Character counts. But so do the consequences of criminalizing the election of the “wrong” president. That’s what I concluded after noodling over last week’s guilty plea by President Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, and the reignited calls for his impeachment or a forced resignation.
Cohen’s claim that he paid off stripper Stormy Daniels at the behest of Trump rallied the anti-Trump brigade around a new theory for ousting him from the Oval Office: Trump’s purported campaign-finance violations. But the allegation of criminal campaign-finance wrongdoing fails on several levels.
Legal experts disagree on whether the payment would constitute a violation of election law, even if Trump had told Cohen to pay for Daniels’ silence. To reach the level necessary for criminal liability — as opposed to a civil Federal Election Commission fine — Trump would have needed to possess the requisite intent. Given the disagreement among election-law attorneys concerning whether a violation even occurred, a prosecutor would be hard-pressed to prove Trump committed a criminal offense. And then the “high crimes and misdemeanors” hurdle would trip up any impeachment scenario.
None of this, of course, addresses Trump’s underlying conduct which, while not proven, seems believable: Trump had extramarital sex and arranged to pay to silence people he did it with from getting the word out.
Twenty years ago, Democrats constructed the public-private dichotomy to cast Bill Clinton’s exploitation of a young White House intern as “just about sex” and to excuse not just his ill use of Monica Lewinsky, but also his perjury and obstruction of justice. “Our guy stays, but your guy goes” might be a perfect summation of the left’s philosophy on political accountability.
Republicans aren’t about to let the Democrats come back decades later to magically declare that character deficiencies now require the removal of a president. Yet conservatives also aren’t about to paper over Trump’s infidelity, and we shouldn’t.
Now, arguing that Cohen’s conduct did not constitute a campaign finance violation is not excusing the tryst. The same holds for those challenging claims that Trump committed a crime. One also need not condone Trump’s behavior to maintain that his conduct does not satisfy the constitutionally required “high crimes and misdemeanors” impeachment standard. Highlighting the obvious prosecutorial double standard that led to a search of Cohen’s office and home and the campaign-finance charges also does not equate to acquiescence in Trump’s affair(s).
Trump’s alley-cat morals, though, received equal billing to the above complaints when reports of Cohen’s guilty plea broke. The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway minced no words in condemning Trump’s conduct:
Adultery is wrong. Spouses are called to live a sexually pure and decent life in what they say and do. Husband and wife are to love and honor each other. Infidelity has an effect far beyond the person philandering, including the temporary lover, the betrayed spouse and children with the spouse, the children that arise from sexual unions with various women, and even business associates and voters.
It may not be illegal to have an affair, or to be induced to sign a non-disclosure agreement because infidelity is a believable charge, but it is a moral failing.
But while conservatives detest Trump’s philandering ways, they have long since tired of politicians’ puffery: Trump may lie to his wife and to Americans, but he delivers.
Still, some conservatives, such as Michael Medved, have suggested that Trump should resign — for the better of his party, his country, and ultimately his own place in history. Wouldn’t the sacrosanct Mike Pence silence the storm and mend the societal rupture surrounding Trump’s presidency?
No, because this storm was never about the president’s past infidelity or Trump arranging for Cohen to use cash to silence the stripper. The left’s effortless pivot from their two-year investment in establishing that Trump colluded with Russia reveals the their real dispute with the president: Trump won, and Hillary lost. Replacing Trump with Pence will not be enough. Only when Democrats regain what they believe should rightfully be theirs — control of the government — will amends be made.
If the left succeeds in forcing Trump out of office, the damage to our democratic republic cannot be overstated. Trump’s infidelity, wrong though it is, is far less destructive to our country than the last two years of sabotage set off by Washington insiders — first on a presidential campaign and then, following the populace’s selection of the “wrong” candidate, on Trump’s presidency.
Yet many of the people acting high and mighty about Trump’s infidelity are the same folks ignoring the past administration’s abuse of power to set up and spy on the Trump campaign, and the lies and leaks flowing to favorite media outlets to foment a coup. This chicanery prompted the appointment of a special counsel who, though unrestrained by time, money, or purpose, has yet to ferret out a crime related to Russia collusion.
So yes, Trump’s infidelity matters. But so too does the impending destruction of our democratic republic, should the president’s opponents succeed in undoing his election.