The fairytale of impeaching Trump
Is it already time to impeach President Trump? After two weeks of bizarre, vindictive, impulsive, reckless, quasi-dictatorial behavior and statements by the president, increasing numbers of observers are insisting that he's bound to be removed from office, either impeached under Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, or deemed unfit to serve under Section 4 of the 25th Amendment.
Is it possible? Sure. Just about anything is possible. But it isn't at all probable. Not even close.
It's important to recognize this reality — because it's our reality, the country's reality, the world's reality. Of course Trump may not finish out his term as president. He's 70 years old and overweight. He could suffer a heart attack or stroke. He could be assassinated. But Congress removing him from office? That just isn't going to happen — at least anytime soon.
The decision to seek the removal of a president from office doesn't happen automatically. It's a political act. That's why no president in American history has ever been impeached or seriously threatened with removal from office when the president's own party has held a majority of seats in the House of Representatives (which votes on articles of impeachment). Democrat Andrew Johnson was impeached by a Republican majority in 1868. Republican Richard Nixon was threatened with impeachment and removal from office at a time when the House and Senate were both in the hands of Democratic majorities. And Democrat Bill Clinton was impeached (and acquitted by the Senate) when both chambers were held by the GOP.
In the current 115th Congress, Republicans have a 47-seat advantage over the Democrats. That means that a minimum of two dozen GOP lawmakers would have to be willing to work in tandem with the opposition party to bring down a Republican president. And then two-thirds of the Senate (also in Republican hands) would have to vote to convict.
If President Trump really were the pretend Republican that his most strident opponents during the GOP primary season of 2016 claimed he was, then it might be possible to imagine this happening. But of course Trump is a Republican — and arguably more of a Republican than many members of the GOP establishment in Washington, at least if the party is defined by the views held by the preponderance of its voters.
The GOP establishment isn't especially sympathetic to Trump's brand of populism and nationalism, but many of the nearly 63 million voters who elected him are. Those same voters hold the fate of congressional Republicans in their hands. Which means that the same thing that led Trump to win the GOP primary over establishment opposition and kept most elected Republicans on board with Trump's rocky campaign through the general election will keep them from breaking from him now: fear of the voters' wrath.
Of course it's possible that these voters will eventually abandon Trump en masse. If that happens, then impeachment may become plausible. But so far, there's no sign of it. Trump received 46 percent of the vote in November; Gallup's latest tracking poll has him at 43 percent approval now, down just slightly, while the GOP-friendly Rasmussen tracking poll has him at 53 percent. That's low for such an early point in a presidency. Yet among Republicans, Gallup has Trump at a stratospheric 86 percent.
Meanwhile, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll puts support for the most controversial move of Trump's first two weeks in office — the executive order temporarily banning entry to the United States of people from seven majority-Muslim nations — at a perfectly respectable 49 percent. A Gallup survey puts that support significantly lower (42 percent) among Americans as a whole but at a whopping 83 percent among Republicans.
As long as those numbers persist, the president has nothing to worry about.
Trump's opponents can be led to denial on this score because nearly every day the news brings word of impassioned anti-Trump protests from cities across the country. These stories can make it appear that Trump is already isolated, rejected by nearly everyone. But so far there's no evidence at all to support such a conclusion. Rather than converting Trump supporters into opponents, the president's actions seem to be inspiring those who already disapproved of him to despise him with even greater intensity.
And this polarization benefits Trump enormously, providing him with a potent weapon he can use on wavering members of Congress at the first sign of trouble. "Why on Earth are you siding with them against your own president?" he will say. And then those wayward Republicans will fall back into line.
Of course this could change. Democrats could retake the House in 2018, enabling them to begin impeachment proceedings against the president without the support of Republicans. Then there's the possibility of something truly catastrophic happening — a major war that goes badly; a severe economic shock he appears powerless to fix — something that sends Trump's approval rating among Republicans into the basement. In such a situation, even Congress in its current configuration may finally feel empowered to move against him.
But short of such far-fetched scenarios, impeachment isn't going to be an option against President Trump.