Just six months after his inauguration, Americans already are split down the middle, 42%-42%, over whether President Trump should be removed from office, a new USA TODAY/iMediaEthics Poll finds.
While no serious effort is now underway in Congress to impeach Trump, the results underscore how quickly political passions have become inflamed both for and against the outsider candidate who won last year’s campaign in a surprise. A third of those surveyed say they would be upset if Trump is impeached; an equal third say they would be upset if he’s not.
That’s extraordinary for the speed with which we reached this widespread willingness to consider impeachment. Not only are we a mere six months into the Trump presidency, but also we have yet to see a final report from the special counsel or a congressional committee.
Impeachment isn’t a matter up for popular referendum — or is it? In about 15 months, every member of the House will be up for reelection. Unless Trump is gone by then or thoroughly exonerated (both unlikely, but who knows?), that issue will be front and center in the race. It’s far from nutty — or even a stretch — to discuss grounds for impeachment; indeed, when as many favor it as oppose it, impeachment becomes an entirely legitimate topic. Republicans won’t be able to discredit Democrats on the grounds that they are mulling impeachment. To the contrary, Democrats will try to make Republicans squirm by raising a series of uncomfortable questions:
- Why isn’t the GOP taking Trump’s conflicts of interest, including possible emoluments clause violations, seriously?
- Why didn’t Candidate X object to the firing of former FBI director James B. Comey?
- Why haven’t the Republicans forced Trump to turn over his tax returns? (A large majority of voters consistently have said Trump should release them.)
- How can we trust Republicans who have defended Trump at every turn to do the right thing if the facts show Trump committed impeachable offenses? (Even stickier, asking Republicans to specify what would be impeachable puts them in a nasty corner. Refuse to answer, and they’ve shown themselves to be flunkies; answer, and they bind themselves to a vote should credible facts come to light.)
- Would Republicans move to impeach if Trump tried to pardon himself and/or family members?
- Why didn’t they demand that Jared Kushner, after his multiple meetings with Russians and failure to report them, lose his security clearance?
This will not be the only issue in the 2018 midterms, but unless Trump is gone or entirely cleared, it will be an awfully significant one. What’s a Republican to do? Simple:
- Take Trump conflicts of interest, including possible emoluments clause violations, seriously and begin hearings.
- Make clear the objection to Comey’s firing and warn that firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III would have dire consequences. (Better yet, promise to pass and rehire him under a new independent prosecutor statute.)
- Pass legislation to require Trump to turn over his tax returns.
- Specify what would be impeachable offenses: firing the special counsel, obstruction of justice (including directing underlings to lie and/or cover up the reason for Comey’s firing), financial wrongdoing, perjury and/or misleading Congress.
- State clearly that the GOP will move to impeach if Trump tries to pardon himself and/or family members.
- Demand that Kushner, after his multiple meetings with Russians and failure to report them, lose his security clearance.
In short, there is no good reason — aside from blind partisan loyalty (and how has that worked out for the GOP?) — not to do these things. If the GOP doesn’t, Democrats have a very strong case in arguing that Republicans have shown themselves unwilling to uphold their constitutional obligations. Put differently, if they keep defending Trump and refusing to address his misconduct head-on, they have no business being in office.