Saturday, December 08, 2018


In an opinion piece for the Fox News website, Mark Penn warns Democrats not to try to impeach President Trump. I confess that before I read the piece I more or less agreed with Penn that Democrats should proceed with caution -- but he's so bad at this that by the time I got to the end of his piece, I was more pro-impeachment than when I started.

Penn writes:
If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, then perhaps the Democrats on a crusade to impeach President Trump should think twice about the road they are heading down.
Democrats are "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result"? Really? Have they already impeached Trump four or five times? I don't understand.
It’s one thing to hold more investigations and try to get President Trump’s tax returns. It is quite another thing to turn the entire machinery of Congress over to the impeachment process while blocking compromises on health care, immigration, infrastructure and other important legislation.
It's nice that Penn approves of investigating Trump and obtaining his tax returns -- so do I -- but why would proceeding to impeachment require "blocking compromises on health care, immigration, infrastructure and other important legislation"? How can you block something that doesn't exist?
The warning signs of partisanship taken too far come from what happened in 1998 with the impeachment of President Clinton by the House, and from the recent Senate confirmation battle that raged over the nomination of now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

In the Clinton case, voters reacted negatively to Republicans who tried to turn unsavory personal behavior into crimes to support the impeachment of the president in the House of Representatives. Clinton was acquitted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice at his Senate trial, so the effort to remove him from office failed.
Yes, but in Trump's case, we're not talking about "unsavory personal behavior." Or we're not just talking about it. There seems to have been cooperation with enemies of America who set out to subvert our elections. There are corrupt violations of constitutional prohibitions on presidential profiteering. Oh, and there's also unsavory personal behavior (and coverups of that behavior). Clinton and Trump? Apples and oranges -- or, rather, apples and the world's largest fruit stand.
In the Kavanaugh confirmation fight, voters reacted negatively to Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee who went overboard with Spartacus moments and for the way they handled allegations of sexual misconduct.
They did? All the Democratic committee members who were up for reelection -- Dianne Feinstein, Amy Klobuchar, Sheldon Whitehouse, Mazie Hirono -- won their elections in blowouts. And beyond that, Democrats won back roughly 40 seats in the House.
... Back in 1998, House Republicans considered Bill Clinton an illegitimate president who they believed the American public would support removing from office if Independent Counsel Ken Starr reported that Clinton lied under oath. The Starr report was a blockbuster, complete with graphic descriptions of Oval Office sexual activity between Clinton and then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky and stained-dress evidence.

But the plan backfired. In the 1998 midterm elections, Republicans actually lost seats in Congress as we Democrats used the theme “Progress, not Partisanship,” and the whole imbroglio toppled House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.
Here's one big difference: The general public liked Bill Clinton in 1998, or at least approved of the way he was doing his job. Gallup had him at 66% job approval just before Election Day 1998. Trump, just before Election Day this year, was at 40%.
... It takes the votes of 67 senators to convict a president impeached by the House and remove him from office. The midterm Senate elections last month will result in a Senate made up of 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats beginning in January.

As a result, if the new Democratic majority that will rule the House votes to impeach President Trump, even if every Senate Democrat votes to convict him they would need to pick up the support of 20 Republican senators to remove Trump from office.

Does anyone seriously think that there are more than a handful of Republican senators at most who would favor Trump’s conviction and ouster, even in the face of a damning report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller?
I don't think there'll even be a handful. I think there'll be no Republican votes at all to convict. (Susan Collins will be very concerned about the charges.)

But we don't know that for sure. The House should investigate, Mueller should keep digging, and maybe -- maybe -- there'll come a time when even Trump voters turn on him. I doubt it, but it could happen.
... So does an impeachment fight that is almost guaranteed to end with President Trump still in the Oval Office benefit Trump or the Democrats?

Does the headline “Trump Acquitted” after a Senate trial help anyone but Trump, albeit after a painful and distracting rollercoaster process?
I've been thinking that a failed impeachment is likely to inflame Trump voters and motivate them to reelect him. But when Penn mentions Kavanaugh, I'm reminded that the Senate fight didn't stop the blue wave. It motivated the GOP base, but Democrats were the clear winners, although maybe it was the reason Democrats lost some high-profile contests.

A failed impeachment could motivate Republican voters -- but it could also show Democratic and swing voters that Trump is clearly unfit to serve, and that the only people who don't get that are Republican officeholders and their voters. I'm still generally against impeachment without a reasonable chance of conviction, but I'm less certain that it would be a disaster for Democrats. It might be a plus, if the case they make is obviously strong to everyone except Republicans.
... The question confronting Democrats at the start of the new year will be whether they want to repeat what the Republicans did in 1998, and whether it will have the same outcome. The most likely answers right now are yes and yes.
Here's what happened after 1998: Republicans won back the White House (yes, by means of a dubious election, but their guy was still declared the winner). They held the House. Two years after that, they won back the Senate. They paid no real price for impeachment -- in all likelihood, it helped them beat Al Gore.

Now, maybe that works only if you're the Republicans. Democrats might need to be more cautious.

Nevertheless, Democrats should investigate the bejeesus out of Trump, and ignore Mark Penn in all things. Here's Penn's recommendation:
The smartest move Democrats could make would likely be to approve some kind of censure motion against President Trump after a few hearings and then say the American people will decide in the 2020 election who should be president for another four years.
Hell no.

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