Reports that Vice President Pence might be involved in the Ukraine affair are bad news for Democrats. If true, they could derail the entire impeachment effort and help President Trump’s reelection campaign.

The report contends that Trump tried to involve Pence in his effort to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter in Ukraine for their activities while Biden was in office. Pence’s office vigorously denies that he sought to pressure Zelensky or even that he was aware of Trump’s efforts. While that denial may strain credulity — Pence was allegedly given the transcript of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky in preparation for his Sept. 1 meeting with the Ukrainian president, and his national security adviser monitored that call — if true, it probably gets Pence off the hook.

But the problems for the Democrats start to pile up if credible evidence emerges that the denial is not true. They argue that the pressure itself is an impeachable offense. If Pence participated in that effort, then he, too, has committed an impeachable offense and must be removed from office.

That, however, would make House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is third in line for the Oval Office, president herself. No Republican will vote to make Pelosi president, and the 79-year-old surely has no desire to become president, even if for only a few months. But if Pence is guilty of the same misconduct as Trump, removing him from the impeachment proceedings undercuts the argument that the Ukraine pressure is itself impeachable. If it’s the Constitution that the Democrats want to protect, as they allege, it makes no sense to keep one wrongdoer in office while removing another.

Pelosi has long known that the wisest course is to avoid impeachment and let voters decide Trump’s fate. But the passions of Democratic voters have long opposed this sober judgment, and Pelosi eventually relented. Most Democrats hate Trump and want him removed from office; the specific cause for his removal has been a mere detail to be resolved.

But Democratic voters hate Pence, too, if for somewhat different reasons. If proof emerges that he did participate in Trump’s scheme, it’s hard to imagine how the progressive activist base doesn’t become whipped into a frenzy to toss out the whole administration. After all, the existence of the administration itself is what it is truly enraged about.

Trump and Republicans would angrily and loudly attack this as a nakedly political movement. They would contend that Democrats want to undo the last election and prevent the next one — that the Democrats are the ones who want to break our democracy by striking at the ability of voters to choose their own leaders. This surely would embitter Democrats, but it would be believed by Republicans and those who back Trump. The result would be clear: No Republican would break ranks and vote to convict Trump in a Senate trial.

None of this excuses Republicans of their own excesses. Partisan hatred is not a one-sided affair, and the seeds for our current political civil war were sown by both sides over the past few decades. But it doesn’t matter now who threw the first punch or who hits below the belt more often. Trump’s presidency has fanned the preexisting flames, and impeachment is throwing gasoline on the fire. If Pence is perceived to be involved in the attempts to investigate Biden, that fire will probably be uncontainable. And no one can predict where the out-of-control inferno will move next.

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