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On Impeachment Fantasies, Redux

Trump And GOP ElephantTo put all of this another way: I think that the impeachment fantasy is very similar to the Hamilton elector fantasy: both are dreamed up by people who can’t believe that Trump was elected in the first place and just know in their heart of hearts that the GOP will figure out how horrible he is.

My point, ultimately, is that the pressures and peculiarities of partisan politics will lead the GOP to continue to support their president unless there is a real game changer.

And again, two things:

1) He did a lot of things in the campaign/his private life that one would have thought would have derailed him. They didn’t.  This causes me to think that the bar needed for impeachment is higher than a lot of people are assuming to be the case.

2) Public opinion polling clearly indicates that a large number of folks are willing to change their views of key things to align with Trump (e.g., bombing Syria and Vladimir Putin), so keep that in mind when one thinks that a given action by Trump is going to get him into trouble. The evidence suggests that his supporters are likely to rationalize their support rather than to revoke it.  If one remembers that evangelical voters have not only accepted Trump but, indeed, defend him it should be a reminder of the power of partisanship.

A corollary to that last point:  things like the Gorsuch appointment will go a long way to assuage conservative Republicans who otherwise might find Trump problematic.  Wins of that nature go a long way to assuage other concerns.

To be clear:  I am not stating that impeachment and removal are impossible, I just think that they are highly, highly unlikely. Moreover, anyone who would predict such an outcome is being fanciful.   The best case scenario for impeachment starts with a Democratic wave in the 2018 midterms coupled with some news about Trump that causes a huge public backlash.  Even if the Democrats win the House, the public backlash needed for a removal would have to be such that enough Republican Senators would be willing to vote for removal.  That’s a high bar.  Remember:  removal requires two-thirds of the Senate.  This would mean it would be necessary to sway a significant number of the president’s own party to think that his removal is more political advantageous than keeping him in the White House.  These are higher stakes than I think many seem to understand.

The bottom line is this:  when envisioning a potential impeachment think is terms not of the reasons one thinks Trump deserves removal (since most critics of Trump think him unfit for office), but think in terms of the various political circumstances that would have to exist to make it even possible, let alone probable.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Gustopher says:

    To put all of this another way: I think that the impeachment fantasy is very similar to the Hamilton elector fantasy: both are dreamed up by people who can’t believe that Trump was elected in the first place and just know in their heart of hearts that the GOP will figure out how horrible he is.

    Some people, in their heart of hearts, haven’t figured out how horrible the GOP is.

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  2. Pch101 says:

    1. The odds of impeachment may be low, but the odds of impeachment are maximized by pounding that drum.

    2. Complaining provides indirect benefits that you fail to appreciate. Talking about Hamilton electors, etc. has not driven Trump out of office, but it has made it possible for Trump to set new records of unpopularity for a new president and increases the odds that he will not get a second term.

    Attacking Trump out of the gate has normalized the idea of derailing his presidency even though he is a new president. That is unprecedented and would not have been possible without attacking his legitimacy. You need to understand that it is sometimes necessary to talk about one thing in order to achieve another.

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  3. @Pch101: I agree with criticizing the administration. However, we disagree as to the effect of things like Hamilton electors and impeachment talk.

    There is a lot more less esoteric stuff to talk about.

    Talking about Hamilton electors, etc. has not driven Trump out of office, but it has made it possible for Trump to set new records of unpopularity for a new president and increases the odds that he will not get a second term.

    He didn’t win the popular vote, is a polarizing figure to begin with, and has demonstrated that he really doesn’t know what he is doing.

    To attribute his low approval to talk about Hamilton electors strikes me as silly, to be honest, but one’s mileage may vary.

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  4. al-Ameda says:

    Look, I’m a realist.

    Short of an investigation that shows: (1) Trump knew of Russian plans to influence the election by hacking and leaking DNC information, or even more damaging, (2) shows that his real estate holdings were where Russians laundered mob money – short of one of those two items, it (impeachment) is not going to happen.

    Why? (1) Numbers. Republicans control the House; and in a related matter, (2) as long as Trump is pushing forward the domestic radical Right agenda Republicans are going to put up with almost anything he does short of inadvertently launching a cruise missile strike on London, San Francisco, or Los Angeles.

    What changes this calculus? Evidence of serious crime that leads directly to Trump, not his associates exclusively, but to Trump. At that point House Republicans might begin begin to feel that Trump the Grifter has poisoned their wells and a sea change election is on the horizon. At that point all bets are off and impeachment becomes more probable.

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  5. Pch101 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Not long ago, attacking a president out of the gate would have been seen as unpatriotic. Questioning Trump’s legitimacy from the onset gives permission to the citizenry to oppose a president even when he is new to the job because the underlying narrative is that he doesn’t have the legitimacy to be there.

    It is necessary to play the long game. Getting Walter Cronkite to come out against the war starts by laying extensive groundwork that eventually makes it acceptable for someone like Cronkite to oppose the war — he was not a trendsetter, and the trendsetters were not like him. It’s death by a thousand cuts, not just one.

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  6. @Pch101:

    Not long ago, attacking a president out of the gate would have been seen as unpatriotic.

    I honestly do not think this is historically accurate.

    It’s death by a thousand cuts, not just one.

    Well, indeed.

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  7. Pch101 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You should play through the alternative scenario: What would have happened if liberals didn’t go ballistic about the president?

    It should be obvious that the alternative for liberals would have been worse. Silence or guarded responses amount to tacit approval. Tacit approval makes it more difficult to change the tone later on and more difficult to rally the troops. Tacit approval makes disapproval less socially acceptable, which helps Trump with the polls and emboldens his administration. Tacit approval hurts morale on the left because it makes them feel like lambs at the slaughter who should be surrendering instead of fighting. So on the whole, your more mellow approach would be bad for liberals and liberals would be best to avoid it.

    The Republicans have done a much better job of stoking anger and channeling it into election results. The Hamilton electors are a signal that the Dems are finally figuring this out. I give credit to Indivisible for upping the game.

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  8. JohnMcC says:

    Thinking about this has reinforced for me the degree to which this Presidential election was really completely divorced for any actual policy advocacy. The word Dr Taylor uses is ‘partisanship’ but that seems to me to fail to describe what we have evolved into. One frequently sees the word ‘tribalism’ used. What we see is something that some 1/3d of U.S. voters in a broad national swath seem to experience contemporary American life as something almost like a life-or-death struggle for their culture and their nation as they understand it.

    Trump’s core is never ever going to desert him. During the final days of the Soviet gov’t there were many stories in the media about Russians who were nostalgic for Stalin. Think about that.

    So impeachment is indeed a fantasy. Pres Trump could indeed shot someone dead on 5th Ave and his strongest supporters would say it was because that guy really needed killing. Think about that, too.

    But for those of us in the blue team the alternative to impeachment is a 4 yr long struggle with a very uncertain outcome. So Dr Lichtman’s book and the reviews & conversation it’s sparked seems to offer something like a quick cure. Frankly, we should resolve to organize, contribute and speak out loudly at every opportunity and get over any conversation about impeachment.

    But damn! — wouldn’t it be sweet to see that horrid person covered with tar and feathers and carried on a rail!

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  9. michael reynolds says:

    Sometimes people say to me, ‘stop feeding the trolls, they aren’t listening.’ And I say: they aren’y my audience.

    De-legitimizing Trump preserves some notion of the US as the great democracy – one in temporary difficulties. It signals to the world that we do not accept this, that this does not define us. It says that to Trump voters as well. De-legitimizing Trump is absolutely vital.

    Whether that results in impeachment, or in turning Congress, or in Trump’s arrest, or just denying acceptance, these are all good outcomes. They are all better outcomes than legitimizing this election.

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  10. MBunge says:

    @Pch101: It is necessary to play the long game

    What you and others are doing is the exact opposite of the long game. You are just throwing a tantrum to make yourselves feel better.

    Actually playing the long game would involve…

    1. Figuring out how your side screwed up and taking steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again. NEWSFLASH: You didn’t lose because you failed to attack Trump with enough vigor.

    2. Taking advantage of the opportunity offered by Trump to fracture the GOP. Donald Trump is neither a conservative nor an ideologue. There are many ways in which you could get Trump to side with Democrats on Democratic issues against Republicans, especially since you believe Trump is an easily manipulated moron. NEWSFLASH: Your doing almost the exact opposite.

    3. Considering the long term implications of what you are doing. That’s why they call it “the long game.” Yet forget the next election, you guys can’t even think beyond next week’s poll numbers.

    Mike

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  11. MBunge says:

    @michael reynolds: De-legitimizing Trump preserves some notion of the US as the great democracy

    We must destroy democracy in order to save it? That attitude did not work in Vietnam and likely won’t be any more successful here.

    Mike

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  12. Eric Florack says:

    Substitute the name Obama for Trump and see if your theories still work

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  13. Ben Wolf says:

    @Pch101: Politics are about power, not arguments.

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  14. Pch101 says:

    @MBunge:

    When you finally have something insightful to say, you be sure to let me know.

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  15. gVOR08 says:

    Yes, Trump is not going to be impeached. But remember that the supposedly liberal MSM are sitting out there primed to declare Trump to have “pivoted”, to have “grown”, to be legitimately presidential. They already have twice, when he managed to read a speech to Congress without drooling and when he bombed Syria. The rational half of the country need to do everything possible to keep the narrative on the absurdity of Trump in the oval office. If that goal is furthered by talking about impeachment and 25th amendment remedies, use the tools you’ve got.

    And where are his d**n taxes? No returns, no “reform”.

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  16. SenyorDave says:

    @MBunge: There are many ways in which you could get Trump to side with Democrats on Democratic issues against Republicans, especially since you believe Trump is an easily manipulated moron. NEWSFLASH: Your doing almost the exact opposite.

    Trump lies constantly. These aren’t occasional slips of the tongue. He has lied his whole life, both in his professional and personal life. He’s corrupt, he doesn’t believe any rules apply to him. He’s a racist, sexist amoral pig. These are facts. You cannot work with a person like that. You have to oppose him. How you oppose him is the issue. But the idea of working with a person like Trump is inconceivable. He would stab you in the back in a second if he thought it would benefit himself.

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  17. gVOR08 says:

    @SenyorDave: That said, I do think the Dems should call Trumpsky’s bluff. He’s threatened to kill funding if the Ds don’t work with him on healthcare. Offer a plan, a plan with a few tweaks and that locks in funding. Make it clear that it isn’t a rescue, just routine improvements. “This will ensure that preexisting conditions, kids on your plan,…( all the popular stuff), can’t be taken away.” Publicize the plan with happy stories from states with Medicare expansion and horror stories from states without. Make it clear Trump has to get the small number of Rs needed to pass the Dem plan.

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  18. teve tory says:

    @SenyorDave: ” He would stab you in the back in a second if he thought it would benefit himself.”

    Indeed, how many positions did he reverse himself on last week? I counted four at one point.

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  19. al-Alameda says:

    @SenyorDave:

    Trump lies constantly. These aren’t occasional slips of the tongue. He has lied his whole life, both in his professional and personal life. He’s corrupt, he doesn’t believe any rules apply to him. He’s a racist, sexist amoral pig. These are facts. You cannot work with a person like that. You have to oppose him. How you oppose him is the issue. But the idea of working with a person like Trump is inconceivable. He would stab you in the back in a second if he thought it would benefit himself.

    Dead on.

    What is amazing to me is the degree to which ‘the strongest field of Republican candidates ever!’ has been completely emasculated by, and co-opted by, Donald Trump.

    They’re all intimidated by Trump. Governor Christie is probably the worst – he’s the puppy who’s been kicked to the curb a few times by Trump, yet he happily tags along hoping for a pat on the head or some special meatloaf-infused Alpo from the master.

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  20. Pch101 says:

    The 11th commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.

    That worked well enough for them when all of them followed it. But the Tea Party tossed that out the window with its “RINO” labeling and Trump followed its lead (which came naturally to him, since he has no loyalty to anyone except himself.)

    If the party establishment was smart, then it would see that the game has changed and aggressively attack the upstarts. But they are too greedy and hopeful to know better.

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  21. SenyorDave says:

    @al-Alameda: They’re all intimidated by Trump. Governor Christie is probably the worst – he’s the puppy who’s been kicked to the curb a few times by Trump, yet he happily tags along hoping for a pat on the head or some special meatloaf-infused Alpo from the master.

    Christie’s a special case. He’s still nominally the governor of NJ. He’s hated by almost everyone in Jersey. He doesn’t really have anywhere to go, so he probably figures begging for table scraps from the orange menace is the best he can do. I think his favorability rating is in the teens these days. I suspect he’ll never answer for Bridgegate but he’s done worse things. Like the Exxon settlement for pollution that NJ settled for $225M (original claim $8.9 billion) that he used to plug budget holes that he created in the first place.

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  22. Rick DeMent says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Substitute the name Obama for Trump and see if your theories still work

    Well I would say it did work. This is almost to the letter the playbook of the right in 2008 and look where they are now, all three branches of government, most of the state houses and governorships.

    The only difference is there is less outright BS. Tax returns are not like a birth certificate, no one is making up crazy fake scandals. Everything that people on the left want investigated should be investigated. This is like Benghazi, the Clinton foundation (which is what they were getting ready to investigate had Clinton won) or the so called IRS scandal. None of those things had any serious evidence to support them. Everything people have been talking about WRT Trump have more then enough smoke to see if there is a fire and if Trump had a “D” next to his name we would be nostrils deep in investigations this very moment.

    Also remember that Clinton had a pretty decent approval rating before the Republicans druge her name through the mud in Benghazi hearing none of which found anything.

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  23. Pch101 says:

    @Rick DeMent:

    Florack is convinced that Clinton murdered Vince Foster and engineered Benghazi. He’s not just a wingnut, he’s the GOP’s target market.

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  24. wr says:

    @gVOR08: “That said, I do think the Dems should call Trumpsky’s bluff. He’s threatened to kill funding if the Ds don’t work with him on healthcare. Offer a plan, a plan with a few tweaks and that locks in funding. Make it clear that it isn’t a rescue, just routine improvements.”

    You mean do exactly what Chuck Schumer did last week?

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  25. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I don’t want him impeached. I want him sitting exactly where he is – ripping his party apart and engendering civil war within the same – for the next four years. He’s the rot that will kill the GOP as we know it. We just have to give the infection time to work its damage.

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  26. al-Alameda says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I don’t want him impeached. I want him sitting exactly where he is – ripping his party apart and engendering civil war within the same – for the next four years. He’s the rot that will kill the GOP as we know it. We just have to give the infection time to work its damage.

    I can not agree more.

    Impeachment gives us Mike Pence, a man who is far more serious about the radical Republican agenda than Trump is or ever will be.

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