Impeaching President Donald Trump less than two weeks before his term ends is a terrible idea. Right now, it appears to be the only game in town. But it’s still a bad idea.
For the record: I told everyone who would listen that Mr. Trump’s impeachment, version one, was a bad idea too, despite being a lifetime centrist Democrat who has volunteered on campaigns for many local and national candidates over the years. What he did rose to the “high crimes and misdemeanors” requirement of the Constitution, and the Mueller Report contains stronger reasons to impeach him. My objection was pragmatism based on simple arithmetic.
Although prosecutors made the case that he’d done what he was charged with doing, Mr. Trump wasn’t removed from office. (The “Lamar Alexander compromise,” claiming that the impeachment managers made their case, but that Mr. Trump still shouldn’t be removed, was among the more appalling acts of political cowardice over the past four years.)
It was, and is, simple arithmetic. The Constitution requires that two-thirds of the senators vote to convict; there were 48 Democrats in the Senate at the time; after the Georgia senators are seated, there will be 50 in 2021 (it’s unclear yet, if they will be seated before Mr. Trump is set to leave office). Removal from the presidency required that at least 19 Republicans vote to convict the last time around (one courageously did), and it will take 17 Republicans in 2021.
So far, they’re largely silent on the matter, with a small handful of Republican senators, including Ben Sasse of Nebraska, saying they’d consider it. The votes just aren’t there. And as impeachment No. 1 Manager Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, predicted in his closing remarks, if Mr. Trump isn’t convicted, he’ll be emboldened in his reckless assaults on democratic and republican (small “d” and “r”) principles and practices. In short, the guardrails supporting our institutions and traditions will be weakened yet again.
That happened in 2020, and it’s likely to happen again, especially because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican, Kentucky) stated recently that an impeachment trial likely wouldn’t occur until after Mr. Trump left office.
There’s only one benefit to a possible impeachment: If convicted, Mr. Trump could be barred from any future federal office and some lifetime perks.
Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi (California) is running a stick and carrot game, but it isn’t working: dangling the club of an ugly impeachment fight to persuade Vice President Mike Pence and what’s left of the Cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment. It’s by far the best solution, but so far Mr. Pence isn’t willing to go there, and Secretaries Elaine Chao (transportation) and Betsy DeVos (education) have shown exceptional political cowardice by jumping ship to avoid voting their consciences to invoke the 25th.
A few Republicans, including Gov. Larry Hogan and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have suggested, somewhat naively, that it would be better if Mr. Trump resigned. That’s not going to happen. It’s not in Mr. Trump’s DNA. Besides, he’d have to give up his immunity from prosecution by states’ attorneys general a week or so sooner.
Reports have it that Mr. Trump is acting “ballistic” in the White House, surrounding himself with conspiracy theorists, and raging against all who have deserted him, from Mr. Pence to Mr. McConnell to golfing buddy Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, all of whom appear to have tapped in to their “country before party” impulses on Jan. 6. Even “Fox and Friends” host Brian Kilmeade went off Thursday on Mr. Trump’s inciting his supporters to attack the Capitol building. With his history of paranoia and narcissism, and his becoming increasingly bereft of sycophants, it’s hard to imagine what mischief Mr. Trump is capable of in the next few days.
Actually, another impeachment might unleash even more dangerous impulses than we’ve seen since Nov. 3, and now there are, in effect, no guardrails left. Equally concerning are the ways in which the insurrectionists who participated in and backed the Capitol invasion will respond. There’s disturbing internet traffic about “demonstrations” Jan. 17 and 20, with threats on state capitols as well as at the inauguration. A second impeachment is likely to add fuel to the fire of revolution that’s been simmering, and flaring up, over the past four years.
A second impeachment is a bad idea, with no chance of succeeding, no possible benefits without conviction, and no path toward limiting the damage this wounded narcissist — and his followers — might do.
David Dougherty (firstname.lastname@example.org) retired as a professor of English for Loyola University Maryland.