a different tack: If Rauch and Wittes believe what they say they believe, isn’t there a more straightforward argument they should be making? Shouldn’t they be arguing, that is, for the impeachment and removal of the president, and for voting Democratic as a way of enabling that specific result?

I can think of three possible reasons that the word “impeach” does not appear in the article. First, they may believe that the constitutional threshold for impeachment has not been met. But that can’t be right. If Trump really has tried to erode the independence of the justice system and encouraged a foreign adversary’s interference in our elections — if he has done these things in such a clear-cut, horrible way that voters, whatever their views on other questions, have a moral obligation to resist him — then by what possible definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors” can he be innocent of them?

Second, they might think that their argument will come across as more more moderate and restrained if they avoid talking about the removal of an elected president. But that’s a little odd too. Rauch and Wittes present the course of action they recommend as an extreme step in itself, one they consider justified by the extremity of the national need. Would readers who follow their argument — who nod along as they read that pro-life, anti-Obamacare voters should vote for liberal Democrats for the good of the country — really balk if they came across the suggestion of impeachment and say, “Whoa, that’s going too far”?

Third, they might think that the course of action they have identified would be a better way of responding to the Trump threat. That alternative is the congressional Democrats’ use of “legislation and oversight to push back against the administration.” Unless “oversight” is a euphemism for impeachment, I don’t see how this is going to be effective against the serious threat they describe. Wouldn’t Trump just veto this Democratic legislation, whatever it is, if it’s a threat to him? If a Democratic congressional majority were powerful enough to dictate terms to him on legislation, wouldn’t it also be powerful enough to move forward with impeachment?

I’m not sure what their reasons are for drawing back from the constitutionally prescribed procedure for dealing with presidents as dangerous as they consider Trump to be, but I do think their argument logically points in the direction of that procedure. We may as well have the argument.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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