Old adage: Be careful what you wish for, you may just get it.
Here’s the recipe for Impeachment à la Mode 2017:
Take a massive, vocal, determined, and politically experienced resistance — spearheaded (symbolically, at least) by a former president and a defeated presidential candidate, and funded by leftists with deep pockets (e.g., George Soros).
Add one unwitting president — a political neophyte who isn’t used to having his every word and deed challenged and psychoanalyzed, and who arms his enemies and hands them the ammunition they need for a political assassination.
Combine with anti-Trump conservatives whose opposition has survived Trump’s many early successes.
Stir with senior GOP leaders in Congress who don’t want their majorities to go down with Trump, and who will desert him to avoid that fate.
Bake in the oven of leftist-dominated media for a few months, and Bob’s your uncle.
I chose the epigram for this post before I came across “The Impeachment Trap: Be Careful What You Wish For,” by a blogger (Jeff Alson, In These Times) whom I would characterize as a member of the “resistance.” In fact, he has anticipated much of what I planned to say here, so I will now quote him at some length:
I believe it would be a major strategic blunder for the Democratic Party to fall for what I call the Impeachment Trap—the powerful temptation to lead the charge for impeachment without considering the strategic implications….
The simple majority necessary to impeach in the House of Representatives, as well as the two-thirds majority that is required to convict in the Senate, can be achieved with the support of most or all Democrats and a minority of Republicans. Unfortunately, this scenario would offer enormous political benefits to the Republicans.
If Trump were impeached and convicted, Vice President Mike Pence, a right-wing, evangelical ideologue, would be a much more reliable and competent rubber stamp for the conservative policy agenda. Trump, for all his failings, cannot be counted on to support conservative Republican orthodoxy. While his cabinet picks and early policy proposals have largely catered to right-wing ideology, his policy flip-flops and incompetence make him a very unreliable partner for congressional Republicans…. Pence, on the other hand, who was given a 99 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, would be much more likely to cut Social Security, push National Right to Work, and try to restrict gay marriage, and would probably treat immigrants and refugees just as badly, in order to court the Trump base.
Impeachment would also help restore the damaged Republican brand. Trump lost the popular vote by the largest margin of any incoming president in history. His administration is mired in incompetence, chaos, and suspicion, and has already sparked a massive public resistance. His public approval rating hovers around 40 percent, by far a record low for a new president. If these trends continue, his presidency will be a massive albatross around the GOP’s neck in future elections.
By contrast, the robot-like Pence—despite his extreme right-wing views—would be packaged as a comforting return to normalcy. The relief at no longer having an egotistical lunatic at the helm could provide Pence with a long and generous public opinion honeymoon. Republicans could claim that Trump was “never one of theirs,” and approach the 2020 campaign with the benefit of incumbency and without Trump’s liabilities.
Democratic ownership of impeachment would also cement the loyalty of working-class Trump voters to the Republican Party….
Of course, Republicans may well decide that impeachment is in their best interests and lead the charge. This is a slightly better scenario for Democrats.
… With Republicans owning impeachment, Trump supporters would be livid with the Republican Party, some withdrawing from politics altogether or splintering off to support minor parties, others perhaps willing to reconsider a Democratic Party refocused on economic justice. The combination of Republicans losing core Trump supporters and ongoing demographic trends would put Democrats in a very favorable position for 2018 and 2020 and beyond….
Paradoxical as it may seem, however, the best scenario for Democrats is one in which they resist the impeachment trap, the Republicans stand by their president, and Trump, odious as he may be, remains in office…. From a policy perspective, a paralyzed Trump administration would be far better than a more competent and reliably right-wing Pence presidency. Politically, Trump would become a black eye for the GOP, and the Democratic opposition would remain energized, all of which would favor the Democrats in both 2018 and 2020….
It won’t be easy to resist the temptation to humiliate the worst president in modern history, but Democrats must muster the discipline to resist the Impeachment Trap, insist that Republicans be the ones to take responsibility for their shameful president, and mobilize to build real grassroots democratic power for 2018, 2020 and beyond.
A key issue, for Republicans, is whether Trump Democrats would go “home” to the Democrat Party. I am less convinced of that than Alson is. The sooner Trump is removed the more time Pence has to do things that will keep Trump Democrats in the Republican fold. Further, it seems unlikely that more than a small fraction of Trump Democrats would revert to a party whose next presidential candidate is likely to be Elizabeth Warren.
Most important, from the GOP’s point of view, is Pence’s image as sedate and “presidential” compared with Trump. This would go down well with a lot of voters in the center and center-right. It was their abandonment of Trump, I believe, that caused him to win several reliably Red States by smaller margins than Romney did in 2012.
Where does this leave me? All signs point to a completely ineffective Trump presidency from here on out. I doubt that he could now replace a retiring or deceased Supreme Court justice, for example. There’s much in Trump’s agenda worth pursuing (and some that isn’t). But if the agenda is to be rescued, Republicans should act quickly, replace Trump with Pence, and get on with moving the federal government’s policies rightward in an orderly way.
The early “chaos” bruited by the left-wing media has become real chaos, and it’s hurting the conservative cause. That’s what I care about, not Donald J. Trump.
Impeachment may be a trap for Democrats, but it may be Republicans’ only way out of a trap.
Related reading: Rod Dreher, “Shut Your Mouth, Do Your Job,” The American Conservative, May 19, 2017