SCOTT: Don’t fall into the impeachment trap

Democrats must not be overzealous about impeaching President Trump

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Ever since Trump was inaugurated, there have been campaigns to remove him from office through impeachment.

Courtesy Gage Skidmore

For the first time since the 2010 midterm elections, Democrats have won control of the House of Representatives. Now they must decide how they are going to wield their new-found power. Should they relentlessly oppose everything that President Donald Trump does, or should they take a more even-handed approach, rejecting the extreme and outrageous actions of the president but still trying to work with him on policy disputes? How Democrats answer this question will have important implications for how they deal with a litany of issues, but I want to focus specifically on the issue of impeachment.

Ever since Trump was inaugurated, there has been a campaign trying to remove him from office through impeachment for allegedly violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. However, as a result of the actions that Trump has taken over the course of his presidency — including but not limited to the firing of James Comey, the implementation of the travel ban and his reaction to the “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville — the calls for his impeachment have intensified. In fact, these actions culminated into Rep. Al Green, D-TX, submitting a resolution for the impeachment of the president that, in spite of not having the support of Democratic leadership, was backed by nearly a third of the Democratic caucus.

However, all of this talk about impeachment was just that — talk. Everybody knew that even if the Democrats were unified in their efforts to impeach, they could not do it. But this is no longer true and, as such, Democrats must more seriously consider when and whether they should vote in favor of articles of impeachment against the president.

If they decide to take the scorched-earth route and vote for impeachment on the outset, it will certainly please the base of the party that has been hungry for impeachment since the day Trump became president. Nevertheless, doing so will also come with costs for the Democrats. Firstly, it will likely erase any chance of actually removing Trump from office. Up to this point, many Democrats have been reluctant to call for impeachment. So it would be difficult to see how they could effectively argue that past events are — now that they have power — impeachable offenses without looking like pure political opportunism. Republicans would easily be able to acquit Trump in the Senate, especially considering that Republicans will have 53 seats, and Democrats would need 67 votes to convict. If something more incriminating were to come out over the next two years, Republicans will be able to point to the failed impeachment trials as evidence that the Democrats are willing to impeach him for anything. 

Secondly, it is very possible that impeachment proceedings would help Trump. He often likes to depict himself as the sole fighter for the working people against the Washington elite. He would almost certainly take advantage of the coverage of the impeachment proceedings to advance this image of himself to his base. Furthermore, given that the impeachment proceedings would almost certainly fail to result in removing Trump from office, it seems wrong to say that the defeated Democrats will be more energized afterwards compared to victorious Republicans. 

Thirdly, if the Democrats dive right into impeachment, it will further cement the perception that the Democratic Party is just the anti-Trump party and that it doesn’t stand for anything. In a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in July 2017, 52 percent of responders said that the Democratic Party “just stands against Trump,” as opposed to 37 percent that said that it “stands for something.” Considering that much of the focus of the 2016 election campaign was being against Trump, it will likely be problematic for the Democrats if voters feel the same way on Election Day in 2020. By diving right into impeachment proceedings, Democrats would be doing themselves a great disservice by furthering this perception.

Because the costs of impeaching right away would likely outweigh the benefits, Democrats should instead bide their time and take the even-handed approach. If the Mueller probe finds serious wrongdoings on the part of the president, or if something else grievous comes up that positively warrants removal from office, the Democrats should of course submit articles of impeachment — that’s why impeachment exists. However, they must also be mindful of the fact that they have one real shot at it and if they blow it, it will do more harm than good.

Gavin Scott is a Senior Associate Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at g.scott@cavalierdaily.com.

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