Making the click-through worthwhile: how today’s impeachment is just the latest chapter in an ongoing four-year fight about Donald Trump and the American presidency; a quote from Nancy Pelosi she probably regrets; wondering what the most unpredictable Hawaii congresswoman wants to do next; and a busy schedule for podcasts.
Today Is Just Another Chapter in a Four-Year Argument: Should Donald Trump Be President?
Over in his newsletter for Axios, Mike Allen writes, “Today is a day we’ll always remember — one that will be studied as long as people study politics.”
Whatever your view on impeachment, wasn’t it more or less guaranteed, once Democrats won the House, that an impeachment effort would eventually gain traction and reach 218 votes? Impeachment wasn’t just Rashida Tlaib’s infamous pledge. President Trump and a Democratic House majority were never going to settle into comfortable odd-couple squabbling, like Barack Obama and John Boehner’s House GOP, or George W. Bush and Nancy Pelosi’s first House majority. They were always on a collision course on the biggest issue of our era, a furious national argument that started in 2015 and never stopped: Should Donald Trump be president?
As I’ve written before, three weeks into Trump’s presidency, Public Policy Polling found 83 percent of Clinton voters believed Trump needed to be impeached. Three weeks! Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling declared, “voters who didn’t like Trump but were willing to give him a chance have quickly decided he’s not fit to hold the office.” At that point, Trump hadn’t committed any high crimes or misdemeanors. Trump had simply been himself; in the eyes of quite a few Democrats, Trump’s presence in the office of the presidency was an ipso facto high crime or misdemeanor. Impeachment became a way of expressing the belief that the 2016 election shouldn’t have ended the way it did. To quote comedian John Mulaney, “you go to brunch with people, and they say, ‘I don’t think there should be a horse in the hospital!’ We’re well past that!’”
A lot of people thought Trump would get impeached over Russia and the 2016 campaign. Mueller didn’t come up with the goods on collusion, but along the way, Trump took actions that could be construed, at minimum, as a desire to obstruct the Mueller probe. Back in April, after the Mueller report was released, I wrote Democrats pursue impeachment and get their rage over Trump’s continued presence in the Oval Office out of their system.
The most likely outcome is two mostly party-line votes in the House and Senate. It would eat up six months or so of the nation’s time and, I suspect, increase the odds of President Trump’s reelection. If it started soon, it would probably conclude at the end of 2019 and then the country would begin the 2020 presidential campaign in earnest with the first primaries. The country would probably be exhausted from the arguments, and probably grow increasingly irritated with a Democratic party that has denied Trump’s legitimacy as president from day one.
They moved a little faster than I predicted. I also warned that Democrats could return to the impeachment well whenever they wanted.
Keep in mind, there’s no statute of limitations on any of this. If Democrats choose to not impeach Trump this year, they can keep it in their back pocket and, at any time during his presidency if he’s elected to a second term, take it up later. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever see 67 Democrats in the Senate, but this represents a stink-bomb that the Democrats can throw at the president at any time, as long as they hold a majority in the House.
As we’ve seen since then, some House Democrats are thinking about impeaching Trump a second time if he wins reelection. Impeachment has become a form of super-censure, a way for a House majority to express vehement disapproval of the president’s actions.
The specifics about today’s impeachment focus on Ukraine, but this is just the latest chapter in a multi-year dispute about the president’s legitimacy. Why do you think the polling numbers on impeachment never moved much? Every day when you check the news, the most common argument is, this man should not be president.
President Trump certainly did nothing to avoid this fate. A lot of his fans love his relentless combativeness, his constant stream of bile towards his political foes, his daily venting of his spleen about whatever he saw on television and irked him that morning. The decision to behave like that has consequences. Do you think that so many red and purple-district House Democrats are lining up behind impeachment just because of Pelosi’s arm-twisting? Or could it possibly be that they are genuinely repulsed by how Trump does his job and see no reason to let his presidency continue? Why would any Democrat stick their neck out to help Trump, considering how he publicly mocks members of his own cabinet on Twitter?
We are often told that Trump never apologizes. He’s free to have that attitude towards life, but many people are more forgiving of those who express and demonstrate contrition. Trump could have contended that interest in the Bidens and Burisma was legitimate, but that he should have handled the issue through proper law enforcement and diplomatic channels; instead, we are repeatedly told of the immaculately conceived “perfect call.” Trump voluntarily forsake most of the traditional options to deescalate heated political fights.
Trump clearly does not see Congress as a coequal branch of government. His administration simply ignores subpoenas, bars witnesses from testifying, claims executive privilege more frequently and covering more than any other president before. Trump doesn’t see the decisions of Congress as legitimate, either. Congress appropriated funding to Ukraine; the administration simply held it up and didn’t tell anyone. This is not Constitutional government.
What we have here is a complete breakdown in the agreement of what elected lawmakers of different branches owe each other, and each side can point to some action of the opposition to justify their own defiance of established rules. The Democratic grassroots did not respond to their shocking defeat in 2016 by thinking, “wow, we completely misjudged what the electorate wanted, we have to reevaluate how we’ve been doing things.” They responded, “this man does not deserve to be president, he is not worthy of the office,” and many of them added, “as far as we are concerned, he is not the president.”
When you started to see once-conservative commentators opposing the Trump administration making policy changes they had previously endorsed, Tom Nichols argued that the Trump administration simply couldn’t be trusted to carry out any policy change and had to be opposed in whatever policy choices it made, regardless of the merits: “We don’t want this administration trying to do important and complicated things it doesn’t understand.” When he said this, Rex Tillerson was Secretary of State, John Kelly was White House chief of staff, and James Mattis was Secretary of Defense. The policy choice at issue was moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Notice that moving the embassy did not turn into the violent catastrophe that some people predicted it would become.
You can argue that a process as important and rarely-invoked as impeachment should be more than simply a cathartic expression of the furious condemnation of a House majority. But that’s what it has become. When it comes to ending the Trump presidency, the only real game in town is the 2020 election — which feels strangely under-covered compared to the wall-to-wall daily coverage of an impeachment process where the only unknown factors are the decisions of a handful of lawmakers.
Pelosi, Less Than a Year Ago: Impeachment Must Be Bipartisan
Nancy Pelosi, back in March: “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.”
The polling is evenly split, and not a single Republican in the House is expected to vote for impeachment.
No, Really, What Is Tulsi Gabbard Doing?
Tulsi Gabbard isn’t running for reelection to Congress, and she’s not going to be the Democratic nominee. She’s introducing a resolution of censure as an alternative to impeachment, and says she’s undecided on impeachment. She’s appearing on Mike Huckabee’s show on the Christian-themed Trinity Broadcasting Network.
What does she want to do next? Because she certainly doesn’t seem to want to follow the traditional path of a Democratic lawmaker.
ADDENDA: Oh, no. Kyle Smith didn’t like The Rise of Skywalker. His review might have a minor spoiler or two. If Episode Nine disappoints, at least we’ll always have The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda.
Speaking of Baby Yoda, I stopped over to Jonah’s podcast The Remnant and one chunk of our chat was about the Democrats 2020 primary, one chunk was about impeachment, and probably the last third was just pop culture — Star Wars, Six Underground on Netflix.
And at some point soon, Mickey and I will pop up on Scott Mason’s Play Like a Jet podcast, previewing Sunday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets. Busy week before the holidays!