I’m sitting here in the first week of the public impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump in the House of Representatives. With so much news and commentary flying around in today’s fast-paced world, it’s hard to capture how we’re actually feeling in a given moment. Rather than adding to the noise, I’m hoping to just capture my thoughts in this moment.
First, it’s hard to come to grips with how momentous this moment really is. Impeachment gets thrown around a lot and it’s been threatened against nearly every president. But it’s usually pretty fringe and not taken very seriously.
So to have an impeachment inquiry supported by a majority in the House and public hearings happening, that’s big. It’s only happened with three presidents before, so—as we might expect—Trump is really in a unique class here. Which is not a good thing.
Open and Shut
In my mind, this seems like a pretty open and shut case. Of course, I thought the same thing about the Mueller report. But the facts seem pretty clear: Trump tried to extort Ukraine for his own personal gain. Doesn’t matter if it failed (it was working until the news broke), doesn’t matter if there was no quid pro quo (there was), doesn’t matter what Biden’s son did or didn’t do, doesn’t matter who the whistleblower is.
There’s no question Trump did something bad. The only question is how will people react.
What Will the Senate Do?
So it seems inevitable that the House will impeach Trump. He will join Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton as the only presidents ever impeached.
But then we move to the Senate for a trial, where it’s far from inevitable. The Democrats need something like 20 Republicans to join them and vote for removal. There are a few scenarios here:
- Wasn’t wrong: Republicans could argue that what Trump did wasn’t wrong. This seems like a horrible move to me. It green lights further attempts to involve foreign powers to muck with our election. I can’t imagine the Republicans being OK with Obama doing that. Or Biden or Warren or whoever the Democratic candidate will be. But given the Republicans’ willingness to stick by Trump, this seems likely.
- Not impeachable: Republicans could argue that it was wrong, but it doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment and removal from office. That’s what the Democrats said to justify their no vote on removing Clinton (for the record, I don’t remember what I thought about Clinton being removed at the time, but sitting here today, he should have been removed).
- Remove Trump: Republicans could come to their senses and remove Trump from office. Unless public opinion shifts even more, I don’t see this happening. I guess that shift happened quickly for Nixon, but I’m not so sure it will happen here. Seems like a solid 33-43% of the country will support Trump no matter what.
My gut feeling is Trump will not be removed. But that’s OK. An acquittal could have tremendous impacts on the 2020 election, and it also proves that at least one political party will still stand up for what’s right.
What About 2020?
So what does that mean for the 2020 election? It’s hard to say right now.
- Trump not removed and it wasn’t wrong: If Republicans take this route, I can see the 2020 elections being a total nightmare. Senators will have to defend that vote, and that’s a hard case to make. The best they can hope for is to get that vote over with as soon as possible and that enough time passes that people don’t decide their vote based on it. Given Trump’s ability to weather anything, this seems like the most likely scenario. I would expect frustration/hatred of Trump to be the deciding factor in the election, and it would be close. Depends a lot on the Democratic candidate.
- Trump not removed and it was wrong but not impeachable: This is more defensible for Republicans in Congress who have to run, but a lot harder for Trump. I’m not sure I can see Republicans even breaking with Trump to make this argument. This would force voters to decide on impeachment, and I don’t think it would go well for Trump.
- Trump removed: This would be unprecedented. What happens to the Republican primaries? Many states (including Minnesota) have removed any other Republican candidates from the primary ballot. Can Pence simply replace Trump on the ballot? Whatever happens and whoever is on the ballot, I think they’d have a hard time overcoming this to win an election.
Of course, everything with Trump is unprecedented.
Right now we’re watching him live tweet the hearings and intimidate witnesses in real time. It’s bizarre how he can get away with doubling down on the bad behavior. He’s Trumping. It’s something he’s always done, and we saw it with the Access Hollywood tape. He tried the apology and being contrite for about 30 seconds, but then he went on the attack. He pulled up Bill Clinton’s accusers and basically tried to say other men treat women badly so who cares if I do. And it worked.
Throughout this impeachment process, I’d expect Trump to keep on Trumping. He’ll go to greater and greater lengths to challenge this whole thing, flouting the rule of law and pushing the envelope of abuse of power the entire time. Ironically, that might be the thing that convinces Republicans that they need to do something.
What Do We Do?
So what do regular citizens do through all of this? Two things:
One: Support candidates you believe in. Not just at the national level, but locally. I know it’s work, but do some research, talk to them, and get behind candidates you can believe in. It’s the long way through this nightmare, but it’s the only way we make this country better.
Two: Speak up. I think Donald Trump will only be removed by the Senate if public opinion shifts and people speak up en masse. You need to call your members of Congress and demand they vote to impeach (for Representatives) and remove (for Senators). Republican Senators especially need to hear this. If you’re a moderate or an independent or a Republican who doesn’t side with Trump, you need to speak up. Back in 2017 the phone bank army turned out to combat Trump on issues ranging from healthcare to refugees. I think it worked then. I think those calls to Senators made a difference in the healthcare debate. I don’t have the clearest perspective, but I haven’t seen people turn out and speak up in the same way since then (maybe the Kavanaugh hearings, but I don’t think those had the same bipartisan turnout).
So that’s my in-the-moment assessment. I look forward to being proven wrong.