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    Impeachment Hurts And Trump Knows It

    U.S. Representative Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, who has announced he is switching from the Democratic to Republican Party, meets with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House on December 19, 2019, in Washington, DC. Van Drew voted against the two articles of impeachment yesterday in the House of Representatives. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
    President Trump’s almost inevitable acquittal doesn’t mean impeachment wasn’t worthwhile. Trump, and Trump alone, will be the central issue of the coming election — the core concern for most voters. He’s the reason pollsters are predicting high turnout; he’s the reason voters on both sides are deeply engaged and ready to take action. In that environment, impeachment is the loudest, clearest message Democrats could send to the electorate. They don’t just oppose him because he is a Republican and a
    conservative; they oppose him because he is unfit.

    They oppose him because he is a threat to the values and aspirations of the republic. Yes, this has been a partisan impeachment. But that’s the norm. Democrats weren’t eager to impeach Andrew Johnson; Republicans drove the case against Bill Clinton. By making this case now — by sanctioning Trump in the strongest, most consequential manner available to them — congressional Democrats have set the terms for the next election. Will voters affirm shameless corruption and lawlessness or will they reject Trump’s open attempt to subvert the Constitution? Arguably, this impeachment is less partisan than it could have been. Democrats could have pressed their advantage to shape the entire terrain of the presidential election.

    I’ve argued before that they should have embraced a more leisurely process. They should have taken their time to build the most comprehensive case against Trump, calling as many witnesses as needed and pursuing contempt of Congress if they refused. With majority support for an inquiry, Democrats could have cataloged his criminality and covered the full scope of his wrongdoing. It would have been a risk. A monthslong impeachment might definitively demonstrate the president’s corruption and illegal behavior, or it might undermine the Democratic majority and threaten the fight for the White House. But if the public is at least open to the idea of removing the president for his actions, then a slow impeachment would have given Democrats the time and space to make the best version of that argument.

     Democrats did the opposite. Initially, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn’t want to impeach. She was forced into the process by Trump’s egregious behavior. Once committed, she went with a narrow but dramatic investigation centered on the president’s attempt to coerce Ukraine into damaging a political rival. It produced two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. On Wednesday, the president was impeached, with nearly every Democrat voting in favor and every Republican voting against. Whenever this process reaches the Senate — Democrats intend to hold on to the articles until the beginning of next year — Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, has said he would end it as quickly as possible.

    “I’m not an impartial juror,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “This is a political process. There’s not anything judicial about it. The House made a partisan political decision to impeach. I would anticipate we will have a largely partisan outcome in the Senate. I’m not impartial about this at all.” McConnell followed up with a speech on the Senate floor on Thursday, in which he blasted Democrats for delaying the articles. “Some House Democrats imply they are withholding the articles for some kind of ‘leverage’ so they can dictate the Senate process to senators.

    I admit I’m not sure what ‘leverage’ there is in refraining from sending us something we do not want.” If and when the trial happens, McConnell’s goal is to acquit the president and end the process as quickly as possible. This means no additional evidence or witnesses — no attempt to judge the charges against the president. The Senate will prejudge only. Because we may never get a real trial, it’s tempting to think this process was a waste of time. But that’s a mistake.

    Impeachment is rare. Impeachment is historic. Even with an acquittal, impeachment leaves a mark. That’s why the president has complained about the process every chance he has gotten. Continue reading the main story “I think it’s a horrible thing to be using the tool of impeachment, which is supposed to be used in an emergency,” Trump grumbled in the midst of a meeting with President Mario Abdo Benítez of Paraguay. “It’s a scam. It’s something that shouldn’t be allowed. And it’s a very bad thing for our country.” On the eve of the House vote, he sent hundreds of tweets raging against Pelosi, Representative Adam Schiff and the Democratic Party as a whole.

     Trump said on Twitter. “The Impeachment Hoax is the greatest con job in the history of American politics! The Fake News Media, and their partner, the Democrat Party, are working overtime to make life for the United Republican Party, and all it stands for, as difficult as possible!” And on Tuesday, the president sent a rambling six-page letter to Pelosi condemning impeachment as an “unprecedented and unconstitutional abuse of power by Democrat Lawmakers.” He wrote, “By proceeding with your invalid impeachment, you are violating your oaths of office, you are breaking your allegiance to the Constitution, and you are declaring open war on American Democracy.” Attacking the process as an “election-nullification scheme,” Trump insists that it’s actually unconstitutional for the House to exercise its constitutional prerogative.

    A president who wants to be impeached — a president who thinks he benefits from impeachment — does not behave this way. If Trump is unhinged, it’s because he sees that impeachment hurts, that it harms him in the eyes of the public and undermines his case for re-election. Acquittal won’t change that.
    This isn’t a statement about the polls, which show a divided public. An average of 47.3 percent of Americans support impeachment and removal, versus 46.2 percent who don’t. Compare this with his job approval numbers — 43.3 percent who approve versus 51.9 percent who disapprove — and there’s a clear group of voters who disapprove of the president but don’t want to remove him from office before the election.

    This is a statement about the way impeachment promises to loom over the next year of American politics. Just because Trump will almost certainly be acquitted doesn’t mean he is unaffected. We can already see how his reactions — his anger, his rage, his furious denunciations — are counterproductive. They undermine his case for himself, bolstering the Democratic charge that he’s fundamentally unfit for the office. A slower impeachment would have made this dynamic stronger, with Trump responding to new revelations in ever more damaging ways, but that’s not on the table. What is on the table is a narrative that Democratic presidential candidates can incorporate into their overall message.

    You can already see this happening. “Today is a sad but necessary day for democracy,” Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont said in a video statement for his presidential campaign. “The president of the United States is being impeached, and that is the right thing to do because we have got to never forget that no individual in this country, certainly not the president of the United States, is above the law, is above the Constitution.” This isn’t the relentless focus on personality that undermined the previous campaign against Trump. It’s an important point of information to tie into a larger political case. Sanders makes that completely clear in his conclusion: “I am running for president not just to develop and work on a set of policies that represent working families in this country, not just to take on the greed and corruption of the 1 percent, but also to change the way the presidency functions. And that is, we cannot continue having a pathological liar in the White House.”

    Sanders is using impeachment to underscore the themes of his campaign. He’s tying Trump to a broader narrative of corruption and elite impunity, reinforcing the message of impeachment without naming the president or making him the subject of his remarks. He’s showing voters that he’s attentive to the central issue of this election without letting it consume his message. It’s a deft move, and a strong one for an election where many voters will want someone to stand against Trump and make a comprehensive case for a new direction.

    On the night of his impeachment, Trump held a rally in Battle Creek, Mich. Echoing his Twitter feed, his speech was angry and bitter. He called himself “the first person to ever get impeached and there’s no crime.” He attacked Schiff as a “pathological liar.” Bewildered, he told his audience, “It doesn’t really feel like we’re being impeached.” It’s possible that impeachment is a wash — that acquittal will leave Trump unblemished and energize his supporters instead of benefiting Democrats. It’s possible that he relishes the chaos — that he wanted this fight. His words and behavior, however, tell a different story. And for once, I’m inclined to believe what he says.

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