The angst in Washington over impeaching President Trump is producing a “Hamlet on the Potomac” moment that even Shakespeare might appreciate. Democrats want to do it, but most Republicans don’t, and voters overall are mostly opposed.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi thinks impeachment is premature. Translation: Democrats will lose politically more than they gain if they impeach Trump. There is zero chance that a GOP-controlled Senate responsible to try Trump if the House impeaches would ever vote to convict.
While articles of impeachment would deeply embarrass Trump and likely reveal much that would wound him, the cost-benefit ratio is anything but clear. Independents, who well may determine the 2020 election, are lukewarm at best for impeaching. Trump’s hardcore constituency of a third or more of the electorate are likely to be galvanized by impeachment.
Democratic partisans are mostly arguing that Trump is unfit for office, has broken the law and perhaps is dangerous. Republicans argue that Trump has been a successful president and the architect of a booming economy that has produced both peace and prosperity.
What’s a bitterly divided country to do?
Do we really need or want another divisive partisan battle when we are only some 17 months from holding the election that will determine that question? Isn’t the ballot box the best way decisions of this magnitude are made in a democracy?
Unfortunately, too often these days we do things because we can rather than because they are good for the country.
Republicans have been guilty of this recently with their failure to hold Supreme Court nomination hearings during President Obama’s final year as well as their machinations to usurp a revered Senate institution like the filibuster to naked partisan ends.
Democrats, however, when in power, have not behaved better. They ran roughshod over Republican minorities through most of the New Deal period, and Obama undermined congressional majorities by greatly overusing executive orders.
But now Democrats can mend their ways by choosing not to impeach just because they can do it. Moreover, there is a larger point here. Impeachment for presidents doesn’t work — it never has.
The authors of our constitution carefully considered the “Articles” that would delineate impeachment. James Madison’s notes reveal the delegates were frustrated, tabling their deliberation multiple times before coming up with the imperfect solution we have today: impeachment in the House, followed by a trial in the Senate.
Had they set out to consciously produce a more convoluted politicized process they could not have done better than what they actually did. Consequently, impeachment of the president has only been used twice in the nation’s history: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Neither was convicted and removed from office, and both impeachment processes were fetid with naked political motivations.
The recent 25th Amendment has been proposed as a way to handle presidential disability. But most scholars doubt it is practical beyond very narrow circumstances.
So, after some 230 years of national history we have had just one way that actually removes a president or keeps one — and that is our quadrennial presidential election. The next one is Nov. 3. It’s not only a better solution than impeachment — it’s one that works.