To everyone dreaming of a quick and easy impeachment: What do you imagine happens the day after?
Passions subside. President Pence begins his orderly reign. Donald Trump retreats to Mar-a-Lago. Normalcy returns.
That’s about what you have in mind, right?
Here’s a likelier scenario: Trump goes to Mar-a-Lago to regroup, not retreat. Early in the morning, he tweets: “Join me on Day One of our campaign to reverse the most corrupt theft in political history and reclaim the White House in 2020.” His supporters vow to reverse the coup d’etat.
And the wars intensify.
Impeachment should not be ruled out. If special counsel Robert S. Mueller III gathers evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors, Congress should proceed, regardless of partisan advantage or political fallout.
But Trump opponents are kidding themselves if they think that sacking him will restore comity and peace to the nation. And they are dodging the work they need to do if they let a focus on impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment keep them from offering solutions to problems that contributed to Trump’s victory.
Impeachment has been and should be considered a “drastic remedy,” as attorney Gregory Craig called it when he was defending President Bill Clinton before the House Judiciary Committee in 1998.
Trump was legitimately elected by Americans who knew they were voting for an inexperienced, bombastic, intermittently truthful, thin-skinned, race-baiting businessman. If Trump turns out to be an inexperienced, bombastic, intermittently truthful, thin-skinned, race-baiting president, that should not come as a surprise. Nor is it grounds for impeachment.
Even if Trump turns out to be worse than feared, a failure, a disappointment even to his voters, someone who would, say, boorishly disparage America’s FBI chief as a “nut job” while speaking to America’s adversaries — even that would not be grounds for impeachment. The remedy for poor performance is to not reelect. It is a decision for the voters.
Impeachment (by the House) and conviction (by a two-thirds vote in the Senate) would stoke, not calm, political anger. Even if some of his voters felt let down by his performance, many would see his removal from office as an undemocratic short-circuiting of the process. Already his reelection committee is claiming that Trump is a victim of “sabotage,” as The Post’s Abby Phillip reported.
“You already knew the media was out to get us,” a recent fundraising email began. “But sadly it’s not just the fake news. . . . There are people within our own unelected bureaucracy that want to sabotage President Trump and our entire America First movement.”
Would Trump, if convicted by the Senate, stage a run for redemption in 2020, fueling and feeding on that kind of paranoia? That would depend on many factors, including whether Congress chose to bar him from future service, which it is allowed but not required to do in an impeachment trial.
But certainly many among the 46 percent of the electorate who rallied to Trump’s side in order to “drain the swamp” of Washington elitism would not subside quietly if the swamp, as they saw it, swallowed him. Maybe their candidate would be Donald Jr. or Eric Trump, who last week tweeted, “This entire thing is a witch hunt propagated by a failed political campaign.” Maybe they would find another champion.
What’s least conceivable is that they, and other voters, would suddenly be satisfied again with the old Republican and Democratic parties. Which is why Trump opponents can’t afford to think that getting rid of Trump is all they need to do.
Neera Tanden and Matt Browne, in a recent Post op-ed on the French presidential election, noted that Emmanuel Macron did not win his landslide victory simply by stressing the danger of electing his populist, Russia-sympathizing opponent, Marine Le Pen. Although many observers said Macron lacked a substantive platform, Tanden, who is president and chief executive of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, and Browne, a senior fellow there, argued that Macron actually set out a “bold agenda” for political reform.
“For progressives in the United States, this is a critical lesson,” Tanden and Browne wrote. To rebut the politics of “ethno-nationalist populism” progressives need to offer more than opposition — they need “an aggressive agenda for political reform.”
We are far from knowing the whole story of Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election, its relationship over the years with Trump and his businesses, and the administration’s possible efforts to keep the truth from emerging. The country needs Mueller and members of Congress, of both parties, working overtime to expose that story.
But the country also needs to beware of the fantasy that the nation’s problems, and the Democratic Party’s, could be solved if only that one man could magically be made to disappear.