Democrats have decided their best shot at bringing President Trump down is to focus on his sex life.
Yes, they really are that dumb.
The Washington Post on Monday reported that congressional Democrats are planning "a major investigative focus" on Trump's alleged pre-presidential affairs, having decided that the public evidence he paid two women hush money during the 2016 campaign makes the matter easy pickings for their investigators.
"The fingerprints are all over this one — it's not like a big mystery," said Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee.
Democrats are right to reach for low-hanging fruit — Al Capone didn't go to prison for rum-running, after all, but for tax evasion. And Trump really does appear to have committed an election law crime by orchestrating payments to these women — one hesitates to call them "former lovers" — and he, like his disgraced former lawyer Michael Cohen, should pay a penalty for doing so.
That said, it's possible Democrats have chosen the dumbest possible route to removing the president from office.
Here are at least three better reasons to impeach Trump:
- His flagrant disregard for the Constitution, exemplified most apparently in his decision to spend federal money on his border wall with Mexico, despite Congress' unwillingness to appropriate those funds. Under the Constitution, Congress, not the president, decides how money is spent. Instead of asserting its prerogatives through impeachment — or by clawing back the emergency power the president uses to justify his actions — Congress has decided to hope the courts will push back. This is arguably the most important transgression Trump has committed as president, the one that could have the longest-lasting consequences for our democratic order, but Democrats have decided to instead focus their energies elsewhere.
- His obvious efforts to obstruct former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into ties between Russians and his 2016 presidential campaign. Mueller made it pretty clear, in his report and in his testimony to Congress, that Trump acquiesced to the corruption of the American electoral process, then sandbagged the officials charged with getting at the truth of the matter. As I said in April: If that's not a high crimes or misdemeanors, then nothing is.
- His ongoing efforts at petty corruption. It is clear the president has used his office to try and fill the coffers of his private business, the Trump Organization — the most recent example being his decision to hold next year's G7 summit at his Trump National Doral golf resort near Miami. As my colleague Ryan Cooper wrote last week, "This is part of a pattern — Trump hasn't just proposed stuffing huge sacks of cash from foreign states and the U.S. government into his own pockets, he's actually done it. This profiteering off the presidency is the simplest reason he should be impeached immediately. He is violating the Constitution and picking the pockets of the American people to enrich himself."
The galling truth is that Democrats have tiptoed around the idea of impeachment for more than two years because they feared repeating the GOP disaster of the late 1990s, when that party was punished by voters after impeaching Bill Clinton over his sex life. Now, they've decided to take the path they said they most feared. This does not make sense.
For one thing, it's arguable that Trump's sex life has already been litigated by voters. He was a known philanderer in November 2016 — he'd made a career, in part, by bragging to the New York Post and Howard Stern about it — and a sufficient number of voters decided that didn't matter enough to keep him out of office. That stinks, but it's true. And Democrats have spent a generation laying the groundwork for this effort to fail, by complaining for 20 years about the frivolousness of the GOP's 1990s impeachment effort.
It's easy to understand why Democrats would choose this route. Sex is easy. Sex commands headlines. Who wants to explain to the public the ins-and-outs of, say, the Emoluments Clause? And it's true that Trump's behavior in the matter was shady and, based on the fact his lawyer is now sitting in prison for it, very likely illegal. But we've seen this movie before. Democrats were always going to have a tough time "winning" impeachment, thanks to GOP control of the Senate. It appears they're choosing the worst possible path — one that leaves Trump in office while diminishing their own standing with the public. That is not noble. It is just dumb.