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Careful what you wish for

The calls for impeachment of Donald Trump from prominent Democrats are both understandable and at the same time baffling.

They are understandable if one truly believes, as many Democrats and even some Republicans do, that Trump is a threat to the republic because he's fundamentally unfit for its highest office. If that conviction holds, and it is hardly an unreasonable one, then love of country requires that we act, and act sooner rather than later.

The baffling part concerns the political side, more precisely the answer to Vladimir Lenin's famous query: "Who benefits?"

Within this context, it is unclear why Democrats believe their position would be strengthened if they could somehow persuade enough Republicans in a Republican-controlled House to impeach and enough Republicans in a Republican-controlled Senate to reach the two-thirds threshold for conviction.

Were Trump, with his sub-40 percent approval ratings, to be forced to vacate the presidency, the office would be assumed by his unassuming and much less polarizing vice president, Mike Pence. Indeed, one might speculate that for many Republicans, few of whom are comfortable with Trump as their party leader, the best argument that Democrats could present to impeach would be that Pence would get the job instead.

Trump's removal from the presidency with necessary GOP complicity, perhaps as the result of Robert Mueller-generated evidence of collusion with the Russians, would obviously anger his base of support, but it is unlikely that they would have anywhere else to go, certainly not to a Democratic Party that Trump has driven further down the radical left/identity politics rabbit hole, and especially if a President Pence pursued an agenda similar to Trump's, only more competently and without the melodrama and vulgarity.

A replacement of Trump by Pence, with Pence presumably as Republican standard-bearer in 2020, would thus, all things considered, likely be better electoral news for Republicans than for Democrats. If Democrats genuinely believe their claims that their fierce "resistance" to Trump is politically beneficial and energizing, then getting rid of their foil could hardly be the smart move.

For Republicans, replacing Trump with Pence would also abruptly ease the cynical "transactional" approach that many have been forced to follow, in which putting up with Trump is the increasingly painful price paid for getting tax cuts, deregulation, and conservatives on the federal courts. The wearying need to put the best face on Trump's behavior, to somehow apologize for it or to simply look away in embarrassment, will end.

In short, a President Pence would be vastly more difficult for a stale Democratic Party with a depleted bench to beat than Trump would be. Marco Rubio, Ben Sasse or Nikki Haley harder still.

Of course, there are reasons other than impeachment that could keep Trump off the 2020 ballot.

He could declare that he'd already made "America great again" and decide, perhaps out of boredom or the desire to refill his depleted financial coffers, not to seek a second term, although consideration of both Trump's ego and the historical record suggests otherwise--the last time an incumbent president swore off any interest in running again was back in 1928, when that most humble of public servants, Calvin Coolidge, decided five years as president was more than enough.

That Trump will be challenged within the GOP for re-nomination, if he makes it that far, is almost certain. Presidents whose approval ratings are as underwater as Trump's provoke intra-party challenges. Throw in his hostile takeover of the GOP and his antagonistic relations with Republican leaders in Congress and the likelihood grows.

Such challenges to incumbents for re-nomination have invariably failed, even when the challengers have had last names like Roosevelt, Reagan and Kennedy, and the incumbents names like William Howard Taft, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter.

But, all that said, the great misunderstanding regarding Trump has always been that he and only he could have defeated that electoral juggernaut called Hillary Clinton.

Nothing could be further from the truth--Trump was the weakest possible candidate the GOP could have thrown up. And the only opponent he could have actually beaten last November was the one he ran against.

The source of our current predicament can be found in the bizarre fact that our two major political parties nominated the two most unpopular candidates in the nation's history in the same election.

Trump won only because he wasn't Hillary, and Hillary would have won, with just a 79,000-vote shift in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, only because she wasn't Trump.

National Review's Quin Hillyer was neither alone nor wrong when he attributed last week's Republican wipeout at the polls to the "raging unpopularity" of a president who "is making Republicanism widely toxic."

Those within the GOP who have joined the Trump personality cult, whether out of genuine conviction or opportunism, claim that those losses weren't Trump's because he wasn't on the ballot.

No, he wasn't. And if he had been, it would have been even worse. As it will be next November. And in November 2020.

So maybe the next time a prominent Democrat demands Trump's impeachment, Republican leaders might want to say, "let's talk."

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Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

Editorial on 11/13/2017

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