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It has been an exhausting three years since the 2016 presidential election. I wish we could say, channeling former President Gerald Ford, that “our long national nightmare is over” — or that it is even in its death throes. Unfortunately, I fear the worst of it is just beginning.
The potential impeachment of President Donald Trump looms large over both Washington and the nation, so much so that one can scarcely find a moment on cable news when a chyron or panel show isn’t fixated on a president who is unmasked as a crook on a daily basis.
It also looms large over Connecticut, where, with only one exception, the state’s congressional delegation had been reluctant to go all-in on calling for an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives.
Whether the president has committed impeachable offenses is entirely separate from whether he should actually be impeached and removed from office. Impeachment doesn’t hinge directly on proof of criminality. It is largely a political process set out plainly in the constitution. Of course, the case for impeachment is more powerful if evidence of serious crimes is uncovered, but it is far from essential.
It has been clear to me for some time that — at the very least — Trump has attempted to obstruct justice. Even before the release of the report of special counsel Robert Mueller this spring, Trump admitted in an interview with Lester Holt of NBC that he had fired FBI director James Comey — at least in part — because of “the Russia thing,” which was “a made-up story.” You can’t get much clearer than that.
Trump could have made a solid case for firing Comey based on his performance. Instead, he bragged on TV that he’d made the director clean out his desk in order to disrupt a federal investigation.
Then came the revelation from a federal whistleblower that Trump had tried to strong-arm the president of Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden, the former vice president and until recently the favorite to become the Democratic nominee for president, all the while dangling hundreds of millions in U.S. military aid to Ukraine in what, despite denials to the contrary, sure looked like a quid pro quo. If using taxpayer dollars to extort from a foreign power an investigation into a political rival isn’t an impeachable offense, then nothing is.
Trump’s reckless disregard for long-established norms — something his admirers count as a strength — has finally reached a tipping point, prompting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call for an impeachment inquiry after months of dithering.
Pelosi’s change of heart signaled to other reluctant Democrats that it would be wise to get on-board. Like magic, all but 10 members of the House supported her, including all seven members of the Connecticut delegation.
Until the whistleblower’s complaint, with the notable exception of Rep. Jim Himes, members of the Connecticut delegation were reluctant to voice full-throated support for an impeachment inquiry. After Trump’s blunder, one by one they came out in support of Pelosi’s move: Blumenthal, Murphy, Hayes, DeLauro, Larson and Courtney. For good measure, Himes put out an additional statement of support.
But here’s the problem. Just because impeachment is justified doesn’t mean it’s the smart thing to do. Since the decision to impeach is based more on politics than anything else, the political and electoral implications of such a move should be weighed heavily.
First, articles of impeachment originating in the House will have little-to-no-effect in a Republican-controlled Senate vote to convict and remove because it would require an impossible two-thirds majority. So the Senate proceedings would be nothing more than show trials. That’s fine for politicians who want to get their faces on TV, but it would be an ugly scene for the nation with no discernible benefit.
Secondly, I know it sounds counterintuitive but impeachment proceedings will in all likelihood strengthen Trump. The hearings and trial will provide him a perfect foil during next year’s election campaign. It will surely motivate the core group of supporters whose energy he needs to be re-elected. And make no mistake about it: notwithstanding his dreadful poll numbers, Trump has a clear path to victory in the Electoral College. By one reputable analysis, Trump could lose the popular vote by 5 million and still win the Electoral College.
I’m not enrolled in either major party, so take my advice for what it’s worth. To Dems, I say forget impeachment. Save your energy and use it to defeat Trump at the ballot box next November. To Republicans, I say stop defending him because you don’t know where the bottom is.
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at CTDevilsAdvocate.com and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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