As readers no doubt know all too well, Donald Trump has been impeached. You can read the two articles of impeachment here.
I have to confess I am posting on this development with some reluctance. As much as I view Trump as a dangerously incompetent and personally corrupt President, it is hardly controversial to recognize that the Democrats have gone about the impeachment in a manner that isn’t capturing the hearts and minds of the group they need to win in order to take back the Presidency in 2020, independents. It’s been obvious from the outset that the Democrats were highly unlikely to be able to convict Trump in the Senate, and Trump has demonstrated again and again his fondness for fighting, even on issues like The Wall, where he lost early on, so there was zero reason to think that an impeachment would lead to a resignation or less desire on his behalf to campaign in 2020.
Not surprisingly, the vote was largely on partisan lines, with three Democratic party defections (including Tulsi Gabbard, who voted “present”), all from districts that had gone to Trump in 2016.
But the move that caught everyone, including reporters at the hearing, on the back foot, was Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s statement that she had not set a time for sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate. The lack of any preparation of the public for this move, after all of the Democratic Party braying that they’d impeach Trump by Christmas, implying an eagerness to move the process forward, makes them look at best too clever by half and at worst, unserious or even worried about fallout. Lambert has pointed out repeatedly in Water Cooler that Peak Impeachment Enthusiasm occurred in October; support for the process has fallen and Trump’s popularity have risen since then.
Jerri-Lynn points out by e-mail: “This idea of delaying the Senate trial is Tribe’s idea – if you can believe his twitter feed (and have the stomach to read it).” For instance:
Senate rules requiring the House to “immediately” present its articles of impeachment to the Senate clearly violate the constitutional clause in Article I giving each house the sole power to make its own rules. It’s up to the House when and how to prosecute its case in the Senate
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) December 18, 2019
However, having the right to do something (delay the timing when the previous signals had been all systems go) isn’t the same as it being politically sound to exercise that option. And it isn’t clear that the ability to delay is tantamount to leverage, which is what Tribe seems to think.
The Wall Street Journal suggests there are practical reason for pausing, that the Democrats want to get some business concluded before proceeding to the divisive and all-consuming Senate trial. The Senate has not set a schedule for January because impeachment takes precedence over all other business and requires Senators to sit six days a week. From the Wall Street Journal:
Sending the articles automatically triggers a trial. There have been discussions on waiting until after the government is funded, according to the aide, and possibly until after the passage of a new North American trade deal.
The Democrats appear to be trying to put a completely different face on the delay, that they are tussling with the openly partisan Mitch McConnell over the rules for the hearing. Note that with the Clinton impeachment, this process took place behind closed doors and was approved with a 100-0 vote. This outcome appears implausible now.
The Democrats want a full-blown trial, including calling witnesses like John Bolton, whom the White House directed to turn down House invitations to testify. The Republicans want a fast trial to declare victory and move on.
The Democrats to be hanging their hopes on a longer process to keep Trump under the hot lights and secure Republican defections in a Senate vote from the likes of Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney. However, there are also Democrats who may cross the aisle like Doug Jones of Alabama, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. However, even the Financial Times points out that a long trial could result in the Republicans producing evidence that bolsters Trump. And let us not forget that having Warren and Sanders hostage to the Senate trial means they can’t campaign.
As Politico describes it, the Democrats are trying to pin the partisan tail on the Senate Republicans, and are threatening to keep investigating Trump in the House in the meantime. Again, this has the potential to come off as “Fire, aim, ready,” confirming the point the Republican constitutional expert Jonathan Turley made in his testimony, that the Democrats might well have a case for impeachment, but the evidence in hand didn’t add up to one.
Final thoughts. Noam Chomsky made a critically important point I managed to miss as to why the Democrats focused on the Ukraine hairball of all things. Apparently illegal wars that cost the US trillions in treasure and ruin what was left of our good name are fine, but crossing certain lines in party blood sport are not.
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) November 1, 2019
The Dan Westneat of the Seattle Times points out the dangers of this focus:
As someone who believes President Donald Trump deserves to be impeached, I can also say this: The Democrats have blown it in making the case against him.
As a reporter I covered the last impeachment of a president, in 1998 of Bill Clinton. It sure feels to me the Democrats have made the same mistake this time that the Republicans made back then.
Which is: The case is just too small.
Guilt is not an issue….
But the problem Republicans ran into in the ‘90s was that the public felt the punishment didn’t match the crime. Polls then showed a hefty 79 percent of the public agreed Clinton was guilty. But the gravity of lying about consensual sex was too slight, too thin, to merit dumping him from office.
Democrats have a similar scale problem here. Trump did it — or more accurately, he tried to do it. He’s incorrigible about it, too. So he won’t have a smidgen of hesitation about abusing his office again if it means gaining some personal advantage.
But because the Trump impeachment case has been so tightly confined to this one episode with Ukraine, it has lowered the stakes. It all but invites a shrug: Ukraine got its aid eventually, and they aren’t investigating rival Joe Biden’s son anyway, so … whatever. Public support for ousting Trump is about 50-50 and hasn’t much budged in months.
The plural of anecdote is not data, but I asked a relative, a former union shop steward who likes in Upper Michigan, meaning the sort of Rust Belt area the Democrats need to win back, what people in his community thought about impeachment (he’s been on the City Planning Commission and is now on the local library board, so he does mix in circles beyond mill employees). His response:
No in town one much cares. They think it’s a waste of time and money.
As much as Trump is a terrible President, the Democrats are managing to make him look better.