If Senate acquits, Trump wins
By George Howland Jr.
U.S. House Democrats must be strategic about impeachment. Currently they have launched an impeachment investigation. If they impeach—similar to an indictment—President Donald J. Trump and then the U.S. Senate, controlled by Republicans, holds a trial and acquits him, the president wins. Trump will declare himself, once again, “completely exonerated.” This time, it will be true.
It is vital that those of us who are opposed to Trump do not fall into the same trap as the Gingrich Republicans did with former President Bill Clinton in 1998. The Rs allowed their visceral hatred of Clinton to overwhelm their tactical understanding of politics. Clinton was acquitted in the Senate and the Ds won seats at the ballot box. Trump is too dangerous for the Democrats to repeat that mistake.
In theory, the impeachment and conviction of a president should be about the rule of law. Given the threat that Trump poses to democracy, the Ds must choose their course based on politics. Democrats must be guided by which course of action will strengthen Trump’s re-election.
Currently, the evidence about Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is enough to launch the impeachment investigation. It’s clear from the quasi-transcript released by the White House that the U.S. president leaned on Zelensky to investigate Trump’s most feared opponent in the U.S. 2020 election—former Vice President Joe Biden—and his son Hunter. (It’s also clear that Hunter acted unethically by taking a board slot at Burisma Holdings, for which he had no qualifications and was paid up to $50,000 a month.)
The evidence against Trump is not strong enough to move one Republican senator to the convict column. The Senate needs two-thirds of its members to agree to remove a sitting president. Currently, there are 53 Republican Senators, 45 Democratic and 2 Independent (Vermont’s Bernie Sanders and Maine’s Angus King, both of whom caucus with the Ds). The math is daunting.
Meanwhile in the House, only two Republican members, out of 197, have even said the phone call is worth investigating.
There is also circumstantial evidence that Trump withheld nearly $400 million in security aid to Ukraine. Circumstantial evidence, however, is not enough to remove the president of the United States.
If during the House’s impeachment investigation, more and more incontrovertible evidence of wrong- doing by Trump emerges, that will be a different political calculus. If Trump can be removed from office, Vice President Mike Pence will be easier to beat in 2020. Watch U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R. Utah). He’ll likely be the first Republican to desert Trump.
It would be, however, a better outcome if Trump lost the 2020 election. That would be a definitive defeat for his effort to weaken our already fragile democracy. A Trump conviction in the Senate could more easily lead his millions of supporters to look for revenge on “the dangerous swamp” of the Washington D.C. “elites.”
Hey Democrats, “Don’t be stupid!”
An impeachment that leads to an acquittal would be the height of stupidity by the Democrats. It would strengthen Trump’s chances of reelection. I have no doubt the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D. San Francisco), AKA “the smartest person in Washington right now,” is well aware of the danger of impeachment with no clear path to conviction.
So why did she, at long last, allow the impeachment investigation to move forward?
First, the U.S. Congress has a duty to oversee the executive branch. Trump’s actions stink of corruption—using the power of his office for personal political gain. It is entirely necessary for Congress to assert its authority in the face of such villainy. If Congress failed to do, a victorious Trump would continue his attacks on the separation of powers with renewed vigor. The president wants to move our flawed democracy in a more totalitarian direction. Congress cannot give a millimeter in this fight. To do so, raises the risk of dictatorship.
Second, the White House has been stonewalling oversight by House Democrats and their investigative committees. This showdown will, undoubtedly, end up in court. “‘If you have an impeachment proceeding, Congress is at the zenith of its power,’” Michael Conway, a former counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate, told Axios earlier this year. By starting an impeachment investigation, Pelosi hopes the House can win its court battles with Trump and win them quickly.
Of course, we shall see what the U.S. Supreme Court, with two new Trump appointees, decides. If the Justices decide the White House can claim broad executive privilege, stop presidential appointees and former appointees from testifying and withhold documents from Congress, once again Trump’s reelection prospects improve. And so does the danger of Trump realizing his ambition to become the president-for-life of the United States.
What should the House Democrats do if there isn’t a clear path to conviction in the Senate?
They should revert to a familiar rallying cry during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment: Censure and move on.