Your Impeachment Unicorn is Stupid

There are two ways to view the impeachment debate- one is through a morality and justice lense, the other based on outcomes. If you think about the issue through the lense of justice, morality, and fairness, I basically agree with you that Donald Trump is a terrible guy. There are two main problems though- the first is what the actual charges would be, seeing as how the Mueller Report doesn’t specifically name charges like the Starr Report did against Bill Clinton (because the law has changed). The second problem is a problem of outcomes- absolutely nothing is going to happen to Donald Trump.

This is where the outcome based view on impeaching Trump comes in. Impeachment does not enjoy majority support nationally, in “red” states and districts, or with any group besides Democrats. It is not clear the votes are there, all 218 of them, to impeach Trump in the House. It is abundantly clear that the 67 votes to impeach Trump in the Senate don’t exist. Trump’s approval among Democrats and Independents is already at record lows, while his Republican approval is at a record high, so who is going to be moved by an impeachment that won’t result in a conviction? There’s a solid chance impeachment isn’t popular in the 40 districts Democrats picked up last year, since it’s not nationally. The politics are questionable at best, and likely to go south at worst for Democrats. The end result of the process is not in doubt though- Trump will not be impeached and convicted.

All of this leads to a very real question- what is the point of impeachment. Supporters believe the hearings will shed light on Trump’s crimes and turn more of the country against him, much like the House’s Watergate investigation did, leading to articles of impeachment clearing the Judiciary Committee in 1974, and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill telling Nixon they could no longer defend him from eventual removal. The question, of course, is why? Trump has historically low approval, and universal name identification. Somehow though, impeachment doesn’t achieve majority support now. It should at least beg the question, if the voters know and dislike Trump, why aren’t they for removal? What would change their minds? Children in cages? Him on tape talking about grabbing women “by the pussy?” Paying hush money to his mistresses? Praising foreign thugs and dictators? Criticizing our law enforcement and intelligence communities? Saying there are good people among Neo-Nazis? Thumbing his nose at Congressional investigators? Since none of that drove a majority to call for impeachment, what do you think will? Given that the public is partisanly divided on Trump now, why will a failed impeachment change minds?

Again though, that’s the question- what’s the point? Trump won’t be removed by impeachment, that’s clear. Beyond removal, there is no penalty to Trump. He loses no powers. He’s not thrown in jail. He doesn’t even get publicly rebuked like Charlie Rangel was when he was censored. The only penalty possible is political, and it’s not clear there’s much chance of that. Trump’s base knows who he is and doesn’t care. The rest of the voters have made up their minds on liking him or not. Most of the voters oppose impeachment. The idea that eventually acquitting him will galvanize opposition is grounded in the mistaken view that the press will cover the hearings as having “exposed” Trump, or that even most voters will even bother watching hearings when the final outcome is assured anyway. Outside of the Democratic base it’s likely more people will watch a Baltimore-Kansas City baseball game.

About his only chance of re-election in 2020 is the same as it was in 2016- people decide they hate Democrats more than him. He won a “lesser of two evils” election last time, and it’s his only hope again. His 46% election showing in 2016 would be a high water mark for his approval in office. What this shows us is that people will vote for Trump while disliking him. His approval is likely to be below his election number again next time. There’s not much further lower to drive his approval. Trump trails all of his main potential 2020 opponents now. Why risk changing that on something not broadly popular?

There’s some who argue there’s an alternative ending here. Perhaps the House could impeach, then hold their own trial- despite the constitution granting sole right to hear a trial to the Senate. Others say open an impeachment inquiry, but don’t put forward articles yet, which isn’t actually a thing (The House created a special investigation of Watergate that was not yet impeachment during Nixon’s saga). Still others argue that contempt proceedings against other figures right now could help build a case (I agree). To be clear though, the McConnell Senate would ultimately hear any attempt at impeachment and will acquit Trump of his crimes. There’s no alternative ending here. And again, unlike Nixon with Watergate or Hillary with Benghazi, Trump isn’t starting from 60%+ approval from which to fall.

Unless you can remove Donald Trump from office, impeachment has no teeth. There is no accountability in it. Let’s stop pretending here, the point is that impeachment makes you feel good. Impeachment makes you believe something happened. It let’s you yell at the TV like something was done about him. It doesn’t stop him from continuing as President. It doesn’t bother him. It doesn’t even make it less likely he gets re-elected. If anything, it gives him a plausible argument to the majority that oppose impeachment that the Democrats are even worse than him. But it makes you feel good.

Politics aren’t about your feelings though. Politics are about the results to real people. For the children he’d put in cages, the trans military members he will discharge, those suffering from his cuts to government programs, and all the other people being impacted by Trump’s actions in office, it’s about removing him. This is not to say that those supporting impeachment are wrong as a matter of morals and justice, they’re not. It’s not to say that a functional democracy wouldn’t impeach him, it would. He absolutely deserves it. But the net impact of impeachment is just making you, the activist Democrat feel better- and that has no value. If conditions on the ground change, and the politics of impeachment move to where it clearly helps remove him in 2020, I’m 100% with you. For now though, I’m with Speaker Pelosi- fruitless impeachment is not worth the 40 most vulnerable members of the House taking an unpopular vote on something we can’t deliver anyway. There is no constitutional obligation to impeach (ask Spiro Agnew). There is no requirement. It’s a judgment call, and we ain’t there yet.

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