The Iranians fired a dozen rockets last night into American compounds in Iraq. The strikes were retaliation for the president’s decision to assassinate that country’s top general. As the bombs fell, George Conway, a fierce conservative critic of Donald Trump, said something we should all bear in mind. It rings with a crystalline truth.
“It’s extremely difficult now to escape the conclusion that [Trump] started a war because he was impeached,” Conway wrote on Twitter. “I’d be perfectly happy to be wrong about this, but the evidence is hard to ignore. He let all sorts of transgressions by the Iranians go previously, and is perfectly happy to kowtow to evil foreign leaders … but suddenly, he chooses the option that the military thought too extreme to actually select, and then threatens to commit war crimes. What’s different now?” (my italics.)
Impeachment, he said.
The president hasn’t quite started a war. The news this morning is the Iranians sent warning they were going to strike. The result was no American or Iraqi casualties. Iran is likely to move on to more covert actions, as it has for decades in the Middle East. The goal appears to be pushing US forces out of Iraq entirely. Barring retaliation from the US, tensions may have peaked for now. Trump is making a statement later today.
That we’re not quite at war yet doesn’t diminish Conway’s point. There’s a reason Trump ordered Qassem Soleimani’s death. It wasn’t keeping Americans safer. It wasn’t killing him because he deserved it. The reason, once you think about it, is rather plain to see: Trump is trying to make himself out to be a war president. A war president, to his way of thinking, can’t be removed from office. A war president, he thinks, always gets reelected (false). The Times reported Tuesday the Trump campaign promoted Soleimani’s death days after his assassination. He’s telling us. Are we listening?
Well, some are.
According to a new Morning Consult survey (Jan. 4-5), majorities favor Trump’s impeachment as well as his removal. This pattern is growing or holding steady. (His job rating has been underwater since forever.) Fifty-two percent approve of impeachment while 42 percent disapprove (50 percent approve and 39 percent disapprove among independents). Fifty-one percent approve and 43 percent disapprove of removal after a Senate trial (independents were 47 percent approve to 40 percent disapprove).
I have no idea whether public opinion will change Republican Senators’ minds. My immediate point is the public is listening when Trump says killing Soleimani is good for him politically. (Well, he thought it was; as I argued Tuesday, it’s backfiring.) That he is saying this at all is more evidence the House Democrats were right to indict him and the Senate Republicans are wrong to sweep his serial crimes under the rug.
The Morning Consult survey raises another point. The Washington press corps tends to be myopic. It pays attention to one thing at a time, creating the impression that news events are unrelated. This is why Politico can run a piece Tuesday evening asserting Mitch McConnell “won” and Nancy Pelosi “lost” after McConnell said he had enough votes for trial rules excluding witness testimony. (That Pelosi “lost” is strange given McConnell can’t move until she sends articles of impeachment.) But if the new poll numbers are any indication, normal people are connecting the dots.
Soleimani’s death is just one more way Donald Trump has abused the powers of his office. He did it when he involved a foreign government in a conspiracy to defraud the American people. (That is, extorting Ukraine to “investigate” a chief rival.) He did it again when he ordered the assassination of a leader of a sovereign nation, which gives Senate Republicans reason to acquit him in order to protect a “war president.” (For that matter, he did it when he fired FBI Director James Comey for greenlighting a special counsel investigation showing decisively he’s an illegitimate president.)
Put another way, normal people are not waiting for the Washington press corps to catch up to them. They aren’t waiting for White House reporters to figure out the precise reason Trump did what he did—whether firing Comey, extorting Ukraine or killing Soleimani. They know the truth despite the absence of all the facts. They made up their minds. Every time Trump violates his oath of office—whether to defend the US Constitution or the United States itself—he deepens feelings already acutely felt.
George Conway is right. It is indeed difficult to escape the conclusion Trump escalated an international conflict because he was impeached. Unfortunately, the press corps will likely continue trying to escape it. Fortunately, normal people won’t.