WESTCHESTER COUNTY, NY — October 17, 2019 — The legal track on impeachment is colliding with the political track.
The legal track is relatively straightforward. An investigation is underway to determine facts. The White House may or may not cooperate but there are witnesses being heard and documents being reviewed. At the same time a discussion is underway as to what legal standards would apply to the facts. More simply stated: Does what Trump did constitute enough to remove him from office, or is it merely offensive and wrong?
This is the easy part. We will sooner or later have better facts and the conversation about impeachability will resolve for lawyers and non lawyers alike.
The hard part is the politics of all this. That’s not to say that political considerations are illegitimate. Both sides have a right to consider the political implications of the momentous decision facing the Congress and president. Even if they don’t, there will intense partisan maneuvering and we can’t fight it. Such is the human condition in a democracy.
The astounding thing is not the outrageousness of Republicans who defend the indefensible or Democrats who want Trump out of office no matter what the evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors. It is the swift movement of public opinion against the president.
We can for once rely on Fox News. Their poll shows a majority of Americans want Trump impeached and out of office. The swift shift of public opinion against Trump is itself remarkable. And Trump doesn’t have much to say in response: “Whoever their Pollster is, they suck.” That’s all you got?
The small portion of good news for Trump is that the hard base, 35 percent to 45 percent of the country, is sticking with him. It could be worse.
The additional bad news is that people just don’t like him and his shenanigans. The Fox poll found that by 11 percentage points, more voters said they believe that Trump is “getting what he deserves” (48 percent) rather than that the inquiry is being pushed by “people out to get him” (37 percent). This isn’t an analysis of fact and law. It’s a visceral rejection of Donald Trump. That’s hard to recover from, politically.
Democrats have political downsides of their own. Their initial Mueller-related impeachment rhetoric bounced back on them. They have some evidence of impeachable offenses, but nothing like the Nixon tapes or even Clinton’s bald-faced lies about Monica Lewinsky. In other words, the legal case for impeachment is thinner than the political opportunity to rid the nation of a nasty, dishonest and incompetent political opponent who happened to win an election.
I stand second to none in my personal desire to see us rid of Donald Trump. But I prefer elections. I have a great desire to preserve American governing institutions. It would be awful if impeachment became a normalized tool for either party when they dislike the incumbent president. That precedent was set by Republicans impeaching Bill Clinton. It was wrong, and Democrats will rue the day that impeachment becomes just another political ploy.
Maybe the investigations will uncover a smoking gun. Maybe public opinion will continue to shift and enough of the base will dump Trump to make it possible for Republican senators to convict. Maybe we will muddle through. Maybe we won’t.
Trump brought this on himself, and on us. It’s not just that he endangers himself. He endangers our political institutions and the rule of law. Our only and ultimate hope is the wisdom of the sovereign people. How and when that clarifies is a mystery.
Richard Brodsky is a former state Assembly member.
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Original publication by Times-Union on October 13, 2019.