To impeach or not to impeach?

Interesting debate been going on about this.  My current take: 1) Trump probably does deserve to be impeached based on information we already know about how he’s conducted his presidency.  2) The fact that he deserves to be impeached doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea.  3) I’m open-minded on this point, but as of right now, it should not be an emphasis of the Democratic party.  That could and may well change.  4) I suspect many have over-learned the impeachment lessons of Bill Clinton.  Clinton lied about having sex.  Trump is clearly abusing the powers of his office.  Big difference.

Chait with the don’t impeach, but investigate like hell approach:

While we can’t predict the future with any certainty, we can assume a Nixonian end to the Trump presidency is an extremely remote possibility. The House can impeach by a majority vote, but removing the president from office requires 67 senators, which means at least 20 Republicans. Trump’s influence over the party’s elected officials is growing, and its center of gravity is moving asymptotically toward Trump’s candid observation that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue without losing any support. Democrats largely recognize the near-impossibility of removal and have internalized the pointlessness of impeaching the president to no effect. We can likewise assume with reasonable confidence that, as many lawyers have argued, the president cannot be indicted while in office.

So what’s the point of all the investigation? The point is to establish legal accountability for the president. Well-functioning democracies don’t have criminal oligarchies running the country with legal impunity. The kind of deep systemic corruption Trump is implementing, in which establishing a political alliance with a ruling family is a key step in amassing and protecting wealth, depends on selective legal enforcement. More to the point, it requires business partners. Maybe Donald Trump can’t be hauled off to prison, but his partners can. And that prospect can scare off the collaborators Trump needs.

Second, and more to the point, even if Robert Mueller can’t kick Trump out of the White House directly and the Senate won’t, there’s a body of people who can: the 2020 electorate. And the Trump investigations are building a powerful case that will be brought to bear on that election…

The public has not absorbed the reality that Trump has surrounded himself with criminals and continued to use his position for personal profit. Democrats will have the opportunity to undermine his pseudo-populism and portray him as a creature of the swamp, and the parade of convictions and indictments will be a convincing backdrop to this theme. [emphasis mine]

Most of this information has been filtered through the prism of impeachment, and thus turned into a story about Democrats potentially overreaching or following a quixotic strategy. It should be viewed more realistically as the shaping of a dismal news environment for Trump. The already-unpopular president is looking at two years of perp walks, incriminating testimony and — at best! — a series of suspicious presidential pardons. He barely managed to win the presidency as a brash, controversial novelty. He will have to win it a second time as a known crook.

Brian Beutler says, impeach:

There’s a reason this isn’t happening, though, and it isn’t because Democrats have played coy about impeachment. Democrats have been at pains to convey their misgivings about it. Their protestations have done nothing to waft away the pall of impeachment because the country’s political elite, and large swaths of its general population, know that Trump is historically corrupt, and has committed a variety of impeachable offenses—that he deserves to be impeached, even if the political will to impeach him and remove him from office hasn’t materialized on its own.

It is foolish and potentially dangerous for Democrats to imagine they can avoid the impeachment question in perpetuity, particularly if they intend to do the kind of vigorous oversight they’ve promised. What we’ve already learned about Trump through non-oversight channels is incredibly damning and leaves little doubt that Democrats will unearth misconduct that makes Richard Nixon look clean and cautious by comparison. It’s actually hard to imagine that Democrats won’t eventually reach a crossroads where they must choose between forging ahead with impeachment unilaterally and explaining why Trump’s impeachable offenses will go unpunished.

They should not fear this or get mind-gamed into assuming that impeachment can’t be anything but a trap for them. It’s easy if ahistorical to assume the public will view impeaching Trump as overreach, and punish Democrats if they go down that path alone. It’s just as easy to imagine that impeaching Trump in the House—with or without Republican support, or any hope of convicting him in the Senate—will become a no-brainer…

Democrats’ plain reluctance to treat impeachment as a viable remedy to this profound corruption has already emboldened Trump. During the campaign, he raised the specter of impeachment gleefully, imagining it would both motivate his supporters to vote, and cow Democrats into pushing the threat of impeachment further to the margin…

Why wouldn’t he do these things, particularly if he’s guided by the sense that Democrats will refuse to impeach him so long as Republicans refuse to convict and remove him?

There is a better alternative to letting Republicans dictate the terms of House Democrats’ power, but it would require Democrats not to over-learn the lessons of the 1990s…

The broader point is that nothing’s written. Trump isn’t Bill Clinton, House Democrats aren’t House Republicans, Robert Mueller isn’t Ken Starr, and the Russia conspiracy isn’t the Lewinsky affair. There is no iron rule of politics that says impeachment without removal is always pointless or politically damaging, so there’s no reason to forget or assume anything. The politics of the 2010s and the 1990s are similar in some ways, but not in most. Things might play out much the same way, and yet completely differently, this time around.

Good points all around.  I say, wait and see, but, sure, do not take impeachment off the table.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to To impeach or not to impeach?

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    I’m with the don’t impeach but investigate like hell camp. If and when the Republicans in the Senate start chomping at the bit for impeachment, then start impeachment proceedings.
    Meanwhile, let’s see what Mueller comes up with and support his investigation every inch of the way. Tell the story of corruption and explain why it’s corruption loud and clear. Shout it loud and clear: that swamp is here.

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