Majority voters don’t want President Trump impeached
Today, the impeachment of Donald Trump exists on the brink of plausibility. The sine qua non of an impeachment investigation, to say nothing of actual votes to charge and remove the President, is a Democratic takeover of the House in the November elections. Such a change now looks better than possible, maybe even probable. At the same time, the President appears to be in ever-greater legal peril from dual investigations, one led by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, and the other by federal prosecutors in New York.
Trump supporters seem to welcome a fight over the issue. “If the Democrats move for impeachment, I think they are playing right into the hands of the President,” according to Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s former White House communications director . “He doesn’t have Richard Nixon’s attention span or his O.C.D. about record-keeping. There are no e-mails or tapes. He didn’t do anything wrong on Russia, so he’ll be exonerated.” Scaramucci added, “You are dealing with a human Pac-Man. He’s the toughest son of a bitch I’ve ever met in my life.” Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of the Newsmax Web site, who sees the President regularly at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, told me, “The guy loves a fight and will see this one as easily winnable.”
Republicans believe a push for impeachment would likely be a disaster for the Democrats in the midterms. According to Steve Bannon, Trump’s former top strategist, “Anger and fear drive off-year elections, and we are going to talk about how the Democrats want to shut us up by impeaching Trump when they couldn’t beat him in 2016. People are talking about the Republicans losing forty seats in the House, but if we make the election a referendum on impeachment we could break even or pick up a few.”
Opposition to impeachment seems to be a rare point of agreement between Trump’s followers and the leadership of the Democratic Party. According to Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, “I don’t like to talk about impeachment.” She explained, “Impeachment is not a political tool. It has to be based on just the law and the facts. When I was Speaker, people wanted me to impeach George Bush for the war in Iraq because it was based on false information, but you can’t just go from one impeachment to the next. When we are in the majority, we are going to try to be unifying, and there is no way to do impeachment in a bipartisan way right now.” The numbers back up Pelosi’s wariness. According to a Quinnipiac University poll taken in April, fifty-two per cent of American voters oppose impeachment. Another poll from around the same time reported that forty-seven per cent would definitely vote against a candidate who wanted to remove Trump from office.
Still, a powerful grassroots movement has formed in support of impeachment, a political cousin of sorts to the recent pushes for women’s rights and gun control. According to Quinnipiac, seventy-one per cent of Democrats already favor impeachment. To proponents, a nearly fifty-fifty split among the voting public at this early date, before Mueller has reported his findings, is significant. In primaries for the 2018 elections, some prominent Democrats, such as Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor of California, who is running for governor, made support for impeachment a major part of their platforms. Tom Steyer, a San Francisco billionaire, has since last year been running television advertisements supporting impeachment, and has generated a mailing list of more than 5.2 million people. Steyer is now on a thirty-city speaking tour. For the moment, he and his followers are outcasts from the Washington consensus. But their passion, and the mounting evidence against the President, raises the question of whether the drive for impeachment is more likely to result in Trump’s removal from office or in a Democratic civil war.
For roughly the first two centuries of the American republic, there was an informal taboo on advocating for impeachment, even among a President’s most outspoken critics. Only one Presidential impeachment proceeding occurred during this period: in 1868, Andrew Johnson was impeached by the House but remained in office after being acquitted in the Senate by a single vote.
But in the present Congress, there’s a surprisingly vigorous impeachment lobby expanding on the work that Al Green began. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee and the ranking member of the Constitution and Civil Justice subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, has fleshed Green’s bare-bones proposal out into a full impeachment resolution. Cohen’s indictment has five counts. The first charges Trump with obstruction of justice, based largely on Comey’s account of how the President tried to restrain the Russia investigation and then fired Comey when he would not oblige. The second count, referring to Trump’s business interests, including his hotels, asserts that he violated the foreign-emoluments clause of the Constitution, which bars federal officeholders from receiving payments from foreign governments. In a similar vein, the third count asserts that Trump directed federal money to his businesses and hotels domestically. The fourth count charges him with abuse of power for his criticisms of federal judges and for his pardon of Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, in Arizona. The final count claims that Trump undermined the
But even Republicans who voted for Clinton’s impeachment now regard it as, at best, a mixed success. Steve Chabot, who represents a district in Cincinnati, said, “If the Democrats go in that direction, they are likely to learn a lesson that we learned in 1998. Even if the country starts out with you, they get sick of the process pretty quickly.” Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, who was a member of the Judiciary Committee in 1998, has an even more negative view. “It blew up in our faces and helped President Clinton,” he said. “If Democrats keep up what they’re doing, the whole thing will just be shirts and skins-Democrats versus Republicans-and that’s a no-win when it comes to impeachment. It has to be bipartisan, or it’s going to be a failure.”