Impeaching Trump Would Be Right in Principle, But Disastrous Politically

“No collusion. No obstruction. And now — get this! — no impeachment! I tell ya, those Democrats are such losers.”

This is the nightmare script Donald Trump would use, gleefully and very likely successfully, in his 2020 re-election campaign for president — if the Democrats move to impeach him, as increasing numbers of Congressional Democrats and voices in the media are increasingly pressing. How so?

Because: If the Democrats move to impeach Trump and they lose — and they most certainly would lose, since the Republican-controlled Senate would never ever ratify House-generated articles of impeachment from the Democrats — then Trump, when he takes his lounge act out on the campaign trail, could effectively claim total victory (“I won the trifecta!”): no collusion with the Russians, no obstruction of justice, and — ta-da — no case proved for impeachment.

And, winning the trifecta, Trump goes on to win re-election.

If you feel, as I do, that absolutely the most important thing for America at this perilous moment in her history is to deny Donald Trump a second term — after all, this moment is so perilous precisely because of D.J. Trump — then the above script is not a winner. We are talking strategy and politics here, not principle.

Of late Trump seems actually to be asking for impeachment, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has astutely figured out. Why would he do so, one wonders? Because Trump may want the total and complete exoneration from the (Republican-controlled) Senate — thus fireproofing his presidency — that he did not quite get from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Mueller left open the question of Trump’s obstruction of justice, stating, “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Notice Trump made hash of Mueller’s dangling conclusion on obstruction of justice, by taking the exoneration he got regarding collusion with the Russians and applying it to justice-obstruction as well, claiming “total and complete exoneration” on the entire Mueller investigation. Donald the Slick doesn’t do nuance or logic, he does brat-in-the-sandbox one-upsmanship.

And he will do it again if Democrats move to impeach — and lose — which they will. Again, the nightmare script: “No collusion, no obstruction, and now, no impeachment! I tell ya, those Democrats are such losers.”

Certainly, in principle, there is no president in the entire annals of America history who deserves impeachment more than Donald J. Trump — on all kinds of grounds. And those who hold that failure to impeach would be a dereliction of Constitutional duty have a point, an important one. Impeachment being a political and not a legal process, the grounds for impeachment would be a matter of take-your-pick: his disdain for rule of law and the separation of powers; his corruption (his manipulation of the office of Attorney General, for one); his cozying up to autocrats and trashing allies; his racism, misogyny, xenophobia; his grifter ways and boorishness. And, so perilous to a democracy, there is Trump’s incessant lying: The Washington Post has documented over 10,000 lies since his inauguration. For myself, every fiber in me strains for impeachment.

But, again: The problem is the Republican-controlled Senate — the reality check to principle.

All the above-cited grounds — uncontrovertibly principled, relating to the rightness and wrongness of things and to Constitutional duty — have not moved heretofore self-proclaimed principled Republicans one jot or one tittle in acting as a brake on this comprehensively unprincipled president. Republicans enjoy citing Democrats for “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” but it is Republicans who have deranged their principles to make a Faustian bargain with Trump, in order to retain power; they would never impeach. (One audacious GOP Congressman, Michigan’s Justin Amash, did call recently for impeachment, but so totally is the GOP now Trump’s party that already Amash’s audacity has activated a primary challenger.)

In sum, as Republicans are not turning on Trump, Democrats must themselves turn Trump out of the White House — not by impeachment, a political maneuver, but at the ballot box, where democracy’s stakeholders, the voting populace, can weigh in (decisively and maximally, it is to be hoped). Besides, Trump’s base, granite-solid, would perceive impeachment as a political coup and never accept it.

Best that House Democrats stick with Speaker Pelosi’s strategy: Continue with due oversight and the investigations — the Mueller report provides helpful guidance (also here) — while looking to the courts to provide what Post columnist Karen Tumulty calls “air cover as six different House committees seek documents and testimony from a stonewalling administration.” (Which process is reasonably quick: Last week the courts accommodated Democrats in two such cases.) “So far,” Tumulty writes, Pelosi’s “strategy of keeping one foot on the congressional oversight accelerator while tapping the brakes on impeachment is winning.”

Of course, Trump’s preposterous refusal to cooperate with Congress unless it stops investigating him may box him into a tight Constitutional corner, upping the impeachment ante even more. And there is always the possibility that some blockbuster revelation would push public opinion to cry, “Impeach!”

In that case, Pelosi could, and should, move to impeach. As John Cassidy of The New Yorker writes, “Should public opinion move firmly in favor of impeachment, Pelosi would almost certainly move with it. Her objection is based on politics rather than principle.” Meanwhile, per Pelosi’s strategy, “let the existing inquiries play out, while aggressively challenging the Administration’s stonewalling in the courts and amping up the messaging about Trump being engaged in a cover-up.”

Fellow Dems, heed Speaker Pelosi: Put down the “Impeach Now” signs and focus on registering masses of new voters for 2020. Impeachment is but a battle, a political one. We must win the war — for our democracy — by ousting this proto-autocrat at the ballot box. There is principle in that, too.

Our times examined via politics, culture, morality. Author, "Can America Save Itself from Decline?" Playwright. Contributor, HuffPost.

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