The U.S. House of Representatives has impeached President Donald Trump for the second time, hoping to remove him from office before he causes further damage to the country. The first attempt, made in December 2019 and ending last February, was futile and unwise and ultimately gave Trump a little political boost. This time, the Democrats have great chances again, but they must not stand still. Impeachment provides an opportunity to bar Trump from taking office again, and that justifies the risk of failure.
According to the US Constitution, the House of Representatives must first approve the articles of impeachment by a majority vote. With the Democrats in the majority, this was not a big deal. The hardest part is the Senate, where 17 Republican senators will have to join the Democrats to secure the two-thirds majority needed to remove and disqualify the president.
Many people have waited for years for Republicans to acknowledge Trump's inability to take office and leave. But despite a string of scandals, political setbacks, and outrageous lies, Trump has retained his electoral base, forcing Republican politicians who are eager to re-elect him to seek his support. This simple fact explains why virtually every elected Republican has remained loyal to the president.
Trump's first impeachment proceedings were based on his attempt to intimidate the Ukrainian government into investigating Joe and Hunter Biden, and on the fact that he obstructed Special Adviser Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Not a single Republican member of the House of Representatives voted to declare impeachment, except for one Republican senator, Mitt Romney of Utah.
In fact, Trump's acquittal was a foregone conclusion. Both scandals received widespread publicity even before the impeachment and did not harm Trump's credibility among Republicans. The case against Ukraine was too confusing and far from day-to-day concerns to impress voters, while the obstruction of justice charge was too legal. In the absence of evidence that Trump turned to Russia for help in the elections, the investigation could be presented as a political failure.
The second impeachment follows two much more significant events - Trump's attempt on January 2, during a phone call, to force the Secretary of State of Georgia to annul the victory of President-elect Joe Biden in the state and his instigation by the crowd that invaded the US Capitol on January 6. House Democrats have already drafted a single impeachment article entitled "Incitement to Rebellion," but a better headline would be "Undermining the Presidential Election." Trump's attempts to question election results by falsely claiming vote-rigging, interfering with election officials' behavior, and trying to prevent approval of election results are clearly reaching constitutional levels.
At the same time, condemnation from the Senate is hardly possible. Although the Constitution legally refers to "serious crimes and misconduct," Senators can vote as they please. They are not obligated to condemn Trump, even if he has committed crimes. And given the current public information, it is not at all clear that Trump's January 2 call or his January 6 speech were illegal under the technical requirements of US criminal law. Republican senators, primarily as politicians, will focus on the political consequences of their vote. Unless a significant portion of his electorate is turned away from Trump, they need to find some other advantage in the vote to bring charges.
Rapid destruction of Trump's electoral base seems unlikely, given that many Republican voters either do not believe Trump instigated the unrest or are happy about it. On the other hand, the overt dislike of Trump from corporate America may give some thought. The National Manufacturers Association, a large business lobby, has already called for the president's resignation, and leading social media companies have banned him from using their platforms. While elected Republicans cannot afford to lose their electoral base, they also cannot afford to lose corporate America.
Moreover, Trump has been stripped of his Twitter voice, so his power over his electoral base is in question. Given that Republicans lost the House, Senate, and White House in one presidential term, Republican politicians may now wonder what good he has done for their party.
Yet Democrats are deceived if they think the enormity of recent events will bring them enough Republican votes against Trump in the Senate. Republicans who fear primaries may simply say Trump did not offer bribes or voiced explicit threats during his January 2 teleconference. They could also point out that Trump did not openly call for violence on January 6, and that he could not have foreseen that the Capitol police would not do their job. These sorts of statements may be purely formal and out of context, but they could at least provide cover for Republican voters who at least disapprove of political violence and are struggling to rationalize their long-standing support for Trump.
The bigger problem is that Republican senators may be playing for time. Until the day of the inauguration, they retain control of the Senate - January 20 - and can simply refuse to meet and hold back the trial until Trump leaves office. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already suggested this. Or, if they do meet, they could press for a hearing, arguing that the president has the right and sufficient time to prepare a defense.
But if public opinion strongly opposes Trump, McConnell could call an emergency meeting. And even if the court has to wait for Trump to leave office, it still serves a purpose, as it could prevent him from running for president again in 2024.
Even if Trump is driven out of American politics, "Trumpism" will remain with us for a while. So when Democrats in Congress ponder their options, they should carefully consider the risk of backlash. An unsuccessful - or even successful - impeachment can rally Trump's electoral base and, if it seems unfair, anger independent voters. And many of them could take revenge in the midterm elections in two years.
Read the original text at IPG Journal