The Likely Outcome of Impeachment

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.

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Donald Trump, Impeachment, and the American Right

Donald Trump is in a lot of trouble. Ultimately speaking, he’s in serious jeopardy of being indicted and tried after his Presidency. His company and his Foundation have probably broken laws. His campaign almost certainly operated in a conspiracy with Russia to win the election, which is illegal, based on the statements of he and his son. He has probably used the powers of his office to obstruct justice. Many close associates of Trump’s are now facing prison. The situation for the President is full of peril.

This is probably the point where I remind you that none of that is likely to make a difference in your life. The only thing of impact to the public that can happen to Trump is his removal from office. That can only happen by his being defeated in 2020, or impeached and convicted in Congress before then. It’s too early to tell about 2020, but it is likely to be another cliffhanger finish, given how close 2016 was. That leaves the impeachment process, and the many pitfalls that Democrats could encounter along the way. Looking at them, I don’t believe Trump will be removed from office early, based on what we know.

The first step towards impeaching Trump is Special Counsel Robert Mueller issuing a report that details specific crimes that he believes Trump committed. For historical reference, the Starr Report leading to impeachment on Bill Clinton wasn’t issued until his second term, so we may be pretty far away. Then the House Judiciary Committee would draw up articles of impeachment, hold hearings on them, and have to vote them out. This step in the process really can’t begin until next year, and would probably require a Democratic House Majority to even have a chance. Only then would the full House consider impeachment, and again, a Democratic Majority is a pre-requisite to even consider that. After all of that, you get a Senate trial where 67 votes are needed to convict and remove Trump. There will not ever be 67 Democrats to push this. In other words, at some point Democrats will need some Republicans to hold Donald Trump accountable, as President.

So I guess I’m saying Trump is in real personal trouble, but the Trump Presidency is safe and secure as long as he’s sporting 90% support from Republicans. I suppose it is possible at some point that Senate Republicans will decide it’s in their self-interest to remove Trump, provided that Mike Pence is in no real trouble, and that their base turns on Donald Trump for some reason. What would that reason be though? Conspiracy with Russia? They’ve rationalized that. Crude conduct with women and paying hush money for cover-ups? They quite literally don’t care. Tax cuts for the rich and huge deficits? They’ve always supported that. Latino kids in cages? They think they shouldn’t be here in the first place.

The things that activist Democrats hate about Donald Trump are what his voters like about him. The societal change the left wants is what the Trumpers support, and what makes the “American Middle” squeamish. A large portion of the voters who will probably vote to give Democrats a Congressional majority are probably conflicted on the cultural issues that divide us, and will mostly be voting against Donald Trump for poor performance in office, not diametric opposition to his vision. The most offensive issues about Trump, to the left- his cheating and covering up affairs on his wives, his nationalistic view towards immigration, his “traditionalism” on social issues in general- are exactly the kind of things that probably make him safe from removal. Those in the “pink hats” hate him for it, those in the “red hats” love him for it.

Donald Trump is a reflection of the world view in Conservative America, and for that reason, Republicans in Congress won’t turn on him. Obviously things change, and something could change the calculus. That’s unlikely though. As a result, impeachment is really unlikely too.

Sinatra and the Kennedys, Tiger Woods Divorce, and the Trump-Putin Drama

One should not assume another person’s guilt based on indirect evidence, however one should also not neglect behavior that clear-as-day suggests something is happening. Not knowing what Robert Mueller knows, I can’t tell you if Donald Trump knowingly took material support from Russia during the 2016 election. What I do know is that his behavior does not suggest innocence. His behavior suggests that there is more to his relationship with Vladimir Putin than is clear to us.

We should start by at least acknowledging the possibility that Trump and Putin’s relationship is based on shared values and goals. Putin is the kind of “strong-man” dictator Trump tends to respect. Both men espouse very nationalistic world views and policies. Neither has much use for NATO, the G-7, UN, or any other global-view groups. Both men view the Western order of the world with disdain. That may be all there is to this. Evidence just suggests otherwise.

Trump’s performance in the Helsinki Summit with Putin suggests there is more to it. Given that Russian interference on Trump’s behalf is common knowledge to all who accept it, and that we know with near certainty that Donald Trump has accepted loans from banks with Russian ties, there really shouldn’t be much to hide. Trump’s base has heard this stuff at some point along the line, or just refused to, and they don’t care. Trump’s continual submissive deference to Putin, and his refusal to show his financial statements, suggests more is there than meets the eye.

When nothing more is present beyond rumor and innuendo, Presidential history suggests that Administrations don’t proceed as though they have guilt to hide. Perhaps the most famous example is the Kennedy Administration’s posture towards the mafia. Political legend has it that the Kennedys sent close friend Frank Sinatra to meet with Chicago mafia boss Sam Giancana to secure his support in winning Illinois over Richard Nixon. Giancana seems to have delivered on his end of the deal, as JFK narrowly won that state in 1960. We have no way of knowing today if Giancana and the Kennedys has a deal in place at that time, but it was a well known rumor, even then. How did the Kennedy Administration treat the mafia once in office? Attorney General Bobby Kennedy prosecuted them across the country with no fear at all. If the rumors about Giancana’s help were real, they clearly didn’t scare the Kennedys. There just wasn’t anything more lurking there to scare them.

If you have nothing to hide, you don’t hide stuff. Trump’s behavior towards Putin and Russia don’t resemble RFK with the mafia at all. What does Trump’s actions resemble? The best pop culture example that stands out for me is Tiger Woods during his divorce proceedings. It was well known publicly in the press that Woods’ ex-wife Elin Nordegren left him over the golfer’s serial infidelity. Woods infidelity was not a secret at the point he gave her a $100 million divorce settlement. Nordegren came from a well-to-do family and didn’t need his money. Woods still gave her a settlement rumored to be ten times as large as their pre-nuptial agreement specified, in exchange for her promise of silence about their marriage. Why would Woods give away so much money for silence? Clearly because there was more to the situation than we could see.

Even if Russia did help Trump’s campaign in the 2016 election, that doesn’t mean Trump himself committed a crime. He’s at very little risk of being removed from office, or being prosecuted, despite the clear bad behavior of others in his orbit. There’s no really good reason that Trump doesn’t behave like JFK and his administration did towards the mafia after the 1960 election- if we truly already have heard the worst of it. Trump is paying no political price for the widely reported Russian interference on his behalf. He’s unlikely to ever pay a legal price either. The only reason I can come up with for his behavior in Helsinki is that like Tiger Woods in his divorce, Trump has more to hide in his relationship with Russia.

I would suggest we don’t sensationalize this with talk of prostitutes and “pee tapes”- would that shock us? It is far more likely that Donald Trump’s fear of Russia stems from his financial entanglements, which may reveal he’s not actually that rich, or worse yet, crimes he committed prior to entering the White House. No matter what Trump’s hidden secret is, he seems intent to do whatever he has to in order to keep the Kremlin happy. He’s clearly compromised, and fearful of what they could do to him.

That should scare you a lot more than the thought of Russian escorts urinating on a rich American businessman.

Let’s Cool the Impeachment Talk- For Now

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No one wants to see Donald Trump out of the White House more than me- I never felt he should have been considered, by anyone. The man is incapable, doesn’t really seem interested in learning, and doesn’t represent the majority of America. I’d love to see him go home to Trump Tower and stay there, as soon as possible.

With all of that said, I’m not in favor of impeachment right now, or even in the medium term future unless the facts of the matter change. Even in a hypothetical world where Democrats win the House back in 2018 with a huge wave, I think a lot of things would have to change, and fall into place for impeachment to be a reasonable option.

The first thing we should wait for, before moving forward with impeachment, is a report from Bob Mueller. The term “high crimes and misdemeanors” is rather vague, and hasn’t been tested constitutionally very much, but it has to have some meaning. If Robert Mueller’s eventual report on either Russian involvement in the 2016 Election, or potential obstruction of justice from firing Comey, ends up saying that Donald Trump and/or his campaign/White House broke the law, obviously I think impeachment proceedings should proceed. It would be reasonable to begin hearings at that point.

It’s worth considering the plausibility of going down this road though. Even a huge Democratic majority in the House is only one piece of this puzzle. The current 51-49 U.S. Senate is not likely to radically change- perhaps Democrats get to 51 or 52 seats in a wave year, and maybe hold a 52-48 majority. The problem with that is that 67 Senators would have to vote to convict Donald Trump and remove him from office for it to matter. Democrats would need 15 Republicans to vote to convict the President. That’s a tall order, and one which they would have to force many Democratic House and Senate members to vote to remove Trump, even though he won their constituencies. That is a big ask for something that is unlikely to succeed.

I’d like to see Trump go. I’m not against impeaching him, if the eventual facts back up that assertion. I’d just wait to jump on that bandwagon. Let’s see what the facts say, before marrying ourselves to something that he will try to use to make himself into a victim to his (clearly approving) supporters. Perhaps the Mueller report will be so clear as day to cause a national reckoning, and it will be clear that Republicans need to support impeachment. It’s just as likely it will not. Let’s just cool our jets until we have enough information to make a smart decision here. I think we’d all hate to see a failed attempt at impeachment help Trump and the Republican Party win the White House and Congress back in 2018 or 2020.