Last week was strange and tragic. It opened with the news that Molly Tibbitts had been found murdered, allegedly by an illegal alien (whether he really did it or was even hear illegally remains to be determined) and closed with news of the death of Senate giant and icon John McCain. In between we learned of events which to some presage the death of Donald Trump’s presidency: His former campaign chairman was found guilty of numerous financial crimes, and his personal attorney pled guilty to making hush money payments to various women claiming to have had affairs with Trump some years ago (whether Trump himself is guilty of criminal acts has not been determined). Other men—Trump’s one-time friends and business partners—have been granted immunity in exchange for testimony that may further expose him to criminal prosecution. Impeachment talk is on the rise.
So, will President Trump actually be impeached by the House of Representatives? The answer is almost certainly “yes,” assuming the Democrats win control of the House in this year’s midterm elections.
But will he be removed from office by the Senate? Impeachment by the House requires a simple majority vote, but removal by the Senate requires a two-thirds majority vote. Yet there is no realistic scenario by which the Democrats will emerge from the midterms with anywhere close to two-thirds of the Senate seats. So President Trump may well survive the impeachment process—with a little help from his friends, both Republican and…Democratic?
Only three American presidents have been the targets of serious impeachment attempts—Andrew Johnson (1868), Richard Nixon (1974), and Bill Clinton (1998-1999). Although the sample is small, an important conclusion can be reached: The more popular the president, the less likely he is to be removed should he be impeached.
Both Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon were profoundly unpopular. Johnson was an unelected southern conservative Democrat refusing to implement the policies of a Republican-dominated Congress elected by an overwhelmingly Republican electorate. He was easily impeached by the House and escaped conviction and removal by the Senate by only one vote. Richard Nixon, in 1974 had lost the political support of most Republicans in Congress as well as the American people following the revelation of the “smoking gun” tape. He resigned after being informed by Republican leaders that both his impeachment and his removal were inevitable.
In contrast, Bill Clinton enjoyed the support of the American people throughout the impeachment process, partly because they appreciated the prosperous economy and partly because they were repelled by the perception that Clinton was being impeached for private sexual misconduct (technically, he was charged with lying under oath—indisputably a crime—but because the lie involved his private life the public was more outraged with the GOP for trying to impeach him than for his own adventures in the Oval Office). While the House did impeach Clinton by a narrow, almost party-line, vote (a few Republicans voted against impeachment and a few Democrats voted for it), he was easily acquitted in the Senate: No Democrat voted to remove him, and enough Republicans voted against removal to limit the pro-removal vote to 50, far short of the necessary two-thirds majority necessary to send him packing.
So what does this mean for President Trump? Simple—He remains far too popular for the Senate to remove him from office even should the House impeach him. His popularity remains in the 40s and shows no sign of declining. Moreover, he has the support of 87% of Republican voters. With support that solid, few if any Republican Senators will want to risk voter ire by joining forces with the Democrats to remove him even should the House impeach him. In other words, there is currently no realistic scenario by which the pro-removal forces in the Senate can win two-thirds of the vote.
And the Democrats are currently helping President Trump too, with their reaction to the murder of Mollie Tibbitts. Consider, for example, the words of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, widely seen as a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, as viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJ0ORLU_Q3E&feature=youtu.be. Her perfunctory expressions of sympathy for the Tibbitts family before trying to change the subject will be promoted—fairly or not is a matter of personal opinion–as one more example of Democratic callous and unfeeling insensitivity to the concerns of millions of voters who supported President Trump in 2016. Whatever the validity of her remarks, what she and other Democrats are saying will no doubt strengthen the resolve of President Trump’s supporters to stand by their man.
So in all probability, last week’s developments will have no lasting impact on President Trump’s prospects for at least riding out his first term in office. Of course, where this administration is concerned, there’s always something more just around the corner. Stay tuned…
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.