Mitch McConnell has contended that impeachment distracted the government from meeting the impending danger of the coronavirus. Dan McLaughlin and Rich Lowry have both made versions of this case for NRO, with both focusing on Trump rather than the government as a whole and both adding that the distraction would have been all the greater if Democrats had gotten their way in getting witnesses to testify before the Senate in a prolonged trial.
It is not necessary to disagree with the main points in this case to see four other ones that undercut it.
First — as McLaughlin notes — Trump was minimizing the danger even after his acquittal by the Senate.
Second, his own conduct provoked impeachment. Sure, there were Democrats who wanted to impeach him before they ever heard the name Volodomyr Zelensky. But other Democrats were successfully resisting their push before news of the “perfect” phone call and the rest. Even some strong defenders of the president admitted toward the start of the debate that pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens was potentially serious misconduct. On September 24, 2019, Steve Doocy said on Fox & Friends, “If the president said, you know, ‘I will give you the money but you’ve got to investigate Joe Biden,’ that is really off-the-rails wrong.”
Third, a president can reasonably be held responsible for doing his job in full even during an impeachment. It was entirely within his power to cut back on tweeting and cable viewing to take in a few more briefings about public health.
Fourth, the argument implicitly treats Democratic behavior as the variable and Republican behavior as the constant. Maybe it’s true that Trump would have had more time and headspace to concentrate on coronavirus if Democrats had decided not to impeach him over Ukraine — even though their voters would have been enraged. But if Republicans had decided to buck their voters and abandon Trump, we could have had President Pence overseeing the response to coronavirus. Each of these scenarios of non-partisan behavior is roughly equally otherworldly.
None of this is to say that the president deserves all the blame for the costs our country is paying. On the contrary: He has done and said some very helpful things; some grave errors are bound to happen in a situation like this one; some of the errors in our government’s response are not fairly traceable to him; and we will never know how many lives would have been saved if all of these errors had been avoided (just as we will never know what Trump would have done differently if there had been no impeachment). But whatever responsibility Trump has for what is happening now, impeachment does not relieve him of any of it.