Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Impeachment Circus

Predicating serious strategy when it comes to President Trump's behavior is, of course, problematic. But, strategically planned or not, the President does seem to have maneuvered the Democrats into a position more likely to ensure his reelection next year. I refer, of course, to the ever increasing eagerness of many Democrats to hop on the impeachment train, despite the obvious evidence that it will most likely help the President's cause and hurt the Democrats' cause. Then again the American Left has always seemed more comfortable with expressive political gestures than with actual political action and accomplishment.

Let us start with the obvious fact that impeachment (presuming its goal is actual removal from office) is by its nature a move by the political class to overturn the results of an election. In an ostensibly representative government, that is inherently problematic and is best attempted only when the elected official's offenses are super serious and represent either a deviation from what the electorate voted for or a genuine change in the electorate's attitude toward the official. It can easily be argued that the President's actions have long been sufficiently serious on their merits to warrant impeachment. There is much less evidence, however, that they represent any deviation from the President his supporters thought they were voting for or that his supporters' evaluation of him has markedly changed. The last attempted impeachment is - or ought to be - a lesson in how and why a partisan impeachment lacking in democratic legitimacy is likely to backfire.

Putting aside this fundamental issue of democratic legitimacy, as impeachment's advocates seem so eagerly prepared to do, there remains the strategic argument. This President seems acutely aware of the political benefits of extreme conflict. It is possible that he personally prefers it. As Ross Douthat wrote in yesterday's NY Times,  "the circus is the part of politics that he [Trump] fundamentally enjoys."  Personal enjoyment aside, being persecuted by his elite, establishment enemies (and fighting back) is precisely what may be most endearing about Trump to his "base" supporters, many of whom also feel looked down upon by the same elite establishment and see his fights with them as in some strange way vicarious fights on their behalf.

Besides energizing his "base," impeachment would totally dominate our conflict-oriented news media, pushing aside not only anything positive Democrats may be doing in Congress but also anything positive the 2020 Democratic candidates may be offering the American people. Again, I think Douthat gets it right: "if Democrats impeach him they will be doing something unpopular instead of something popular. ...The Democratic agenda is more popular than the Republican agenda (whatever that is), the likely Democratic nominees are all more popular than Trump, and so anything that puts the Democrats on the wrong side of public opinion may look better, through Trump's eyes, than the status quo."

And then there is the obvious fact that an impeachment is only an indictment. An indictment with certainty of acquittal is a fool's errand. Acquittal in the Senate would be spun by Trump and his supporters as complete vindication, which - in an election dominated by impeachment rather than by any alternative Democratic agenda - would likely lead to easy re-election.

All of which brings us back to 2020 and the alternative of replacing Trump the old-fashioned, democratic way - by voting him out of office.

If Trump's behavior is as bad as is alleged, if his presidency is as destructive as is alleged, then his opponents would do well to offer the country an attractive alternative that can win an election - not engage in empty expressive politics that would likely only increase his chances of re-election.

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