After Mueller: Should Democrats impeach Trump?
“What more do we need to know?” said Andrew Sullivan in New York magazine. Last week’s long-awaited report from special counsel Robert Mueller laid out “an unprecedented” series of assaults on the rule of law by our sitting president, leaving congressional Democrats no choice but to “impeach Trump now.” Yes, Mueller’s report debunks the fanciful notion of Trump being a Russian asset. But in painstaking and horrifying detail, Mueller also documents how Trump welcomed Russian interference in the 2016 election, then abused his power to try to thwart the investigation of that attack. In a textbook case of obstruction of justice, Trump dictated false statements, told aides to lie, and dangled pardons in an attempt to silence witnesses. Since a sitting president cannot be indicted, Mueller reasoned, he was forwarding his findings to Congress, which he said has “constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct.” That means impeachment. Until now, I thought “impeachment talk was dangerous,” said Laurence Tribe in USA Today. But Congress must heed Mueller’s invitation. The Founders designed the impeachment process for precisely this scenario: a lawless president using his power to undermine our democracy. “The time has come.”
“You know what? Go ahead,” said Tiana Lowe in WashingtonExaminer.com. If Democrats are dumb enough to impeach Trump for “process crimes” like obstruction, they’ll pay the same price Republicans did in 1998. Trump, like Bill Clinton, will emerge more popular than ever, and voters will punish Democrats for putting the nation through a prolonged, divisive “impeachment circus.” There’s also no chance of impeachment succeeding, said Karen Tumulty in The Washington Post, given that removing Trump would require 67 votes in the GOP-controlled Senate. The House should hold hearings on Mueller’s findings, and consider a formal censure. But with engaged voters already turning their attention to the 2020 election, why would Democrats waste time and energy on a process that will achieve nothing but “further inflaming the president’s political base?”
The real danger is that if “Democrats do not seize and define this moment, Trump surely will,” said Eugene Robinson, also in the Post. Unless he’s impeached, an emboldened Trump will surely “go on the offensive,” using the compliant Attorney General William Barr to spin the Mueller investigation as a failed “coup” and wreak vengeance on his “Deep State” enemies. Impeachment isn’t about punishing Trump for past crimes, said Eric Levitz in NYMag.com. It’s the only tool the Founders gave us to “halt the rampage of a serial offender” in the Oval Office. If Democrats fail to fulfill their “constitutional obligation” to use that tool, they will reveal themselves as “just another one of our republic’s failing institutions.”
But if the goal is to remove Trump, said Ezra Klein in Vox.com, shouldn’t Democrats choose the strategy most likely to succeed? Clearly, that’s an election victory in 2020. Impeachment would plunge the country into an all-out “partisan war,” and moderates and independents might see Democrats as pursuing a “doomed vendetta.” Besides, why should Democrats do Republicans the favor of removing Trump from office? said Joe Lockhart in The New York Times. Trump is “three years into destroying what we know as the Republican Party,” betraying every conservative principle, and cementing the GOP’s reputation as the party of Fox News, Trump sycophants, and angry white nativists. With a raging Trump in office for two more years, “Democrats have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to realign American politics along progressive lines.” ■