He pointed to a map showing the 2016 election results by county.
“This is what the Democrats fear,” he continued. “They fear the true will of ‘we the people.’ They are deep, establishment D.C. They fear. They call this Republican map flyover country. They call us deplorable. They fear our faith. They fear our strength. They fear our unity. They fear our vote. And they fear our president.”
It was a more dramatic version of an argument made by a number of his peers, that the Democratic effort to impeach Trump was a function not of concerns about the president’s effort to compel Ukraine to launch politically useful investigations but, instead, a manifestation of Democratic frustration at losing the 2016 election. It was an attempt, many Republicans argued, to throw out the will of the 63 million voters who supported Trump that year.
What really differentiated Higgins’s iteration of the argument, though, was that map. It’s a notorious misrepresentation of what happened in the election, exaggerating Trump’s support by emphasizing large, sparsely populated areas of land while diminishing millions of urban votes for Hillary Clinton. Those 63 million votes cast for Trump were, of course, about 2.9 million votes fewer than the votes Clinton earned.
In this case, though, Higgins’s map is more accurate than the “nullify 63 million votes” claim. It demonstrates that what determined the winner of the 2016 election was, in fact, land area — or, specifically, the electoral votes allotted to states. Trump is president not because of 63 million votes but because of 78,000 of them in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Higgins’s argument, that the will of the people was that Trump should be president, is inaccurate. His map, though, was on the money.
What’s more, it demonstrates the deeper flaw in the argument that the Democrats’ impeachment push is an aberrative attempt to undo an election. That flaw? That Trump is president after that election only because of an oddity of the Constitution.
The will of voters in 2016 was that Hillary Clinton be president. The Constitution, though, determined that the grouping of those voters meant that Trump should be given the position. Democrats grumbled and fretted, but the process took effect. To now claim that Democrats can’t use the constitutional mechanism for impeachment to target Trump because it runs in opposition to what voters wanted ignores that critical intermediary role the Constitution itself played.
What impeachment would do, in the unlikely event that the Senate voted to remove Trump from office, is unwind the Constitution’s determination that geographic considerations can outweigh the popular vote. Although, of course, it wouldn’t even do that. It would, instead, simply elevate the person who received 63 million votes as vice president — Mike Pence — to the top spot.
It’s important to put a fine point on it, so let’s.
The claim is that impeachment is using a constitutional loophole to undo the will of the public, manifested in 63 million votes in 2016.
The reality is that a successful impeachment and removal would simply use a constitutional mechanism to oust one-half of a ticket that earned the White House via a different constitutional mechanism.
Democrats like impeachment and hate the electoral college; Republicans hate impeachment and like the electoral college. But the trick with the Constitution is that it’s a package deal until such time as it is amended. Impeaching Trump and removing him from office — thereby yielding President Pence — is the middle road between the two positions.
Impeachment is not a commonly used mechanism for balancing power between the branches of government, but it’s not some bizarre escape hatch that just emerged on Jan. 20, 2017. It is no stranger than a presidential veto or a presidential pardon (as CNN analyst Asha Rangappa points out), both of which serve as checks on other branches of government. A person can be accused of a crime, convicted, sentenced to death — and be given a pass by the president of the United States without any repercussion. That’s certainly a form of undoing the will of the judiciary.
Though, for the analogy to fit better here, the person’s conviction would have had to have been a function of guilty verdicts from a slight minority of jurors.
What the overturning-the-people’s-will argument is really about, of course, is the rest of what Higgins asserted. It’s an effort to pit impeachment as oppositional to Trump’s base, to reinforce a central idea of Trump’s presidency: that the establishment is trying to keep him (and by extension his supporters) down. That Pence would become president doesn’t diminish this argument for the simple reason that Trump’s base of support is heavily predicated on Trump as an individual, and Pence is hardly a substitute for the president himself.
It doesn’t really matter. The outcome of this effort has been obvious for some time. Trump isn’t going anywhere, since the Constitution’s stipulations about impeachment require a two-thirds majority of the Republican-controlled Senate to vote to remove him from office.
This aspect of the Constitution, it’s safe to say, meets with the Republicans’ approval.