I have generally been sympathetic to her position, in large part because Democrats have been unable to communicate in concise and vivid terms the “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” at issue. Trump, through a fog of lies and obstruction, has made the Russia investigation unintelligible for most Americans. (For this reason, I favor emphasis on egregious corruption, which is easier to explain and prove.) It is politically untenable at this point to use the Mueller report as the basis for impeachment.
However, with the allegations (and virtual public confession) that Trump went to a foreign power, Ukraine, to dig up dirt on former vice president Joe Biden, his most likely opponent, and may even have extorted Ukraine using taxpayer money, the calculus may change, dramatically so.
Unlike the Mueller investigation, the collusion at issue is discrete, simple and, in all likelihood, easy to prove. Witnesses in addition to the whistleblower may include former officials who have no reason to abide by Trump’s bogus executive-immunity claims. Subpoenaed to testify, I suspect people like former director of national intelligence Daniel Coats and his deputy Sue Gordon, as well as former national security adviser John Bolton, would testify honestly. From factually specific news reports (e.g., confirming Trump asked the Ukrainian president eight times to find dirt on Biden), we know the proof and the witnesses are out there. Moreover, his henchman Rudolph W. Giuliani, acting in the capacity of Trump’s fixer, is protected by no privilege. (For one thing, he’s already talked openly about his conduct.)
Trump doesn’t seem to dispute the facts. Rather, he is trying to prevent concrete, glaring evidence from emerging. He apparently thinks it’s perfectly fine to lean on a foreign power to help him win an election.
Given all that, impeachment may look very different. A single article of impeachment based on an incontrovertible abuse of power would make Democrats’ job much easier. The difficultly that at-risk Republicans face in explaining to voters why they countenance such conduct begins to outweigh any downside for Democrats in pursuing impeachment, even if the eventual outcome is acquittal in the Senate.
Imagine Senate races in 2020 for Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and others outside of deep-red America. So, Sen. Collins, you think it is perfectly fine to go to a foreign power to help sway our election outcome? Sen. Tillis, if your opponent goes to, say, China to dig up dirt on you, is that fair game?
The argument for Democrats — namely that Republicans are spineless lackeys who have violated their oaths of office — is far easier to maintain than the Republicans’ assertion that it’s nuts to remove a president who goes to a foreign power to help reelect him.
I do not expect enough Republicans will vote to remove Trump under any circumstances. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and others have proved time and again that their fear of Trump and his base outweighs any assault on our democracy no matter how devastating. These are hollow little men who find it impossible to put country above partisan loyalty and ambition. They will come up with whatever justification is necessary to avoid crossing Trump, even at the expense of allowing the most egregious “High Crime and Misdemeanor” in our history to go unpunished.
However, the political downside for Democrats will be small, and, it is always possible, the media might actually inform the public, the public might actually grasp the severity of the conduct and the Republicans on the ballot might actually pay a steep price for betraying our democracy.
The House needs to move swiftly, with singular purpose, on this discrete event. If so, doing the right thing may coincide with doing the politically smart thing.