The goal of Democrats, progressives, and, according to polls, citizens of the United States is to have a different president. However, if the aim is to remove Donald J. Trump from office, impeachment is not the way. Impeaching Trump would be a terrible mistake.
Let’s get this out of the way. Trump will not be removed from office before his first term ends. Republicans have the Senate, and they’ve shown on debt, law enforcement, and even the holy principle of capitalism itself, that they are willing to abandon anything for this president. Fox News and a constant refrain of liberal media/“fake news” will help their base rationalize it.
The goal is to get him out of office as soon as possible, but it is impossible to remove Trump before the 2020 election. Therefore, the political impact of impeachment must be considered. So, what is the political impact?
Politics of Impeachment
Impeachment is not supported by a majority of elected officials, nor a majority of voters, let alone the Republican-held Senate. The majority of American voters are on board with getting rid of Trump. He is deeply unpopular. He loses head-to-head matches with a generic Democrat as well as most of the specific frontrunners. On the other hand, impeachment is, ironically, as unpopular as Trump.
So how are Democrats meant to gain a larger share of voters by doing something that voters don’t want?
Benefits of Impeachment
Maybe impeachment hearings would bring forth negative things about Trump and focus the public’s attention on it. However, Democrats don’t need to do something unpopular to accomplish that. The president can be investigated through all the regular oversight mechanisms Congress has at its disposal, the ones that aren’t unpopular. Impeachment doesn’t increase the ability to investigate the president or provide oversight. Furthermore, this administration, as it has shown, is more than capable of embarrassing itself.
But maybe the stain of impeachment would cover Trump so thoroughly that he won’t recover, one might argue.
However, Richard Nixon was ruined without impeachment while Bill Clinton’s impeachment did not harm him. Clinton’s impeachment did not rally the country against him but may have made him more popular and saved him from his self-inflicted wounds.
Maybe, if nothing else, impeachment will let future generations know that Trump was terrible. Once our current partisan environment dissipates, Americans decades from now will hear us calling from the past and pointing to Trump’s crimes and incompetence.
Except, how many people know that President Andrew Johnson was impeached? And what for? You’d have a hard time finding anyone with an answer. You’d much more easily find someone who can tell you the mistakes and misdeeds of former Presidents Nixon, Herbert Hoover, or Thomas Jefferson. History makes up its own mind.
Cost of Impeachment
Even if there’s nothing to gain, is there anything to lose? Maybe a pointless, indulgent catharsis is worth the effort – if there’s no cost. Except, there is a cost. Impeachment is unpopular, but the cost goes beyond doing something unpopular: there’s an “opportunity cost.”
Democrats and progressives do have popular policies. On wages, climate, healthcare, immigration, and beyond, the Democratic platform is more popular than the Republican. If the path of impeachment would be taken, congressional time and effort that could be spent showing the American voter how Democrats can make their lives better would instead be spent on an unpopular journey toward a futile end.
Consider May 2019. We saw Trump hide his tax returns by ignoring subpoenas, refuse to improve infrastructure for following a selfishly motivated tantrum, vainly engage the U.S. Navy on a mission to hide a ship named after a war hero he doesn’t like, and side with a murderous dictator over an American Vice President. It’s confirmed he has been lying about the Mueller report and we’ve heard Mueller say that if he did believe Trump was innocent, he would say that, and he will not say that. It took a toll on Trump’s approval.
If Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had begun impeachment hearings at the beginning of May, then most of that bad news would be drowned out by endless cable news commentary about the wisdom of symbolic pointlessness.
But that’s not all.
It also plays right into Trump’s hands. Recall how Clinton was better off politically following impeachment. That is partially because of the factors mentioned before. The infidelity that was constantly in the news was replaced. Republicans were not doing any work on legislation, but it was also because it turned what was a moral issue into a political issue.
Trump wants impeachment because it changes the narrative from a legal and moral one into a political one. He, the Republican Party, and Fox News have spent years priming a chunk of the American public to believe that any news that doesn’t benefit Republicans is a partisan liberal media conspiracy.
Once Democrats begin impeachment, it stops being Trump versus the rule of law, Constitution, law enforcement, democracy, basic human decency, women, workers, farmers, the middle class, people of color, or LGBTQ people. It all becomes Trump versus Democrats, with the American people just spectating.
Impeachment is a bad idea for now. If progressives and Democrats can control themselves and stay out of their own way, the bad news for Trump will continue, because they’re right about how bad he is.
Polls will continue to look bad for him. If they get bad enough, maybe impeachment will be viable. But more likely, voters will have to do it themselves at the ballot box. And polls already favor that outcome.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.