Moby Don

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Nothing can prevent House Democrats from working to impeach and remove President Trump.  But it’s not clear or fore-ordained that their efforts will produce his removal.  To the contrary, public opinion trends up to this point indicate that they will hurt themselves and their colleagues more than they’ll hurt President Trump and the GOP.  

If I had the slightest artistic ability—which I don’t—I’d draw an editorial cartoon featuring a great white whale (possibly with an orange thatch of hair) looking smug and self-satisfied as he cruises over the ocean with a whaleboat in hot pursuit.  The whaleboat, labeled “House Democrats,” would be manned by angry-looking congressmen furiously rowing under the lash of Adam Schiff or Nancy Pelosi.  Standing in the bow of the boat, harpoon in hand, would be New York Congressman Jerry Nadler, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which this week will begin conducting its own public hearings on the impeachment of President Trump.

This hypothetical cartoon is a reference, of course, to Moby Dick, a tale of how obsession can lead to self-destruction.  If you’ve read the book (or seen the Gregory Peck or Patrick Stewart film version) you’ll recall that Captain Ahab, in his unrelenting quest for Moby Dick, ultimately destroys his ship, his crew, and himself.

I was thinking of this analogy while reading some of the latest public opinion polls and commentary of the ongoing attempt to impeach President Trump.  The most pessimistic poll (from a Republican point of view) is CNN’s poll showing that at the end of the first round of impeachment hearings, 50% of the country want President Trump impeached and removed, and 43% don’t.  But here’s the catch:  Explanatory commentary admitted that these figures were identical to those produced by a CNN poll taken before the hearings began.  In other words, The House Intelligence Committee hearings chaired by Adam Schiff produced nothing to convince the President’s supporters that he deserves removal from office.  

Similar polls have shown public opinion to be more evenly balanced between removal and retention of the president, with little significant change in public opinion following the hearings, especially in the swing, or purple, states.  This is significant because public opinion will ultimately decide whether the President will be removed from office or retained.  And as long as the President retains the support of a large enough segment of public opinion, including roughly 90% of Republican voters, he’s safe from removal by the GOP-dominated Senate.

So why do the Democrats want to prolong the impeachment process?  In an earlier column, I quoted Texas Democratic Congressman Al Green as saying “I’m concerned that if we don’t impeach this president he will get re-elected.”  Green and other Democrats may well believe that impeachment itself will weaken the President’s popularity to the point where he can be defeated for re-election, even if he survives a trial in the Senate. 

And perhaps they hope that impeachment can do even more.

One of America’s most eminent presidential historians, Douglas Brinkley, argues that should President Trump actually be impeached later this year or early next year, public opinion will suddenly and irreversibly turn against the President.  He apparently has the case of Richard Nixon in mind:  Almost to the end of his own ordeal, Nixon retained a hardcore of followers in both the House and Senate, as well as in the general public.  He might have been able to avoid impeachment and removal and remain in office until the end of his term in 1977.  But when the Watergate tapes revealed a “smoking gun”—Nixon’s orders to cover up the Watergate burglary—public opinion, as well as congressional support, turned against him and he decided to resign the presidency instead.  

But there seems to be little prospect that Jerry Nadler’s Judiciary Committee will find anything new that might move the public opinion needle against the President.  If anything, fearsome Democrats, prolonging the hearings may work in President Trump’s favor.  They might further anger his supporters, who would feel more motivated to take out their anger in some of the 31 House districts won by the President in 2016 but captured by the Democrats in 2018, as well as in the purple states which decided the election in 2016 and will do so again in 2020.  Some Democrats, such as Michael Bloomberg’s campaign manager, are for that reason saying impeachment may work to President Trump’s advantage.  

Nonetheless, Congressman Nadler says that “Impeachment is imperative not because he’s going to be removed from office. The Senate won’t do that. But because we have to vindicate the Constitution.” Perhaps.  But one can wonder whether the House Democrats may have skipped their high school and college English classes when Moby Don—I mean Dick—was discussed.


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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