The Briefing, Vol. IX, Issue 7

This week: 

  • Second impeachment begins
  • Republican reckoning over Trump may still be in the future
  • Might Californians recall Gavin Newsom?


Impeachment: President Trump’s second impeachment trial is set to begin this week. Trump himself will not testify. Most Republicans have already rejected it on procedural grounds, with 45 of them voting in support of a resolution that the impeachment of a former president is unconstitutional, regardless of the merits. Their argument, based on the precedent, is not an unserious one.

Already, the five Republicans who did not vote in favor of that resolution are getting some grief. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who just won another six-year term despite some caustic remarks about Trump during the election season, has tried with this recorded statement to head off in advance a censure from his state’s Republican Party central committee. 

Sens. Sasse, Susan Collins, R-Maine, Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., may not ultimately support the article of impeachment, but they have given themselves an opening to vote for it if they so wish. The other 45 can hardly vote for a process they have basically said is illegal.

Meanwhile, in the House, an attempt to remove Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., from her leadership position last week failed. But she was condemned in a censure resolution by her state party.

So no, Trump’s influence is not so great in the Republican Party that he can just reach in and topple anyone he wants. But that doesn’t mean that his influence with voters can be written off so easily. Trump’s talk of starting a third party, although definitely unlikely, cannot be shrugged off because he at least has the following to generate interest.

Republicans suffered some painful losses in 2020, but they may yet face their final reckoning over the Trump era — a disastrous election resulting from party disunity over the role and legacy of this one very important and proudly controversial politician.

Governor 2021

California: Signatures are now being gathered to allow Californians to hold an early election to recall Gavin Newsom, D, under whose watch California is circling the drain. The fact that voters might actually do it is not difficult to explain. But it’s also important that there probably isn’t any other obvious way for Republicans to win this state’s governorship.

California is in a bad way, there’s no question. It is about to lose a congressional seat for the first time in its history due to the flight of its productive working citizens. Between the rolling blackouts, the still-closed public schools, the ridiculously harsh and long-lived pandemic lockdowns, the anti-gig economy attitude of lawmakers, the partly self-inflicted homeless crisis, and the artificial scarcity of housing, the Golden State is forcing its middle class to flee to Nevada, Texas, Utah, Idaho, and other places where survival is possible. 

As the signature gatherers work toward getting the required 2 million valid signatures by mid-March, Newsom has been helping them out and doing himself no favors. He helped generate a massive backlash against himself by flouting his own draconian coronavirus restrictions in order to party with lobbyists at fancy restaurants. 

Californians vote lopsidedly Democratic, but they are not crazy. In the last election, even as they gave Joe Biden 63 percent of their votes, they went in a different direction on ballot propositions. For one thing, they repealed most of Democrats’ assault on their state’s gig economy. They also rejected, 57 to 43 percent, the restoration of racial preferences in government institutions, despite its endorsement by nearly every important Democrat (including Vice President Kamala Harris), and they did it by an even larger margin than the one with which they had originally abolished such preferences in a 1996 referendum. They also resoundingly rejected an attempt to impose rent control on all but the smallest landlords. 

So when it comes to Newsom, all the ingredients are there for a popular revolt. There is an extremely arrogant one-party state government that is far more radical than the voting population it takes for granted. There is a singularly arrogant governor who thinks he is personally above the rules. 

No one believed in the recall efforts against Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 until it was too late. We know what happened that time. This election could sneak up on Newsom in much the same way. 

A recall election would begin with a question of whether to remove Newsom. Then, voters are put a second question, of who will be governor if he is removed. So far, Republican candidates considering a run in the recall election include former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer (a moderate who intends to run for governor either way) former Rep. Doug Ose, and former GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox

The Democratic side is more interesting because there will be intense pressure for all serious Democrats to stay out. In 2003, Democrats basically refused to put up a serious candidate (only Cruz Bustamante dared defy Davis and put his name up — it didn’t help), because their candidacy would have been an admission that their governor was going to be recalled. Will Democrats make the same mistake twice?

Senate 2022

Alabama: Sen. Richard Shelby, R., has announced he will be retiring. Shelby, whose party-switch after the 1994 revolution was a seminal moment for the Yellowhammer state’s political realignment, leaves behind a long-occupied seat for which ambitious Republicans have been waiting to compete.  

Rep. Gary Palmer, a favorite of the Club for Growth, and Rep. Mo Brooks, surely Alabama’s Trumpiest congressman, are both potential candidates, and that’s just the beginning of a long, long list of GOP candidates, the winner of which will be a lock next November. Democrats have very little hope of winning this seat, as last year’s crushing loss by Sen. Doug Jones illustrates.

Georgia: Republicans’ best pickup opportunity in 2022 will surely be against Sen. Raphael Warnock, D, who just won in a fluke double-special election against an unfortunately weak appointed Republican. 

Given the 2020 result, Republicans might be willing to give a second look to Rep. Doug Collins, R, who lost in the November jungle primary to Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Collins is reportedly interested in the race, even though President Trump, his close ally, has reportedly urged him to take a less practical path and run a primary against Gov. Brain Kemp.

Ohio: Rep. Tim Ryan, D, is at this point the most formidable Democrat to get into the race to replace the retiring Sen. Rob Portman. One obvious reason Ryan has pulled the trigger: Ohio is going to lose a congressional seat, and it will probably be a Democratic seat. Ryan’s close-run district is a much more obvious candidate for elimination than the Cleveland, Toledo, or Columbus-based seats held (or soon-to-be-held, in the case of Biden HUD nominee Rep. Marcia Fudge’s soon-to-be-open seat) by other Democrats. If it wasn’t true before, it’s certainly true now —  with Ryan’s exit from the House, his district’s demise will almost certainly become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Conveniently for Ryan, by jumping into the statewide race, he makes all the other Democratic House members much safer. Why challenge Ryan in a primary for an uncertain November election when you can just stay home and win re-election to the House for free, perhaps for another decade?

Ryan is probably the best sort of Democrat to run an open-seat race in a state that is increasingly dominated by working-class Republican voters. Trump won Ohio effortlessly by surprisingly large margins in both of his elections, and he did it in part by vastly overperforming other Republicans in Ryan’s district. Ryan may not be the best candidate for other reasons, and he may be perceived as too moderate to win a statewide primary. But he will have more appeal than the average leftist Democrat to the same kind of Democratic voters who rejected Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden and went for Trump instead.

On the Republican side, it looks increasingly likely that state Party Chairwoman Jane Timken will be a candidate, and certainly of the unabashedly pro-Trump variety.