Well, we’ve all been fascinated and enthralled by the controversy surrounding the impeachment of one Donald John Trump, President of the United States of America. Impeaching a President isn’t quite a once-in-a-lifetime show, at least not for me. I was already long since a voting adult when the Republicans politicized a common sex act (or rather, putatively lying about a common sex act) to attempt to remove a Democratic President.
That attempt didn’t work, and, of course, neither did the only previous attempt to remove a President, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868. Richard Nixon almost certainly would have been both impeached and removed had he stuck around in 1974, but even Tricky Dick could read the handwriting on the wall and beat a hasty retreat to San Clemente, CA, before the villagers with pitchforks could catch up to him.
And given the makeup of the United States Senate and the partisan nature of today’s politics, this impeachment isn’t going to succeed in removing a President, either. Removal requires a 2/3 vote of the Senate, which has a narrow Republican majority. 20 GOP Senators would have to vote to remove, and that isn’t going to happen, not based on anything we’ve seen or heard so far. So we’re left with the kind of political theater that our professional political class does so infuriatingly well.
In the center ring of this circus is Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives. As Speaker, it is her job to manage the business of the House. In theory, this is done for the best advantage of the people. In practice, it’s done for the best advantage of the majority party.
Speaker Pelosi has done a thoroughly incompetent job of managing this impeachment effort. Although her party has sought the impeachment of the incumbent President virtually since before his derriere started warming the chair in the Oval Office, she delayed any attempt for months after her party assumed control of the House early last year. When she finally could hold out no longer, she shepherded through only two charges, both of which are difficult to prove and which many fair-minded souls might not see as impeachable offenses at all.
Then, she sat on that, refusing to send the bill of impeachment to the Senate until, she said, it agreed to her terms on conducting the impeachment trial. Just this week, when that strategy seemed no longer sustainable, she sent the bill forward and named a slate of managers for the House’s case. Even this looks like a miscalculation, as the seven members include two each from the states of New York and California (guaranteed to raise hackles in “flyover country”) and all seven are members of her own party. Some younger members of her caucus had urged her to include former Republican Rep. Justin Amash on the slate of managers, partly out of respect for Amash and partly to lessen the appearance of the case being a partisan lynching rather than an impartial Constitutional action. She refused.
Damn, she must be incompetent! If I didn’t know better, I’d think she didn’t want Trump removed!
Speaker Pelosi is an old political warhorse who got ahead in politics as a woman back in the time when it was even much more difficult than it is today. She deftly balances competing, and sometimes mutually-incompatible, interests to advance the cause. Don’t let appearances fool you. This is one smart politician.
I’ve already said that I don’t believe the President can be removed in today’s political climate. An unsuccessful attempt could be extremely damaging to Democratic hopes this year, as it seems likely to energize the supporters of the President even more than his opponents. Speaker Pelosi certainly knows this even better than I do, and furthermore, it is my considered opinion that she wouldn’t want to remove him right now if she could.
Whaaaaat? Why on Earth would she want to keep the President in office?
Several reasons. First and foremost, a concerted effort to remove a sitting President damages that President’s credibility and reputation. Maybe. It certainly did in Johnson’s case, much less so in Bill Clinton’s. But it’s a reasonable strategy to prefer to have a damaged President Trump as the Republican standard bearer in 2020 rather than Vice-President Mike Pence or some other candidate. And if Pence were to take over as President now, he’d be able to run again in 2020 and 2024. That comes close to being the Democrats’ worse nightmare. Second, tying Trump up in an impeachment for as long as possible handicaps him in attempting to do anything else. It monopolizes his time and the attention of the media and the public, and it lessens his political capital, his ability to demonstrate “the art of the deal.”
Yet, the Speaker has to pursue impeachment on some level, or face a revolt in her own ranks. As we all know, there are several new young Democratic faces in the House which are pushing a radical agenda, are almost as impatient with “mainstream” Democrats as with the opposition party, and which are firmly committed to the impeachment effort. So Speaker Pelosi has to walk that tightrope between pushing too hard and activating her opponents and not pushing hard enough and activating her so-called “friends.”
Now, you might fairly ask yourself – or me! – what the heck is this commentary doing on a Libertarian page? Why should I care what the GOP and the Democrats do to each other? And Libertarians are by no means united in their opinion of the desirability of removing the President. Even within our ranks, there are those who, while likely to support our candidate this fall, possibly depending on who it is, also have a degree of admiration for the President. (Full disclosure: this writer vehemently does not share that admiration!)
It belongs here because the outcome of this baloney may very well have a serious effect on the prospects for our candidate in November. In 2016, our national ticket reached heights never before seen by a Libertarian ticket. Yeah, I know, 3%. Big freakin’ deal! Well, yes, it is a big freakin’ deal when it means ballot access guaranteed in more than a dozen states. This, in turn, means tens of thousands of dollars that we don’t have to spend just to get our candidates on the ballot and which can be used, instead, to support this year’s ticket, or even to support deserving candidates down ballot. A weakened incumbent candidate and a compromised opposition can present an opportunity to build on what we accomplished four years ago, perhaps pushing those vote totals even higher, and earning more media attention, more contributors and contributions, and putting more Libertarians into office, to serve, to demonstrate with actions the worth of our policies and positions, and to prepare themselves to be serious contenders down the road.
A Libertarian Congressman or Congresswoman running for President as a Libertarian in 2028 or 2032 could be launched as a newly-elected county commissioner or mayor in 2020, 2021, or 2022, all because we have a better shot at maintaining ballot access right now.
When is an impeachment not an impeachment? When it can’t succeed, its prime supporters don’t really want it to succeed, and when it opens the door, unintentionally, for a third force to advance. And those are things worth talking about.