The electoral college is the reason Donald Trump is president. It may also be the reason he avoids impeachment.
In 2016, despite losing the general election to Hillary Clinton by 3 million votes, Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States. Given his track record, some questioned whether or not he’d make it to the end of his first term.
Fast forward three years.
Trump is still president but he now faces a formal impeachment inquiry in Congress. The investigation has put most conservatives on their heels, with one exception of course: the president himself.
House leader Nancy Pelosi called for the impeachment inquiry after a whistleblower reported that Trump pressured the president of Ukraine, Volodymyer Zelensky, to investigate former vice-president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Of course, it’s no secret that Biden is one of President Trump’s biggest revivals heading into the 2020 election, and any dirt Zelensky could dig up on him would be ammunition for Trump’s campaign.
As historians point out, Trump’s reliance on foreign powers to gain a political edge at home is without precedent.
And yet, despite the serious nature of the accusations against him, Trump has yet to bat an eye. In fact, he’s become more brazen. On October 3, Trump invited another foreign power, China, to investigate the Bidens.
“China should start an investigation into the Bidens [too],” Trump told reporters outside the White House.
This leads to a historically important question: Why would a sitting president dare Congress to impeachment him? The answer is frighteningly simple. Donald Trump is testing the limits of his power.
The president knows he still has control of Senate, where majority leader Mitch McConnell controls the whip. And while McConnel has publicly committed to hearing impeachment proceedings if the House formally charges the president, he’s also forewarned the nation by implying that the Senate wouldn’t have to spend much time on it.
The fact of the matter is, until Democrats take firm control of the Senate, Trump is likely unimpeachable, and he knows it.
According to a poll conducted on September 30, 55 percent of voters claim they are “paying a lot of attention” to the impeachment proceedings. Another 28 percent say they are “paying some attention.”
But while there may be national consensus on the importance of the hearings, the country is firmly divided on whether or not the president should actually be impeached.
How do you impeach a president who has won perhaps the greatest election of all time, done nothing wrong (no Collusion with Russia, it was the Dems that Colluded), had the most successful first two years of any president, and is the most popular Republican in party history 93%?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2019
Among active Republicans, only 7 percent of voters felt Trump should be removed, compared with 90 percent of Democrats. Independents were split, with 42 percent approving of impeachment, but a firm 50 percent against it.
Most telling of all, an overwhelming 56 percent of registered voters believe that Congress members who support impeachment are pursuing Trump’s removal due to their own political interests as oppose to the facts of the case.
What do these numbers tell us about the probability of Trump actually being impeached?
Donald Trump wasn’t elected president because he was the most popular candidate. Rather, he was elected president because he was the most attractive candidate in the right combination of states. And as the impeachment hearings drag on, this is a point worth remembering.
To be impeached, a simple majority of Congress will have to vote in favor of President Trump’s removal. This seems plausible, and at this point, likely.
However, for Congress’ vote to be binding, two-thirds of their colleagues in the Senate would also have to vote in favor of impeachment. And at this point, it’s hard to imagine that many Republicans bucking the party. And that’s assuming Mitch McConnel is even willing to bring it to a vote in the first place.
As Perry Bacon Jr. from the website FiveThirtyEight concluded back in May, “[I]mpeachment doesn’t look like a great idea for Democrats politically — it divides the party, unifies Republicans and pushes independents toward the GOP.” This was true then, and it still seems to resonate in battleground states today.
Donald Trump is the ultimate gambler. He’s always been willing to throw caution to the wind. In this case, he’s putting all his chips on the table. But in the electoral college system, he’s got an ace up his sleeve. And he knows it.
He understands that Congress will likely impeach him, but he also knows that the Senate is just as likely to reject the motion.
And in working-class battlegrounds states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, an impeachment trial may be just enough to swing the tide in his favor in the 2020 election. As we learned in 2016, you don’t have to win the favor of the nation to win the White House.
If Trump is right, in 2021 he’ll begin his second term as the most powerful leader in the world. However, this time around, the checks on his power will have been greatly diminished.
In other words, in inviting Congress to impeach him, President Trump is gambling with our democracy. And if he wins, our nation will pay the ultimate price.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.