On Thursday, Politico ran an article channeling Donald Trump's supporters in the political class as they tried to put a positive spin on the anticipated shellacking the Republican Party may get in the midterms after electing a historically unpopular president. The argument these politicos make is that it's somehow good for Trump if the Democrats win a House majority this year, because they'll overplay their hand by pursuing impeachment him, which will only end up making Trump more popular.
This article first appeared on Salon.
“If they take the House, he wins big,” Barry Bennett, a former Trump adviser, told Politico. The idea is that because the impeachment of Bill Clinton hurt Republicans and made Clinton more popular in the '90s, the same thing will happen with Trump, except with the parties reversed.
To be certain, this kind of posturing to a political reporter, mostly done anonymously, cannot be taken in good faith. It's probably in part an effort by political consultants to spin anticipated Republican losses in advance, and partly an attempt to intimidate a potential Democratic majority away from getting aggressive on fighting Trump's corruption in 2019, out of fear of backlash.
Democrats should not let this kind of concern-trolling scare them out of moving swiftly toward investigating Trump if they gain power in November. But it's probably wise, at least at first, for Democrats not to pull the impeachment trigger too swiftly. While it may be disappointing for many people to hear this, right now there's good reason to believe that impeachment might not work. Moreover, there are other methods to dealing with Trump's corruption and betrayal of his country that will be more effective in both the short and long term.
The issue the Politico article correctly identifies is that even though there's likely enough evidence on the public record to impeach Trump right now, it's likely not enough to get him out of office. It would require 67 votes in the Senate to convict Trump and expel him from the White House. No matter how well Democrats do in November, they will get nowhere near that number. (If they won every single Senate seat up for grabs this year, which isn't likely, they would have 58 senators.) And unless something drastically changes on the other side of the aisle, there's almost no chance of breaking the resolve of Republicans who have decided to stand by Trump no matter what.
As things stand now, the best move for Democrats, if they retake the House of Representatives as expected, is to put a pin in the impeachment issue and instead use the subpoena powers of the House Intelligence Committee — which would no longer be led by Trump bootlicker Rep. Devin Nunes — to start investigating the president in ways no one but special counsel Robert Mueller has had the nerve to do so far.
This isn't just about politics, to be clear. There's also a moral argument here. There is so much that the public doesn't know about this president and his background, and so much that Trump is clearly hiding. We have a right to know, at long last. Rushing into impeachment, a divisive drama that Trump's defenders would paint as pure partisanship, could leave far too many stones unturned. It's imperative that, after all this time, the public actually gets a chance to find out what the secretive, paranoid Trump is so worried about, with all his ranting about imaginary surveillance.
The other thing to consider is the House has more power to investigate many more things than Mueller does. Mueller's investigation is centered on the question of how much the Trump campaign conspired with Russian officials to commit crimes during the 2016 presidential. But there's way more shady stuff Trump is involved in that could stand congressional investigation.
There are questions about whether Trump is exploiting his office to benefit himself financially. There are questions over whether he broke the law to pay off porn stars and models for their silence. There's the recording of him seeming to confess to criminal activity — sexually assaulting women — coupled with the testimony of women who say he did just that. There are questions about whether he used the Trump Foundation for illegal purposes. All of these issues could have their own House hearings, with a steady stream of headlines of new revelations about Trump corruption, so many there's little chance that they would dry up anytime before the 2020 election.
People, the House could subpoena Stormy Daniels and ask her to tell her story into the congressional record. You know you want that. We all do.
There's a long-term angle to this, as well. There's a very real danger that once Trump is gone, Republicans will pretend this sordid history never happened — much as they skated away from their complicity with George W. Bush's Iraq war and Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal. The only way to prevent that is to shake the trees and make sure all the information comes out, and especially to make sure that everyone who helped Trump's rise or helped him with the cover-up is catalogued and accounted for, ideally in public hearings. That will takes time, which shouldn't be wasted on a failed impeachment effort.
Ultimately, the main reason for patience is that it's the best chance the Democrats have of successfully laying waste to this horrible, corrupt administration. Jumping the gun on impeachment early in 2019 will means it dies a near-certain death in the Senate. Building up a case over time, however, and bringing forward new information could change the political calculus so that impeachment is more likely. There might be evidence so serious it finally chips away at Republican support for Trump and pushes GOP senators to do the right thing. Yes, that's unlikely, but it becomes less so if enough time is given over to investigations. More time might also reveal the extent of Mike Pence's involvement, which could, if Trump is successfully removed from office, result in a twofer and (OK, hypothetically) put Nancy Pelosi in the White House.
Patience is hard. But if Democrats take their time, they're far more likely to pull this off successfully. Even if they can't remove Trump through impeachment, the whole process — his tax returns may be on the table! — will do real damage to him in 2020, damage that a half-baked and fruitless attempt at impeachment might not do. Unless something drastically changes the political landscape between now and January — which of course is possible — this is the best move for Democrats: Many investigations, but no impeachment.