Monday, April 29, 2019


In an anti-impeachment post titled "The Impeachment Temptation," Scott Lemieux hints at one excellent reason not to try to impeach President Trump -- but he doesn't quite grasp it:
There are exceptions, but in my experience most strong advocates of impeachment don’t really accept the reality that impeachment can’t remove Trump. Defenses of impeachment tend to lead to arguments like “you can’t win if you don’t even try” ...
We all know why impeachment won't remove Trump: You need a two-thirds majority in the Senate, which means twenty Republicans need to vote to convict, and there won't even be one. (There'll need to be more than twenty if, as I assume, Democrats such as Joe Manchin vote to acquit.)

What Lemieux doesn't tell us is how the failure to convict would play out. Elements of the establishment-skeptic left will declare that Democrats could have secured a conviction if they'd tried harder, therefore the two parties are indistinguishable, therefore there's no point in voting for the (sold-out) Democratic presidential nominee and downballot Democrats in 2020. That argument will be complete idiocy, but it will be heard. It might be worth skipping impeachment just to avoid that outcome.

(I'm imagining this coming from the anti-Trump establishment-skeptic left, as opposed to anti-anti-Trumpers such as Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, and Michael Tracey, who continue to insist that Russiagate was a conspiracy theory.)

Lemieux's other point vary in merit. There's some truth in this one:
Another problem with arguments that assume impeachment would be good politics is that they focus on the impeachment proceedings, and not the Senate trial. The impeachment process doesn’t end with Trump being impeached; it ends with a Republican-led Senate trial that almost certainly fails to even secure a simple majority to convict. And anybody who thinks the dominant media narrative will be “corrupt Republican majority protects Trump” as opposed to “Vindicated Trump Found Innocent, Dems in Disarray After Failure of Partisan Witch Hunt” has not paid any attention to American politics for decades.
He's right -- that will be the typical headline. But I'm not sure the press coverage will harm the party with most mainstream Democrats. Remember, the headlines after the completion of the Mueller report were, essentially, “Vindicated Trump Found Innocent, Dems in Disarray After Failure of Partisan Witch Hunt.” Polls, however, revealed that most Americans continued to believe that Trump is a crook who did something dishonest and actionable.

Impeachment, if handled impeccably, would paint a vivid picture of a criminal president. The failure to convict would persuade voters who haven't thought much about Russiagate that there was serious wrongdoing, and that Republicans are engaged in a cover-up.

But there's no guarantee that Democrats would handle impeachment impeccably. They might provide a narrative that's murky and hard to follow unless you're a political pro or maven, or unless you're a skilled attorney. I don't think that would do harm to the Democrats, but it wouldn't help. And it wouldn't move many people toward the position that Trump must go as soon as possible.

Lemieux notes that the public says it doesn't want impeachment:
What limited data we have ... lends no support to the idea that it would be good politics. The public opposes impeachment proceedings — let alone impeachment — by nearly 2-to-1 margins. Nor does it seem to be a significant priority for most engaged voters.
But in politics, there's opposition and there's opposition. Do voters oppose impeachment the way they oppose, say, cuts to Social Security and Medicare? Or do they oppose impeachment the way they oppose the gun show loophole? In the former case, the public would be furious if their preferences weren't observed; in the latter case, they continue to vote for politicians who keep a policy the oppose in place, while they shrug. How angry would voters be if impeachment proceedings or hearings started? Pollsters should be able to determine this, but for now we don't know. It really might be a horrible political miscalculation, but we need more evidence.

And this is a bad comparison:
The only historical example of a president being impeached with no serious threat of removal led to the president’s popularity increasing and the president’s party doing unusually well for an in party in midterm elections.
This isn't an apples-to-oranges comparison just because Bill Clinton was a popular president before impeachment, while Trump has never been popular. It's an apples-to-oranges comparison because Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about sex -- something many people have done -- while Trump would be pursued for covering up efforts to take advantage of illegal election meddling by a corrupt enemy regime that also dangled fat profits before him in the pursuit of relief from U.S. government sanctions. That's not exactly relatable for most Americans.

So while I agree that there are serious risks to impeachment, I disagree with many of the arguments made against it. If it could be done right, it might persuade a portion of the so-far-unpersuaded population that Trump ought to be removed from office before January 2021, even if the removal doesn't take place. But it might not be done right. And extremely loud lefties might loudly proclaim after a failed impeachment that the Democrats are the real enemies, as they so often do, and persuade some listeners.

But my hunch is that impeachment, even ending in failure, would leave the polls of Trump and the Democrats exactly where they've been for most of his presidency, because nothing seems to change those numbers.

No comments: