The most impeachable president ever?
Every president has critics that cry “impeachment” from the day they take office, and it’s usually an empty threat.
But Donald Trump is easily the most impeachable president in the history of the republic.
Some context is necessary here. When people hear the word “impeach,” they assume that an impeached president is always kicked out of office. But two presidents in history have been impeached, and neither was removed from office. But Richard Nixon, who was neither impeached nor convicted, resigned prior to being shown the door.
A president can be impeached by a simple majority in the House, but it takes a supermajority to actually kick him out. An impeachment is the congressional equivalent of an indictment. Once impeached, the president goes to trial in the Senate, which can remove him from office with a two-third majority vote.
Unlike indictments, however, impeachments doesn’t follow a strict legal process, because there is no objective legal definition of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that are constitutionally required to oust a president. Even if a president is driving down Pennsylvania Avenue and shooting people on sight, Congress has no legal obligation to hold him accountable.
Similarly, a Congress can be as petty as they want to be, too. If they decide a president’s hairstyle is an impeachable offense, then there’s nothing to stop them from taking action.
Impeachment is always political
In 1998, when President Bill Clinton was on trial in the Senate over the Monica Lewinsky oral sex scandal, the nation discovered that the process of removing a president was 100 percent political. In the end, public opinion “saved” Bill Clinton. Early in the scandal’s evolution, senate Democrats were drafting speeches calling on Clinton to resign. Had public opinion soured on him, they’d have shown him the door.
Some people forget that when the news of affair broke, nobody thought that Clinton could possibly survive if the allegations were, in fact, true. Even Hillary Clinton admitted as much.
Consider this fascinating exchange on the Today Show:
Matt Lauer: If an American president had an adulterous liaison in the White House and lied to cover it up, should the American people ask for his resignation?
Hillary Clinton: Well, they should certainly be concerned about it.
Lauer: Should they ask for his resignation?
Clinton: Well, I think that—if all that were proven true, I think that would be a very serious offense. That is not going to be proven true.
But by the time the allegation was, in fact, proven true, Bill and Hillary had subjected the nation to months on end of relentless apologetics the successfully blunted the initial outrage.
Videotape of the President Clinton’s grand jury testimony was finally made public. His now-famous expression – “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” – has become part of the culture. The nation had been browbeat into passive acceptance. “OK, fine, he lied, but the economy’s good, and this is all old news.”
For eight months the Clintons tirelessly grinded away at the nation’s patience. By the time it finally went to trial on the Senate floor, the country was too exhausted.
West Virginia Democratic Senator Robert Byrd could still go on television and excoriate Bill Clinton for committing perjury, a felony, yet still vote to keep a perjurer in office. They knew he was a scalawag, but he was their scalawag, so they ignored the law and kept him in power.
Trump is nobody’s scalawag but his own.
Did was Trump’s firing of James Comey an automatically impeachable offense?
Some thought Trump had sealed his fate with the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Consider this excerpt from a recent interview, where the president admitted the following:
“And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’”
Social media was ablaze with the idea that Trump had just admitted to the act of obstruction of justice, an impeachable offense.
Except that it – and, in fact, nothing – is an automatically impeachable offense. That’s because there’s no such thing as an automatically impeachable offense! It’s not enough for a president to commit a crime – see above, on the discussion of shooting people on Pennsylvania Avenue. Congress also has to care about. And so far, they don’t.
Do Donald Trump supporters care about any of this?
Comey’s congressional testimony fueled the fire among Trump’s critics, but, so far, it hasn’t moved Trump’s base to the point where they’re willing to turn on him.
Indeed, Comey’s recent testimony was little more than a Rorshach test. Partisans see their original conclusions reinforced: MSNBC touts the hearings as proof positive that Trump is Nixon reincarnated, and Fox News heralds the triumph of Trump’s exoneration.
Still, large chunks of the GOP do, in fact, despise Donald Trump. They would like nothing more to send him back to Trump Tower.
In fact, the prospect of a now-mainstream Republican like Vice President as the heir apparent makes this intraparty squabble even more appealing.
And that’s why it will be when, and not if, Trump does something that threatens to take the whole party down with him. That’s when congressional Republicans will toss him overboard.