The Briefing, Vol. IX, Issue 2
- Impeachment again?
- The push to disqualify Trump
- Republicans flop in Georgia
Second Impeachment? Last week’s breach of the U.S. Capitol by a band of Trump supporters raises huge questions about security there. But it also raises questions of character. Trump is not personally responsible for the actions of the rioters. However, members of Congress are now seriously on the brink of impeaching Trump for a second time for his role in allegedly inciting the riot, then failing to discourage it in any serious way once the violence had begun.
Our aim here is not to judge the merits of such an impeachment, except insofar as they will affect political perceptions. It is noteworthy, for example, that a segment of the conservative commentariat appears to be taking such an impeachment seriously and even supporting it. In fact, one could even say that there’s been a late resurgence of never-Trumpism, encouraged by the accompanying election loss in Georgia, which many lay at Trump’s feet as well (more on that below).
Less Ridiculous: Although it is a very low bar, voters are almost certain to prove less averse to this impeachment than to the last one. Still, it remains an open question whether they will think this a meritorious idea, or whether they will punish Democrats in the long run for putting it on.
So what effect could it have politically, then? For one thing, again, an impeachment over last Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol would be perceived by voters as something far less ridiculous than the Democrats’ 2020 impeachment of Trump, which most people took to be a frivolous, partisan exercise. By election time, Democrats were so thoroughly embarrassed about that first impeachment effort that they were no longer mentioning it. That earlier impeachment effort did not even involve an allegation of an actual crime. This allegation would at least be criminal if it is true as described.
Then again, if anything, the earlier impeachment makes the current one harder to pull off. Memories are still raw of the four years of savage treatment Trump endured from Democrats in Congress and the media. This could make him a victim once again and motivate his followers to remain politically involved when they might have otherwise given up. Trump is famous for making a martyr of himself, but might Democrats be helping him a bit too much here?
The Pence Option: There are also worse things than an impeachment. Pelosi and her allies are playing a very dangerous game by demanding, with an initial vote, a 25th Amendment intervention — which is to say, by demanding that Vice President Mike Pence simply seize power with the help of Trump’s Cabinet. (Note that some top officials, such as Elaine Chao and Betsy DeVos have resigned already.) This would be a grave constitutional error. Section Four of the 25th Amendment, which they are invoking, is not intended for removing a president for wrongdoing. It is solely for the purpose of removing a president who is literally incapable of serving. For example, it could be used if Trump were in a coma or having a mental episode that manifestly impairs his judgment.
Pence will adamantly refuse to do this, and he is right to do so. If Congress wants to make a statement, it really must do so itself, through impeachment. This means Trump will not be removed from office early. The Senate is currently in a pro forma session, under an agreement that requires unanimity to conduct any business before Jan. 19. Vice President Joe Biden (as President Trump has acknowledged) will be inaugurated on Jan. 20.
Disqualification: So an impeachment would serve as an after-the-fact attempt to disqualify Trump from future office. As with removal from office, this would also be unlikely to get a two-thirds vote in the Senate.
Then again, this bears mentioning: There is no shortage of Republicans who would secretly love to keep Trump out of the 2024 election. And Trump has never been in a weaker position — about to leave office, kicked off Twitter and Facebook, and as always vilified by America’s corporate media.
But any Republican voting to convict him would bring grave personal political consequences going forward. Even assuming that the House passes impeachment articles, that incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer holds the trial, and that every single Democrat votes to convict Trump, it is difficult to imagine that there are 17 Republicans in the post-election Senate prepared to take that gamble. Certainly, those running for president in 2024, whatever their self-interested motives for convicting Trump, do not want to be seen kicking a hero to so many Republican (and new) voters while he is down.
Georgia runoffs: Republicans fell absolutely flat in Georgia’s Jan. 5 runoffs in what has to be one of the biggest disappointments of the entire cycle. Both Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock will represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate. Republicans’ first chance to replace the latter will come in 2022.
Republican turnout was down last week from November levels, enough to cost the party a very close election in David Perdue’s case. Some have been quick to blame President Trump’s ongoing attempts to strongarm state election officials about his November loss, and his public attempts to overturn the result. But that can’t be all this is about. By declaring publicly that the state’s elections were fixed against him, he eroded his supporters’ faith in the process and made them less likely to vote, or so the argument goes.
The Republican debacle of last week, which has cost the party its tenuous control of the U.S. Senate, comes in the context of the GOP’s complete collapse in Georgia since 2016. Trump’s performance in the state was unusually soft that year, and it was noteworthy at the time. But the real red flag was raised in 2017, when he tapped Rep. Tom Price for HHS secretary. In the special House election to replace Price, the over-funded Ossoff nearly seized the safe suburban Republican seat.
At that point, it became clear that there had been some great neglect on the state party’s part. Its suburban voter base has eroded in ways that clearly go beyond Trump and antedate whatever harmful shenanigans one wants to attribute to him in this runoff election. The going assumption seemed to be that Georgia was a safe state in ways it clearly is not.
Republicans there need to get their bearings and return to the ground game and mechanics that helped them realign Georgia in 2002. Otherwise, they risk going the way of Virginia and Colorado.