Impeaching President Trump

Dr. Malcolm Cross

“We’re going to impeach the motherf****r.”

So said newly sworn-in first term Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan.  Although she only represents one district from one state, she’ll get to help pass laws to regulate everyone in America.  Let that sink in.

But her language notwithstanding, Representative Tlaib may be on to something.  Senior Democrats in the House, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have tried—obviously not too successfully—to tamp down talk of impeaching President Trump, claiming such talk is premature, given that Special Prosecutor Mueller has not yet completed his report.  But no doubt Representative Tlaib was speaking not only for herself, but for many other junior Democratic representatives.  Talk of impeachment is indisputably in the air.  In fact, given the size of the Democratic majority and the zeal with which the Democrats are launching their investigations into everything Trump, impeachment is practically a foregone conclusion.

Whether Speaker Pelosi is trying to spill cold water on impeachment talk out of genuinely moderate sentiments, or only for tactical reasons, is not clear.  But impeachment runs risk not only for the President, but for congressional Democrats as well.

No doubt Speaker Pelosi remembers how badly the Congressional Republicans hurt themselves with their determination to impeach President Clinton in 1998.  The voters punished their zeal by reducing the size of the Republican majority in the 1998 elections, which led to the ouster of Newt Gingrich from his Speakership and his resignation from Congress altogether.  The lesson from 1998 is clear:  The party that seeks to impeach a popular President may well pay a stiff price at the polls.  Whether Speaker Pelosi can teach her junior Democrats that lesson, however, remains to be seen, but if her fellow House Democrats become too blinded by ideological zeal or hatred for President Trump, she will almost certainly fail.

And what if the House does impeach the President?  He will then go on trial before the Senate, which will have the power to remove him with a two-thirds vote.  

But will a Senate with a Republican majority actually do so?  Right now, it’s highly unlikely.  No Democratic Senator voted to remove President Clinton in 1999.  Given President Trump’s continuing popularity with Republican voters, few, if any Republican Senators would support his removal now.  And assuming all 47 of the Senate Democrats vote to remove him, they would still need 20 Republican senators to go along with them.  At this point in time, finding 20 Republican defectors would be practically impossible.

This could conceivably change, depending on what Mueller concludes.  In 1974 Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency after being told by Senate Republican leaders that his support had collapsed, and that impeachment by the House and conviction and removal by the Senate were practically certain.  In fact, Nixon’s public approval rating was about 23% when he left office. Should Mueller’s report be especially damaging he could conceivably drive down public approval of President Trump as well, prompting his GOP Senate allies to withdraw their support for him and thereby induce him to resign.  

But to date, Republicans in Congress and throughout the country have been skeptical and dismissive of the numerous accusations levied against President Trump, and it is probable that his followers will retain their strongly felt devotion to him.  They are far more loyal to President Trump than Republicans were to President Nixon, and they have the internet to keep themselves informed and well- organized.  The solidarity of the activists should keep enough Senate Republicans loyal to President Trump and thereby keep him in the White House.

So it’s probable that the President will be impeached, but not removed.  Indeed, an unsuccessful impeachment effort by overly zealous Democratic firebrands could produce a pro-Trump backlash in 2020, giving him a second term in office while ending the terms of many of his congressional tormentors.  It will be interesting to see if Congresswoman Tlaib remains, and, if so, how she’ll continue to enrich our public discourse.

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.

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