The Morning Jolt


Not All Trump Critics Are Sold on Impeachment

Signs at an anti-Trump protest in Vista, Calif., October 31, 2017. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Raise your hand if you expected the argument against the impeachment of Trump to be led by . . . David Brooks in the New York Times.

This is completely elitist. We’re in the middle of an election campaign. If Democrats proceed with the impeachment process, it will happen amid candidate debates, primaries and caucuses. Elections give millions and millions of Americans a voice in selecting the president. This process gives 100 mostly millionaire senators a voice in selecting the president.

As these two processes unfold simultaneously, the contrast will be obvious. People will conclude that Democrats are going ahead with impeachment in an election year because they don’t trust the democratic process to yield the right outcome. Democratic elites to voters: We don’t trust you. Too many of you are racists!

Impeachment is no longer a rare and grave crisis in American life; it’s becoming a device parties use when the House and the presidency are in the hands of different parties. Democratic House members have already introduced impeachment articles against Trump on at least four occasions. It’s just another partisan thing.

Okay, that’s the . . . er, hard-right MAGA-head Trump loyalist David Brooks. Let’s see what a reasonable Republican like former Ohio governor John Kasich thinks.

[Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president] was completely inappropriate, it’s an outrageous thing . . . You just don’t say, ‘okay, I read a newspaper article, or I saw one transcript, and therefore, you throw the guy out of office. I think it is a long process, and there has to be more, in my opinion . . . I’m not going to support Trump, I didn’t support him the last time, I’m not going to support him again. I don’t think he’s conducted himself appropriately in that office — not just these things, but dividing our country. But that’s a long way from impeachment . . .

I think [Pelosi] moved forward too fast, myself. I think she should have waited until this testimony in the intelligence committee. But she felt a lot of pressure from her party. Her party’s saying, ‘we’re in power, it’s time for us to go and do something here.’ They’re all looking for a pound of flesh because they’re so angry at Donald Trump. You cannot proceed on the basis of emotion and anger. You have to proceed logically, carefully. This is really an important matter. This is not just about Donald Trump, this is about the precedents for the future as well.

Okay, fine, that’s Kasich. He’s always been squishy and looked for the middle ground. Let’s turn to our old friend Jonah Goldberg, who’s called it like he sees it every day of the Trump era:

Impeachment is ultimately a question of whether a president violated the public trust. But there’s nothing in the Constitution that says a president must be impeached for violating the public trust. I can list any number of occasions when presidents have done that and it never even occurred to anyone that they should be impeached for it . . .

Absent new facts, the GOP-controlled Senate will not remove Trump. The president would claim “exoneration,” and his behavior would become normalized for future presidents. So I’m not sure Democrats are right to pursue impeachment. I’m sure Republicans are wrong to pretend that what Trump did was totally fine.

If you’re a Democrat, the hesitation about impeachment from consistent Trump critics like Brooks, Kasich, and Goldberg probably ought to strike you as a red flag. Then again, perhaps we shouldn’t expect the party that’s increasingly openly embracing socialism to recognize a signal of “danger ahead” in a red flag.

For the past week, I’ve been pointing out the challenges of the timing for the Democrats, and how the clock is working against them. The closer the country gets to the general election, the sillier it looks to pursue an impeachment effort to remove a president, particularly when everyone knows impeachment proponents are extremely unlikely to persuade 20 Republican senators to vote to remove him from office.

Apparently the Democrats’ upcoming strategy to cope with this challenge is to focus on, as one Democratic aide put it to the Washington Post, “the need for speed.”: “‘Very few hearings, if any,’ said a senior Democratic aide, who said the coming investigative work will largely take place in closed-door interviews.”

Boy, that’s reassuring, huh? Back in 1998, the House Judiciary Committee held seven separate hearings, running from November 19 to December 12.

Have those senior Democratic aides noticed that the House is out of session for three of the next six weeks? We’re simultaneously being told that this is serious enough to remove a president from office, something this country has never done in its history, and that it’s so important it can’t be left to the voters to judge in the upcoming election, and that so far, it doesn’t require any changes to the schedule of the House of Representatives. Fellas, it doesn’t add up.

Here’s an argument in favor of impeachment: Since day one, progressive Democrats have believed that President Trump deserved to be impeached, and that an overwhelming majority of the American people agree with them, and that they would not suffer any backlash at the ballot box for attempting to remove the president from office. No amount of polling or expressions of nervousness and hesitation from freshman Democrats in swing districts can persuade them. The only way to prove to them that this is a bad idea is to let them go through with it and live with the consequences. Political parties crave power and have a difficult time prioritizing anything above the accumulation and preservation of power. The only thing that will prevent the increasingly common weaponization of impeachment against future presidents is the lesson that this approach costs the impeaching party power.

And if we’re honest, none of us can say with absolute certainty what the consequences of this impeachment effort are going to be. The poll numbers are moving a bit on impeachment, but it’s a familiar story: Democrats love it, Republicans hate it, and independents are marginally against it — 44 percent approve, 50 percent disapprove in the new NPR/PBS/Marist survey.

Maybe there won’t be a political backlash against impeachment in the next election. Democrats surely thought the unpopular impeachment that ended in 1999 would hurt the Republicans, but George W. Bush won the next presidential election and Republicans kept their majorities in the House and Senate. By the time November 2000 rolled around, impeachment was old news. (For what it was worth, Al Gore apparently blamed Clinton’s sex scandals and low personal-approval rating for his loss.)

There’s an old saying in politics that migrated to screenwriting and fiction writing: “Hang a lantern on your problem.” In the context of politics, it means instead of avoiding or downplaying your problem, discuss it openly and directly before anyone else can level an accusation against you. In the screenwriting and fiction writing, it means addressing your plot hole or implausible turn of events before the reader or audience can. “Boy, we’re really lucky that this old hidden passageway was back here! I thought we were trapped! No one ever mentioned it before, and it wasn’t on the map.” “Yeah, I read once that they used this place during Prohibition, it must have been installed by bootleggers!” etcetera.

Impeachment fundamentally is an action that undoes the results of an election, and it is inherently a divisive and angry process. Democrats can’t hide from it, so they might as well embrace it. Back in August, our Kevin Williamson appeared on Bill Maher’s program and made an argument that had not-friendly audience surprisingly nodding in agreement, that some principles of the United States were too important to be decided by popular will:

Like me, you don’t trust big masses of people because they tend to be stupid and easy to scare. All of the best things about our Constitution are the anti-democratic stuff like the Bill of Rights, which is America’s great big list of stuff you idiots don’t get to vote on. If we had put slavery up to a vote in 1860, it’d have won, it’d have won 70 to 30. If we put free speech up to a vote today, it’d probably lose.

By pursuing impeachment before the 2020 election, Democrats are declaring this is too important a matter to leave for Americans to vote on. Democrats might as well say, “Yes, we know about half of you love this man, and about half of you believe that whatever he did, it’s probably justified. We know that you may vote against us in the next election if we attempt to remove him from office. But an abuse of power is an abuse of power, whether it’s popular or unpopular. What the president did was wrong; strong-arming an ally for political dirt on a rival violates his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, and no polling number can change that. Yes, this action will undo the choice of the electorate in 2016. We are indeed overruling the decision of the people, because the people selected someone who cannot perform his duties ethically. Our country is significantly weakened by a president who cannot distinguish between his own personal and political interests and the national interests. This mindset in governing endangers our allies, strengthens our enemies, and makes free and fair elections impossible. This is simply too important to leave in the voters’ hands in 2020.”

A lot of Americans would hate that argument, but few could argue Democrats were not being honest about how they saw the issue. Maybe that’s a bridge too far. But the alternative, as Judge Judy would put it, is to pee on the public’s leg and tell them it’s raining: “We’re not trying to overrule the 2016 election, we’re just trying to remove the president from office.”

I just wish leading Democrats such as Representative Adam Schiff would take the sage advice of this man:

Impeachment is an extraordinary remedy, not to be entertained lightly, and in the case of a president, would mean putting the country through a deeply wrenching process. It is instead a remedy that must be considered soberly, mindful of the fact that removing a president from office should be the recourse for only the most serious transgressions.

Should the facts warrant impeachment, that case will be made more difficult politically if part of the country feels that removing Mr. Trump is the result that some of their fellow Americans were wishing for all along.

That was written by . . . Adam Schiff, back on May 4, 2018.

ADDENDUM: The weeks ahead will inevitably bring a lot of scrutiny about Hunter Biden and his business partners and deals and anything that looks or sounds unsavory or creates the appearance of a conflict of interest for Joe Biden. Surely, no one in the Democratic party could want to fan the flames on that, right?


The Latest