As the impeachment inquiry heats up it still remains unlikely that Donald Trump will be removed from office by the Senate, but the motivations and goals of some of the major interests are becoming clear. Donald Trump, as has been the case for much of his presidency, is in survival mode. The crisis might be more acute now, but the basic framework is the same. Trump must, and will, fight with all his power to stay in office because removal by the Senate leads to humiliation, a lifetime of legal hassles and very possibly jail time for him and several members of his family.
The Democrats, for their part, have two related goals as the impeachment process begins. The first is to impeach Trump in the House of Representatives and to have the Senate remove him from office. The first part of this goal is all but assured. The number of Democrats who have indicated they are giving impeachment very strong consideration and who are therefore very likely to vote for impeachment is now up to more than 220. Moreover, Speaker of the House is way too savvy to start in impeachment inquiry unless she knows she has the 218 votes needed for impeachment. Removing Trump from office through a conviction in the Senate still requires 20 Republican senators to get the two thirds majority required by the Constriction, and for that reason remains very unlikely.
The second major Democratic goal is to weaken Trump through investigations and making his sleazy enablers like Rudy Giuliani testify about the misdoings of the Trump administration. By doing this, the Democrats hope to sufficiently weaken Trump so that even if he is not convicted and removed from office by the Senate, he will be easier to defeat in November of 2020. This goal will not be easy, but it is doable. It is also a clear, logical and unambiguous goal.
For the Republican Party, impeachment raises a series of problems that leave no path that is clear, logical or unambiguous. Republicans in congress could choose to continue defending an increasingly undefendable president. By doing that, they will place themselves on the wrong side of history and be just as unpatriotic, dishonest and destructive to the fabric of democracy as the avaricious narcissist they are seeking to protect. They also all but ensure that they will sound as deluded and incoherent as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy did on 60 Minutes on Sunday night. Ethics and morality aside, defending Trump may force the Republicans in Congress to alienate more voters and remain a minority in the House while potentially losing their majority in the Senate. Moreover, if Trump survives an impeachment trial, he will feel more empowered to continue his policies of racist agitation, attacking the media, working with foreign powers to pursue his own interests and generally weakening and destabilizing the US. Republicans who oppose impeachment and removal will therefore be complicit in that as well.
Defending Trump may become a losing strategy for congressional Republicans and a dangerous one for the US, but moving away from the President could be even worse for the Republican Party itself. If Republicans decide to recognize the severity, unconstitutionality and illegality that has defined the Trump administration since it came into office, they can join Democrats and remove Trump from the presidency. This would return the US to the path of democracy and begin to undo some of the damage of the Trump presidency, but the Republicans would pay a heavy price for this, one that could destroy their party.
If Trump is impeached, he will not go quietly into retirement-or his attorney’s office. Instead, he will continue to Tweet, hold rallies and otherwise mobilize his base. Even a diminished Trump base would still constitute at least 20-25% of the population. This time, instead of targeting Muslims, immigrants, people of color or the media, Trump would turn his attention on the Republicans who voted to impeach and convict him. He could easily run candidates against many of these people in primaries. More significantly, nothing bars an impeached president from running for the office again. After being impeached and removed from office, Trump could still run for president either in the Republican primary or as a third party candidate. Either option would badly damage the Republican party in 2020.
The longer term damage could be even greater. Trump’s base of angry, lower income white voters who feel betrayed by the Democrats and establishment Republicans are an essential part of the Republican coalition. Without them, the Republicans would be permanent minority of mostly wealthy pro-business voters and the few Christian fundamentalists who are not part of Trump’s base. If Trump, after leaving office, takes his base with him, the Republicans would struggle to win 35% of the votes in a national election.
Thus, the Republicans have backed themselves into a corner where they must choose between defending a President who they must realize should be removed from office and helping to remove a President of their own party from office. The former option will force congressional Republicans to once again side with the traitors and criminals in the administration and possibly cost them badly in the 2020 election, but the latter option forces them to cede an enormous victory to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and very likely destroy their party in the process. While the Republican Party has a very difficult choice to make, we can remind them that this quandary is entirely of their own making. They created the stain on American democracy that is Donald Trump and facilitated this criminal presidency from the time Trump came into office. In politics, people rarely get what they deserve, but it looks like the GOP might.
Photo: cc/Donkey Hotey