It was over a decade, but John McCain’s percentage of the vote should be familiar to you- he got 46% of the vote. McCain is generally viewed as an honorable, if flawed man, but had to run against the tides of history- an unpopular war, an economic meltdown, an imbecile running mate, a historic opponent, and most of all, an unpopular President from his own party. Four years later, Mitt Romney had to run against a popular President, with a growing economy, and he managed to bump his performance up to a whopping 47%. In 2016, the Republicans nominated a reality TV star that got caught on video saying “grab ’em by the pussy,” who had bankrupt casinos and stiffed contractors, and was hardly someone that should have appealed to Evangelical voters- he got elected President with 46% of the vote. I’m not a gambling man, but if I was, I would not take the under on Donald Trump getting 46%. It appears to not matter who the GOP nominates- they are getting 46%. Bank it.
It’s this reliability and stability in the GOP’s electorate that allows them to stick by their leaders, regardless of what happens. The Republican Party almost ceases to exist in some of the biggest states in the country, namely California and New York, but their stranglehold on “red” states, and even their enclaves in “swing” states remain solidly in their hands. Even as Democrats spent millions of dollars telling the country how bad Trump was in 2016, it did nothing. Republican voters stuck by him. No matter how terrible he is, he’s better than the alternative, to them.
So you’re going to have to excuse me saying this- no Republicans are coming to the Democratic position on impeachment. Zero. That’s even more clear in the Senate, where Democrats would need at least twenty Republican Senators to cross over and vote to convict. There are not twenty Republican Senators who would be considered “endangered” right now, in fact there are at least 34 that could credibly say the politics in their states favor backing Trump. In other words, you enter the impeachment process with no pathway to convicting the President.
What about the argument that the hearings could change that dynamic? I direct you above, to the part where I told you this President said of women that you can “grab ’em by the pussy,” and the video was released nationally, and he was elected a month later. Exactly what do you think could be said about Donald Trump to diminish him among the 46% that would vote for a turnip to be President, if it were the Republican nominee? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. There is no low, no embarrassment that would change their minds. Nothing. And knowing that, there’s no Republican members of Congress to move. Even for the few you’d flip trashing him, you’d lose others.
What of the argument that the hearings could galvanize Democratic voters? It’s hard to prove either way. What I do know is that we spent 2016 exposing his fraudulent behavior, his vulgarity, his lack of knowledge, and every bad trait that Trump has, and we got 48% of the vote- a lot, more than he had, but not enough. There are limits to how motivating the negatives on Trump are, even to Democratic voters. At least that’s what history tells us.
What harm could impeachment do? When Watergate began in 1972, it wasn’t a broadly popular investigation, nor was Nixon unpopular, but it grew into a movement that eventually pushed him out of office. Not every investigation takes that route, of course. Iran-Contra ended as a dud, having no sizable impact on any election, and largely not sending the principles to jail. The Whitewater investigation into Bill Clinton did end in impeachment, which in turn actually caused the Republicans to lose seats in the 1998 midterm, serving as the modern political argument against impeachment. While Democratic activists passionately want to impeach Trump, the rest of the electorate sits solidly (34-48%) against it– even as they give Trump the lowest approval in that poll of his Presidency. The political will for impeachment isn’t there, and the past shows it to be risky to push through that.
There is a solid argument that says the Democrats must do the right thing, for history, for the rule of law, and for our constitution. Of course, the tricky thing is what “the right thing” is? If there is truly no pathway to conviction of Trump in the Senate, if impeachment may politically help him, is it “the right thing” to impeach the President? Is the possibility of a second Trump term, possibly with a Republican House, and the probability of more Supreme Court appointments worth it? Even if we assume his guilt, which I do, what’s the value in impeaching him with no chance to convict. Yes, it might make me feel good, but what’s that do for the people Donald Trump is actively hurting every day he is in office? Is it worth risking RBG’s seat on the Supreme Court? Risking four more years of inaction on climate change? Risking more children in cages? What risk is too much to pursue something that is almost certain to fail?
Politics can be emotionally unsatisfying much of the time. I have concluded that the odds of removing Donald Trump from office, at this time, are approximately zero. I have also concluded that there is no way to fail at removing the President without paying a political price. It would feel better to impeach Donald Trump, and the Mueller report does show that he deserves it, but I think it’s a losing idea. I’m not against holding hearings, subpoenas for documents, and keeping the door open for impeachment in the future. I think going into that today though is a fool’s errand.
Here’s the good news though- there is another way to remove Donald Trump from office- beating him in 2020. If Hillary Clinton has just received 49% instead of 48% in 2016, she would have probably (assuming they weren’t just more base, blue state votes) won at least four more states, and been elected President easily. She did that against incomparable negativity aimed her way, from the primary season through Election Day. She did so despite the fact that attacking Trump largely did not work. If the Democrats spend half as much time building up their potentially electable candidates as they do looking for a way to make impeachment happen, they absolutely can beat a President who’s approval is at -18%. We can win in 2020. We should win in 2020. We have to win in 2020. It’s really the only way forward.