George Will: Best antidote for a bad election is a better election
If Donald Trump were to tweet that 9 is a prime number, that Minneapolis is in Idaho, and that the sun revolves around the Earth, would even five Republican senators publicly disagree with even one of the tweets? This matters in assessing the wisdom of beginning an impeachment. If every senator in the Democratic caucus were to vote to convict Trump in an impeachment trial concerning articles voted by the House, 20 Republicans would have to join them to remove him from office. So, the likelihood that he will not finish his term is vanishingly small.
What, then, can be accomplished by the impeachment inquiry that was announced just 406 days before the next presidential election? Three things.
First, it would augment the public stock of useful information and harmless pleasure to make Senate Republicans stop silently squirming and start taking audible responsibility for the president who they evidently think they exist to enable.
Second, it would affirm Congress’ primacy. We have heard too many defensive assertions that Congress is “co-equal” with the executive and judicial branches. It is more than that. As the American Enterprise Institute’s Jay Cost notes, Congress is involved in the other branches’ actions by determining the size and scope of the other branches. And by confirming or rejecting nominees to executive and judicial positions. And by stipulating those nominees’ salaries. And by overriding presidential vetoes. And by exercising the power — unused since June 4, 1942 — to declare war. And by ratifying or rejecting treaties, and shaping the military’s size and mission. And by initiating constitutional amendments.
Third, articles of impeachment might concern his general stonewalling of congressional inquiries. This obduracy vitiates Congress’ role in the system of checks and balances, one purpose of which is to restrain rampant presidents. An impeachment proceeding could strengthen institutional muscles that Congress has allowed to atrophy.
These three benefits from impeachment would not be trivial. But even cumulatively they probably are not worth the costs of impeachment — costs in time, energy and political distraction. This is so because, regardless of the evidence presented, there is approximately zero chance of an anti-Trump insurrection by 20 of his vigorously obedient Senate Republicans.
Impeachment can be retrospective, as punishment for offenses committed, and prospective, to prevent probable future injuries to society. The latter is problematic regarding Trump: What is known about his Ukraine involvement reveals nothing — nothing — about his character or modus vivendi that was not already known.
This might be a moment in this nation’s life when worse is better: The squalor of the president’s behavior regarding Ukraine, following so much other repulsive behavior, is giving many Americans second thoughts about presidential power, which has waxed as Congress has allowed, often eagerly, its power to wane. Impeachment, however dubious, might at least be a leading indicator of an overdue recalibration of our institutional equilibrium.
Nevertheless, the best antidote for a bad election is a better election. The election the nation needs in 400 days would remove the nation’s most recent mistake and inflict instructive carnage — the incumbent mistake likes this noun — on his abjectly obedient party.
George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and can be reached via email.