Trump’s impeachment is the left’s ultimate “fake news;” it could also be their worst nightmare. The fantasy of impeachment reveals a split between liberals’ hyper-emotional and quasi-rational sides over Trump. It also shows they have forgotten the lessons presidential impeachment should have taught them.
The left has a Pavlovian response to the Trump tocsin, and nothing rings more than discussion of the president’s impeachment. At the sound, a liberal split-personality immediately emerges. The left are torn between what they desperately want and what they know they should not.
In general, the left see Republican victories as illegitimate. In particular, they see Trump’s this way. To liberals, when Republicans win it means that business runs government, when it should be government – through strict regulation and legislation – that runs business.
For the left, November 2016 did not just produce this revolting reversal, it produced its very embodiment. It was for them an immorality play. Hillary Clinton personified virtually every liberal ideal; Trump personified their antithesis. And in the final blow, he successfully used the left’s preferred weapon of populism and emotion against them.
If there is nothing that so rankles the left as Donald Trump’s presidency, there is nothing that so excites them as its public undoing. Emotionally, impeachment goes right to their heart. For them, never having should have been elected in the first place, Trump’s public removal would both heal their injury and return their insult.
However, there is a dark and brooding side to liberals’ impeachment fantasy. Rationally, if the left believe what they say about Trump to be true, they should want nothing more than to keep him in office. Divisively unpopular, he may have cost them Hillary in 2016, but could potentially deliver them Congress in 2018 and the White House in 2020.
The deciding factor between the left’s emotional and rational disconnection should be America’s history of presidential impeachment. In over two centuries and 45 presidencies, there have been only three impeachment episodes – Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton – and just two actual impeachments – Johnson and Clinton, both of whom survived. This short list and lack of success should be the first caution flag to the left.
To make impeachment plausible, there needs to be clear and compelling evidence. The absence of clear and compelling evidence was what allowed Johnson to survive. Presence of the same was what compelled Nixon to resign, to avoid certain impeachment. That the left lack either impeachment-worthy acts or facts on Trump, should be liberals’ second warning.
However even clear and compelling evidence does not make impeachment a certainty. Clear and compelling evidence existed against Bill Clinton – he undoubtedly perjured himself in testimony under oath. The problem was that the evidence was not compelling to the American people. Failing to clear that threshold, Senators were comfortable not voting for Clinton’s conviction.
History shows that the third hurdle for impeachment is a majority in both bodies in Congress being willing to pursue it. Inevitably that means the majority party being willing to do so. For Johnson, Nixon, and Clinton, that was the case. Barring unforeseen circumstances, that does not exist for Trump.
Even higher is the fourth hurdle. The Constitution requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove a president from office. Even if the left’s impeachment fantasy were able to clear the others, clearing this one is the hardest of all. This is why it has never been done.
More important than these towering hurdles are the lessons the left should take from history. When Republicans tried to remove Bill Clinton from office, they wound up securing him more firmly in it – despite his drop in support when revelations about the Lewinsky scandal began.
Even if successful in forcing Trump out of office, liberals should remind themselves where that would leave them. The answer is: With President Pence. Again, the left should consider impeachment history.
When Nixon was forced from office, Gerald Ford replaced him. Ford was far more popular than Nixon, and despite Watergate, his pardoning of Nixon, and a poor economy, Ford only narrowly lost to Carter in 1976.
Already more popular than Trump, Pence would also reunite Republicans. At the same, the left would ignite a still formidable core of Trump supporters who, having already proved their effectiveness in the 2016 campaign, could be expected to turn their ire once more on the left.
In the spinning and expanding world of fake news, none is faker than the left’s drumbeat that Trump should be impeached for their growing list of imagined offenses. Split between their emotional and the rational, liberals should remember the historical. The left should want Trump to remain in office if they believe what they say about him, but even more if they remember impeachment’s past and its future threat to them.
J. T. Young served in the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2004 and as a congressional staff member from 1987 to 2000.