Just Say No To Impeachment (For Now)

In the end, Impeachment is a political act more than a legal one. For that reason, Democrats should not pursue impeachment unless they have a reasonable chance of winning.

Presidential historian Mike Purdy makes points about the ongoing debate among Congressional Democrats, pundits, and others about whether or not the House of Representatives should pursue impeachment against President Trump:

The Constitution permits impeachment in the event of “treason, high crimes and misdemeanors.” But, as Gerald Ford once wisely noted, “an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.” In other words, impeachment is not only a legal determination, but ultimately a political decision.

Even though both special counsel Robert Mueller and Attorney General William Barr both concluded there was not enough evidence to officially indict the president for collusion or obstruction of justice, such a conclusion was undoubtedly influenced by a longtime Justice Department policy that a sitting president could not be indicted. Mueller recognized the political nature of his investigation and has passed the baton to Congress to make a political decision.

The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives faces a genuine dilemma of whether to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump. The impeachment undercurrent has been alive since Trump’s inauguration. But with the fresh details revealed in the Mueller report, the issue is now front and center. The report described numerous instances of the president attempting to squash or thwart the investigation.

The Mueller report is deeply disturbing to many who have read it after removing their partisan glasses. Surprisingly though, among prominent Republicans, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has stood almost alone in bemoaning the behavior of the president described in the report: “I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President. I am also appalled that, among other things fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia.”

It is telling that other Republicans, whose support would be necessary in the Senate to convict and remove the president from office, have not spoken up to condemn the president’s questionable actions. The lack of a bipartisan consensus is something the House must seriously weigh when deciding whether to begin impeachment proceedings against the president.

If the Democratic majority in the House impeaches the president without broad political consensus in the Senate (and country) to convict the president and remove him from office, impeachment will be weaponized by the president in the 2020 campaign. Trump will argue that liberal Democrats and the news media are out to get him, that he has done nothing wrong, and that you can’t impeach a president who has done a great job. This mantra will play well with his loyal base.
Democrats should never underestimate the president’s genius in branding, marketing, and creating his desired narrative with memorable and constantly repeated tweets. In other words, impeachment without conviction would play into the president’s hands and allow him a potential path to win a second term.

(…)

To impeach or not to impeach both have strong arguments in their favor. Ultimately, however, because impeachment is a political process, Democrats should be very cautious about instigating impeachment proceedings against the president because to do so may result in Trump winning a second term in the White House.

Between the two extremes of impeaching or not impeaching the president is a third option that seems to be the direction of many in Democratic leadership in the House. Under that option, which recognizes that there needs to be broad consensus in the both the House and the Senate before moving forward with impeachment, Democrats would continue to investigate the president, subpoena records and individuals to testify and assess the extent of the president’s potentially impeachable offenses. If the results of those investigations shock the country — Democrats and Republicans alike — then the House should move forward with impeachment.

The impeachments of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both politically motivated. Richard Nixon resigned after Senate Republicans turned on him and told him that with new Watergate revelations, he would be convicted and removed from office by the Senate. Based on the volume and nature of the evidence uncovered in the Mueller investigation, the president’s potentially impeachable offenses are far more egregious than anything Johnson or Clinton did, and even Nixon’s corrupt presidency looks amazingly tame by comparison.

Without a broad consensus, the mood of the nation may be more interested in having the newly elected Democratic majority pass significant and important legislation to improve the lives of all Americans, recognizing the unfortunate reality that the Senate will not even take up such legislation.

Especially relevant to Purdy’s argument here is the fact that polling has indicated that the American public does not want to see Congress pursue impeachment at this time. To be sure. the same polling shows that there is significant support for impeachment among Democrats just as there is significant opposition to it among Republicans. Crucially, this same polling currently shows that a majority of self-identified Independents say they are opposed to impeachment at this time. Additionally, Congressional Democrats who have spent the current recess back home attending town halls and other meetings with constituents have found little support for immediate moves to impeach the President even among Democrats. Instead, these voters want to see Congress focused on health care reform and other issues of importance to the average voter. This is also likely the reason behind the recent comments by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that it isn’t worth pursuing impeachment given the fact that there’s no real chance that the Senate will vote to convict and remove the President from office.

Purdy, of course, is absolutely right. While Democrats may be correct that the Mueller Report and other things we already know about President Trump. such as the fact that he conspired with Michael Cohen to violate campaign finance laws, provides a strong argument for at least considering impeachment, the fact remains that doing so now with just eighteen months left before the 2020 General Election when it’s obvious that Trump will end up winning in the end would be a huge political gamble by Democrats.

One possible outcome is that the impeachment process and the information that is made public in a trial damages Trump to such a degree that he ends up being far too tainted a candidate to win re-election. Based on past experience, though, it seems far more likely that the actual outcome will be that Trump will emerge from an unsuccessful impeachment and trial energized. that his base will be energized, and that Democrats and their supporters will be demoralized. This would be precisely the kind of scenario that Trump would like to see heading into an election where based on polling and job approval numbers, he has a serious fight ahead of him if he’s going to be re-elected.

As I’ve said before, this doesn’t mean that Democrats should let up the pressure on the Trump Administration:

[T]he better strategy for Democrats right now is to proceed forward with investigations into the matters discussed above and to do so in as public a manner as possible. Let all the information that can come out be made public unless it is classified. Let the American people decide at the next election what they want to do with that information. This seems like an even wiser strategy given the fact that it is unlikely that any investigations in the House will be completed until we’re nearly on the eve of the 2020 election. At that point, the question will be whether to proceed with impeachment or take the strategy I have laid out here and let the people decide. Unless the evidence against the President is overwhelming, it seems to me that the decision should lean heavily in favor of putting this matter to the test at the ballot box rather than attempting an impeachment and removal that will not succeed and which could end up energizing Trump and his base when the President is ultimately acquitted in the Senate.

It’s possible that those investigations will yield information that will lead to overwhelming support for impeachment, or that it might somehow convince 20 Republican Senators that the evidence requires that Trump be removed from office. If that happens, then Democrats should proceed accordingly. Right now, though, they ought to put talk of impeachment to the side, continue with the investigations even if it means fighting with the Administration in court over subpoenas and document requests, and let the evidence that is or may be uncovered speak for itself. Prematurely moving forward with impeachment at this time will only likely energize Trump and his base ahead of 2020, and that’s the last thing Democrats should be doing.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2020, Congress, Donald Trump, Impeachment, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Jay L Gischer says:

    I’m in general agreement, but I dispute one point:

    Even though both special counsel Robert Mueller and Attorney General William Barr both concluded there was not enough evidence to officially indict the president for collusion or obstruction of justice

    Mueller made no such conclusion with regard to obstruction. In fact, he went so far as to say, “If he weren’t guilty, we’d say so” and then didn’t say so. It was an explicit non-decision – a decision to not make, or convey officially, any decision. (The XML standard has similar language, it says, “conciseness is an explicit non-goal of this standard”, which can be interpreted as “shut about how wordy this is, because we don’t care!”). An explicit non-decision to not charge is very much different than a conclusion of innocence.

    That’s way different from how Purdy frames it, and I am determined to push back against this formula wherever I see it.

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  2. Stormy Dragon says:

    [T]he better strategy for Democrats right now is to proceed forward with investigations into the matters discussed above and to do so in as public a manner as possible.

    Why would the Trump administration cooperate with any such investigations? If open obstruction leads to no response from Congress, why not continue obstructing?

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  3. Gustopher says:

    Prematurely moving forward with impeachment at this time will only likely energize Trump and his base ahead of 2020, and that’s the last thing Democrats should be doing.

    Trump’s base is going to feel persecuted, aggrieved, angry and energized, even if the Democrats do nothing. If it’s not impeachment, then they will be furious that someone didn’t fellate Netanyahu or whatever bullshit the outrage du jour is. Their increased enthusiasm shouldn’t factor into the equation at all. They are happy that he is pissing off liberals, caging children and “winning”.

    Trump’s base will lose enthusiasm if they see Trump as failing.

    Normal investigations will just be seen inside that bubble as a partisan witch-hunt to persecute their bloated orange friend. The underlying charges won’t even penetrate the bubble.

    Articles of impeachment? That will get through the bubble. Well laid out, ahem, “unimpeachable” facts and the crimes they violate, or a rationale for why the actions merit removal from office if no specific crime was violated.

    Even Fox will have to report on that. Did Donald Trump do this thing, or not? Does that fit the definition of a crime.

    If the Democrats wanted to be very political, they would vote on smaller articles of impeachment, multiple times, spaced out between now and the election. Take away Trump’s ability to set the agenda.

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  4. Paul L. says:

    The Democrats should impeach Trump.

    “When a president openly threatens the integrity of the justice system, and says he has unlimited power to do so in the future, he not only can be impeached, he must be impeached.

    “Impeach Trump now.

    The currently known irrefutable evidence from the Mueller report, Cohen tapes and the Steele dossier that will be exposed to the public during the impeachment hearing will convince 20 Republican Senators that Trump must be removed from office.

    During the impeachment,the Republicans should hold a vigil at the Lincoln memorial like the Democrats did at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial during Clinton Impeachment.

    I hope Trump does not panic and release all the Obama administration documents on Fast and Furious, IRS targeting of Tea Party groups and use of FISA to spy on his campaign that Trump used to blackmail Mueller and the DOJ into not filing charges.

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  5. Paul L. says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Why would the Trump administration cooperate with any such investigations? If open obstruction leads to no response from Congress, why not continue obstructing?

    Worked for the Obama administration obstructing and stonewalling the Fast and Furious and the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups investigations.

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  6. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Paul L.:

    So in this scenario, Trump has incriminating documents for every faux scandal from the Obama era, but until now has exhibited his well-documented restraint in not releasing them?

    K.

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  7. Teve says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Trump’s also got Obama’s secret Kenyan birth certificate, showing that his real name was Muslim Barack Islam Black Panther Mobutu Adolf Blacky Hitler Shabazz Isis Obama.

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  8. Mikey says:

    Breaking from the Washington Post:

    Mueller complained that Barr’s letter did not capture ‘context’ of Trump probe

    Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III wrote a letter in late March complaining to Attorney General William P. Barr that a four-page memo to Congress describing the principal conclusions of the investigation into President Trump “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of Mueller’s work, according to a copy of the letter reviewed Tuesday by The Washington Post.
    […]

    “The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions,” Mueller wrote. “There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”

    I’m pretty sure “public confusion” and “undermin[ing] a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel” was the ENTIRE FUCKING REASON for Barr’s ludicrous, and fundamentally dishonest, spin of the Mueller report.

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  9. Moosebreath says:

    Another problem with putting talk of impeachment to the side is that if the investigations find enough to warrant impeachment, the so-called liberal media will say that since Democrats were not trying to impeach during the interim period, they only are doing it as an election year ploy.

  10. James Pearce says:

    Prematurely moving forward with impeachment at this time will only likely energize Trump and his base ahead of 2020, and that’s the last thing Democrats should be doing.

    If Dems hadn’t lost seats in the Senate, impeachment would probably happening right now, so maybe the last thing the Dems should be doing is emptying the Senate to run for president.

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  11. An Interested Partyy says:

    I hope Trump does not panic and release all the Obama administration documents on Fast and Furious, IRS targeting of Tea Party groups and use of FISA to spy on his campaign that Trump used to blackmail Mueller and the DOJ into not filing charges.

    That’s the best you got? If such evidence existed, Trump and his toadies would have already released it, considering how much of a hard on they have to destroy Obama’s legacy and reputation…go back to conspiracy land, fool…

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  12. Teve says:

    @An Interested Partyy: seriously, that idiot is in QAnon territory.

    @Mikey:

    Adam Serwer
    @AdamSerwer

    I can’t believe the coverup guy hired to cover things up did a coverup

    7:51 PM · Apr 30, 2019

  13. Barry says:

    @Stormy Dragon: “Why would the Trump administration cooperate with any such investigations? If open obstruction leads to no response from Congress, why not continue obstructing?”

    This is the biggest question, to my mind. Trunp’s strategy is clear, and it would be child’s play for the SCOTUS to slow-walk everything.

  14. Kathy says:

    @Teve:

    Actually the real name is Muslim Barack Islam Black Panther Mobutu Adolf Blacky Hitler Shabazz Isis Clinton Obama.

  15. Sleeping Dog says:

    Irrespective of the politics, if Tiny isn’t impeachable, what president would be?

    I’ll let the attorneys here way in on this thought; Tiny has refused to submit candidates for several position requiring the advice and consent of the senate, could that be (additional) grounds for impeachment?

  16. Paul L says:

    @An Interested Partyy:
    Then why didn’t Mueller charge or indict Trump (like they did with Sen. Ted Stevens) with all the evidence (manufactured and gathered illegally) he has that is sure to convict him. I was told after Trump was elected that the IC had the goods on Trump and he would be impeached before he was President for 6 months.

  17. dennis says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I respectfully disagree, Doug. There are times when you have to put your ass on the line and do your duty. This is one of those times.

  18. dennis says:

    Let’s be clear, and I know I’ve said it before: This is a problem that only white people can remedy. Principled, thinking white folks in political seats of power, corporate seats of power, and rank and file voters who recognize the Trump presidency is a real threat to their power. Upcoming election cycles will soon see more and more people of color gaining seats in the congressional halls, a situation that won’t marginalize white-held power, but will diminish it to the point of, at least, near-equalization of power.

    Frankly, the situation is inevitably and relentlessly moving toward that, anyway. It’s up to principled, thoughtful, honest and good white folks to usher that to a peaceful outcome without the preposterous race war the deplorables covet so much.

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  19. rachel says:

    @dennis:

    This is one of those times.

    I think it’s going to be one of those times.

  20. JKB says:

    I believe Bill Maher said it best, now it just looks like stalking.

    It’s possible the perp walks might start before the weekend. The FISA court investigation is coming to a head, the DOJ IG investigation is coming out. There’s a special counsel operating out of Utah, I think, that will be moving forward. It’s going to be a hot summer in and around the Beltway and it won’t be the weather.

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  21. Stormy Dragon says:

    @JKB:

    LOL. And JKB just outed himself as a Qidiot

  22. Teve says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Makes sense. Anybody enthusiastically supporting Trump in 2019 is, like Liz Crokin, very possibly legitimately brain damaged.

  23. Paul L. says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    So in this scenario, Trump has incriminating documents for every faux scandal from the Obama era, but until now has exhibited his well-documented restraint in not releasing them?

    Mutual Assured Destruction. Mueller will release the TRUE Mueller report and Steele Dossier which have even more evidence that was gathered using illegal means to impeach Trump.

    It is terrible. Mueller has the evidence show Trump colluded with Russia, is a traitor and Putin’s puppet. But it can not be released as it would undermine the American’s faith in Obama, the Rule of Law and US Government Law Enforcement institutions.

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  24. I would like to see Barr held in contempt if he doesn’t cooperate fully with the House. If it comes to it, he should be impeached. It appears that he lied to Congress.

  25. Not the IT Dept. says:

    I’d be all-in for impeachment if it would guarantee Trump’s removal but it’s good to remember that doesn’t always happen. Nixon, after all, resigned to avoid impeachment.

    I’d rather see a strong effort to get Trump’s mental health evaluated by healthcare professionals so we can see if he’s in the grip of dementia. Fred Trump had Alzheimer’s when he died; Trump is over 60 years of age; these things can run in families. His rambling inanity might have a medical reason. If so, we deserve to know and we know we can’t trust his personal “physician” to tell the truth.

  26. The abyss that is the soul of cracker says:

    “…maybe the last thing the Dems should be doing is emptying the Senate to run for president.” When I was young–about 55 or 60 years ago–some states had provisions that prohibited senators or representatives from holding elective office while they ran for higher office and prohibited such from running for reelection for their former posts after losing primaries. Additionally, I recall some federal laws that created similar problems.

    In the modern era–from which you are speaking now–it is possible for all 48 or so senators to decide to run for president without depleting their ranks one iota beyond the empty chair needing to be filled should one of them win. Maybe you should consult with the light rail passengers in your head so that you can get a better handle on how this running for office thing really works. Then, you won’t have to come up with the types of lame ass complaints you’re making now and find some valid ones.

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  27. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Paul L: The stuff you say isn’t worth reading, so I generally don’t, but I do like the Scarlet Pimpernel cosplay thing you’ve got going in your picture. Is that you or some stock photograph on Gravitar or somewhere else?

  28. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Wow…the red hatted loons are out in force this morning.

  29. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Principled, thinking white folks in political seats of power, corporate seats of power, and rank and file voters who recognize the Trump presidency is a real threat to their power.

    The problem is that Trump does not represent a threat to the power of the corporates or the politicos and rank and file [white] voters don’t possess any actual power outside the ballot box–which has become a partisan zero sum game to a lot of voters (I suspect of all colors). With 80-90% of Republicans still approving of Trump, I don’t hold out much for peaceful change from white folks of good will either–not enough of them. (And I’d really like to be wrong about that. My abysmal soul, on the other hand, is passionately ambivalent, holding firmly to its Calvinist upbringing.)

  30. Paul L. says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    but I do like the Scarlet Pimpernel cosplay thing you’ve got going in your picture.

    It is the Daring Dragoon played by Hollywood B-movie legend Bruce Campbell in the TV show Jack of All Trades.

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  31. Neil J Hudelson says:

    @Paul L.:

    OMG I forgot about that show. Loved it as a kid. Not as good as “The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr.” though.

  32. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Impeach. Don’t impeach. The Democrats just need to do something. They are getting their asses kicked in a fight for the Republic. As it stands today, according to Baghdad Barr, it is OK to obstruct justice if your feelings are hurt and you feel like you are being treated unfairly.
    I just wish Democrats would react to real emergencies in the same way that Republican react to phony emergencies.

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  33. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Neil J Hudelson: Didn’t know about Jack of all Trades and probably never watched it. But I did like Brisco County, Jr.

  34. David S. says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Irrespective of the politics, if Tiny isn’t impeachable, what president would be?

    You fundamentally can’t have impeachment without politics. Impeachment isn’t about justice; it’s our best equivalent to a vote of no confidence.

    The House doesn’t need a crime to draw up articles of impeachment; it only needs the accusation of a crime. We’ve seen that with this president already: HR 438, HR 621 and HR 646. “Ignoring the politics”, those resolutions were proper and could have been approved by vote and we would have started impeachment proceedings. They failed because of politics, full stop.

    I’ll let the attorneys here way in on this thought; Tiny has refused to submit candidates for several position requiring the advice and consent of the senate, could that be (additional) grounds for impeachment?

    Yes. But grounds aren’t enough for conviction or removal from office. You need the Senate to vote on that. Accusation, indictment, due process, trial, conviction, and enforcement are all different things and the uniquely political nature of impeachment means that we can anticipate how the later stages will play out before we even start on the first one, because facts in evidence are not a required part of the impeachment process.

  35. An Interested Party says:

    Then why didn’t Mueller charge or indict Trump (like they did with Sen. Ted Stevens) with all the evidence (manufactured and gathered illegally) he has that is sure to convict him. I was told after Trump was elected that the IC had the goods on Trump and he would be impeached before he was President for 6 months.

    Of course none of that has anything to do with the alleged “corruption” of the Obama Administration that you mentioned…I guess moving goal posts is all you have left when you can’t adequately defend a ridiculous argument…

    And JKB just outed himself as a Qidiot

    Just??? He came out of that closet long ago…