Impeaching Donald Trump is a bad idea. If you read this column regularly, you know that I’ve been one of the president’s harshest critics. I pride myself on having been against Trump’s presidency from the beginning. I take pride in that. The day after Trump was elected, someone stuck a microphone in my face in Rittenhouse Square and asked me to describe in one word what Trump’s election meant to me. “Disaster,” I replied.
Trump lost me the day he decided to make an issue of Barack Obama’s place of birth. Maybe you question whether Trump is a racist. To me, he’s George Wallace without the accent and a sense of humor. But impeaching Trump without a conviction in the Senate will result in strengthening Trump not weakening him.
Impeachment made sense to me the first time. Trump was impeached on Dec. 18, 2019. He still had a little over a year left in his term. Even though it was a foreordained conclusion that Trump would not be convicted by the Senate, it was worth taking action so that history recorded him as an impeached president. At the time, I thought maybe impeachment would curtail his outrageous behavior. The riot in our nation’s Capitol last week put the lie to that possibility. If anything, impeachment solidified Trump’s support. He garnered more not fewer votes this time around, even though he lost.
You might argue that impeachment was worth it if only to stain Trump in history. Maybe. The nature of the final vote may cause historians to shrug off the impeachment as hyper-partisan politics. This time, though, Trump inciting last week’s insurrection has damned himself. And that’s the point, we don’t need to impeach him.
Trump’s legacy is forever tainted, so why impeach him a second time? Especially with days, not weeks left in his tattered presidency. What about the argument that impeaching Trump again will prevent him from running for office in the future? For that to result, Congress must convict Trump this time around, something it couldn’t do in 2019. It takes two-thirds of the Senate to convict the president. Trump may be in a weaker position this time, but there are clearly not enough votes to convict him. Not nearly enough. Impeaching Trump for a second time would mean no more than it did the first time. Impeachment without conviction means Trump would remain in office and would not prevent him from seeking the presidency in 2024. Why not impeach him anyway? It serves Trump right, the argument goes. Make him the only president to be impeached twice.
There are practical arguments against a second impeachment. First, there’s Biden’s political agenda. Notice that Biden has refrained from endorsing impeaching Trump. Yes, Democrats have gained control of the Senate. But for Biden to achieve substantive change, he’ll need the support of some Republican senators. He has a better chance of that if the Democrats don’t force Republicans to dig in their heels on a partisan vote. Don’t forget, Biden will take over in the midst of a soaring pandemic. Getting us back to “normal” will take quick action at the federal level. Same for economic recovery. Discretion is the better part of valor here. And that means an attempt at some level of bi-partisanship.
The new president need also avoid doing anything that adds heat to the mob actions of last week. One way to do that is to prosecute rioters to the fullest extent of the law. The other is using political actions, the kind Biden is good at — reaching across the aisle — to cool off the crisis.
OK —if impeachment won’t work, what about invoking the 25th Amendment?
Never in our history has the 25th Amendment ever been used for any reason other than the temporary physical incapacitation of the president. Nor should it be. Impeachment is the political instrument intended to remove a president. And we’ve already shown that to be ineffective without assurance of conviction. Besides, invoking the 25th Amendment is already a dead issue. It would require Vice President Pence to initiate the action, a politically dangerous path Mr. Pence isn’t about to walk. Even if Pence were to support the action, there’s not enough support among Trump’s cabinet nor in Congress to support it. Invocation of the 25th Amendment would almost certainly make Trump a martyr in the eyes of his supporters, inspiring them to further acts of violence. Is there nothing then that can be done to restrain Trump?
There is, and it lies in the Republican Party’s desire to politically survive. That and the passage of time. Trump has scared his own party. Being trapped in the Senate cafeteria while hearing glass breaking and gunshots will do that. High-profile supporters of the president are bailing on him in droves. Soon after he leaves office, Trump will be subject to legal charges that will hamper — if not prevent — him from running again for political office. Young, fresh faces will emerge. The Trump name has been irretrievably tarnished, meaning bye-bye to the political futures of Ivanka and Donald Jr. Any future riots will attach themselves to Trump. And who knows what Trump’s physical condition will be like in four years.
Mr. Trump has finally crossed the line. He incited a riot. Five people lost their lives. The riot was televised live. The whole world was watching. Politically, Trump is badly damaged. He likely can’t run again in 2024. His own Republican Party will see to it. No need to impeach him. ••
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