The Briefing, Vol. IX, Issue 5

Feb. 1, 2020

This week: 

  • Impeachment is well and truly dead in the Senate
  • Could a Senate trial backfire?
  • The deeper reasons behind Portman’s exit 


Impeachment: Early on, it appeared that even Mitch McConnell might be supportive of impeachment. But Republicans made clear with their initial vote that this impeachment is not going to get anywhere close to the required two-thirds vote for conviction.

Only five Republican senators voted against the point of order questioning this impeachment’s constitutionality. And there is no guarantee that all of those would even vote for the impeachment on its merits anyway. 

The five Republicans who did not reject the impeachment as unconstitutional — Sens. Susan Collins, Ben Sasse, Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and Pat Toomey have not necessarily even indicated they will vote for impeachment, only that they accept it as a constitutional possibility. If all Democrats vote in favor, that’s still well short of the required two-thirds majority.

The impeachment trial, much like the last time, could just as easily turn out like the one held last year. It could well backfire, just like that one, and create the maximum ill will toward Democrats just as the new Biden administration is taking power and attempting to implement its basic priorities. 

The question at issue is whether Trump really incited a riot. One might take umbrage at his 70 days of claiming he was robbed of an election, yet not believe he has done so. Stacey Abrams has spent two years lying about the election she lost. Would you want her charged with a crime for that?

Moreover, one would expect that Trump, as a former official, deserves a judicial trial before any sanction (such as disqualification from future office) can be applied to him. The history behind post-office impeachments is much more mixed than Democrats are representing. 

Whatever the outcome — and he is very likely to beat the rap — Trump would be wise to contest any determination by the Senate that he should not hold future office. 

Governor 2021

Virginia: Republican businessman Pete Snyder is back, running for governor. This time he finds himself running in a far more Democratic state than the one he expected to face when he ran for and lost the nomination for lieutenant governor in 2013. 

The story of Virginia is a combination of wealthy suburban drift to Democrats and the movement of Washington bureaucrats to the most desirable part of the D.C. region from a cost-of-living and quality-of-life perspective. Fast-growing Northern Virginia has come to dominate the state, and to all the people who moved there to escape the sky-high taxes of Montgomery County, Maryland or the District itself are probably going to get a rude awakening eventually. Already, they have had the opportunity to see the state legislature behave in a fairly radical fashion, with the recent proposal of abortion-until-birth legislation. But their state’s status as a business-friendly right-to-work state will not survive the Dominion becoming a Democratic state.

What’s more, Democrats will redistrict the state this time — that doesn’t even depend on this year’s election — and that will dramatically change Republican prospects for the future.

Governor 2022

Maryland: Republican Governor Larry Hogan, a rising Republican star in anti-Trump circles, is term-limited. Exiting DNC Chairman and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez is “taking a look” at running for governor. There might be other Democrats waiting in the wings, but there are no Republicans at the moment with Hogan’s prominence. Then again, Hogan was a completely obscure politician coming out of nowhere when he won the governorship on a longshot bid. Marylanders, in a midterm election that cut heavily against Democrats nationally, took desperate measures in the late Obama era to stave off their state’s decline. Will they do it again in the Biden era?

Senate 2022

Ohio: Sen. Rob Portman’s announcement that he will be retiring is definitely disappointing for Republicans. All retirements are. But it also makes sense on a number of levels. 

For one thing, Portman is precisely the sort of Republican who finds himself the odd man out in the era of Trumpism. Like Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, who is also retiring, Portman has long been a champion of unrestricted free trade. Not only was he a strong proponent of it in Congress, but he also served as U.S. Trade Representative for the Bush administration. For another thing, this is the optimal time for any Republican to retire if the party is to maintain control of Portman’s seat. Republicans have made gains, sometimes dramatic ones, in the last three midterm elections in which Democrats controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress — 2010, 1994, and 1978. The heads of the party campaign committees spend a lot of their time worrying about and trying to prevent retirements. But if there is a good and proper time to retire, it is now. This is a midterm election where any backlash to the Biden administration will provide a wind for the wings of Republican candidates across the nation. 

So far, Rep. Jim Jordan, former Rep. Pat Tiberi, Lt. Gov. John Husted, and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost have ruled themselves out for seeking the Republican nomination for the position.

On the other hand, some Democrats have indicated they might jump in. Former Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman has expressed his interest on Twitter already. The Buckeye State has been trending toward Republicans, but one cannot count on the same outcomes when Trump is on the ballot as when he is not on it.