Should the Democrats impeach the president? It’s hard to see a considered strategy in the approach. The president stands accused of using the official functions of his office to create an advantage against his possible 2020 rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. To punish him, Democrats have launched an impeachment crusade that has no chance of succeeding in the Republian-controlled Senate. In fact, there appears to be no possible explanation for this course of action except to gain a 2020 electoral advantage against Trump.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler will step into the spotlight in a few days to hold hearings featuring lectures from liberal academics “Dem-splaining” the constitutional meaning of “high crimes” to the American people. Lost among the shrieks and demagoguery is a quiet voice of reason cautioning Democrats:
As a practical matter, at this point in the game, with only [a few months left in his term] I think it’s probably not the best idea to start a full impeachment hearing at this point which would simply take all the attention away from and distort the presidential campaign.
Who uttered this sage advice? None other than Nadler himself, who can be seen here telling Democrats to get over their impeachment obsession and instead allow voters to pick new leadership in the then-pending 2008 election.
The “most important thing is to elect Barack Obama,” Nadler went on to say. In 2008, the siren call of “impeachment” tempted Democrats away from the normal electoral process. But Democrats resisted that temptation and went on to win the 2008 presidential election.
In January 2008, Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich introduced a resolution to impeach President George W. Bush. Kucinich wanted Bush punished for failing to produce evidence supporting his baseless accusations of collusion between his political opponent and Russia.
Excuse me, I have my scandals mixed up. Kucinich actually wanted consequences for Bush’s failure to produce evidence of weapons of mass destruction, as alleged to justify the Iraq War. The resolution cited Bush for “Deceiving Congress With Fabricated Threats of Iraq WMDs To Fraudulently Obtain Support for an Authorization of the Use of Military Force Against Iraq.”
Among the supporters of impeaching Bush, we also find younger Donald Trump, saying: “He lied. He got us into the war with lies. … And I mean — look at the trouble Bill Clinton got into with something that was totally unimportant. And they tried to impeach him, which was nonsense. And yet Bush got us into this horrible war with lies, by lying, by saying they had weapons of mass destruction, by saying all sorts of things that turned out not to be true.” Could Trump, who said this to CNN (of all networks), have possibly imagined he would one day be the subject of impeachment?
The question of whether to impeach Bush largely fell to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who was also House speaker then. The support for impeaching Bush was actually quite passionate at the time. A Slate article said:
The American voters gave Democrats clear control of Congress, rebuked President George W. Bush. … Yet motivated by partisan concerns over the 2008 elections, the new speaker is following President Bush around like a sheep while he solidifies an imperial presidency and diminishes the Congress into irrelevancy. … If Pelosi persists in her imperious, mean-spirited, and myopic thinking in disregard of her oath to support and defend the Constitution, members of the House should replace her with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
The Slate article continued, “According to public opinion polling, the percentage of voters supporting the impeachments of both President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are now approximately 45 and 54 percent, respectively. Most Americans instinctively feel the president is an untrustworthy steward of the Constitution’s checks and balances because, among other things, he flouts laws, prohibits White House aides from testifying before Congress.”
Those poll numbers feel eerily familiar. FiveThirtyEight pegs current support for impeaching Trump at 48.8 percent. But in June 2008, cooler heads finally prevailed. This bitter account of the death of the impeachment effort is particularly amusing:
Democratic members of the US House of Representatives voted unanimously to kill an impeachment resolution against President Bush introduced by Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.
Kucinich himself participated fully in the farce. He introduced the resolution Monday and read out the 35 articles of impeachment. … The 251-166 margin of the vote, held on a roll call Wednesday, saw all 227 Democrats — including Kucinich and his lone co-sponsor, Robert Wexler of Florida — joined by 24 Republicans move to dispose of the resolution. Voting against were 166 Republicans, who sought to force a debate on impeachment for the purpose of embarrassing the Democratic Party leadership.
The 2008 Republicans voted in favor of the impeachment effort because they believed the process would make Democrats look highly partisan and anti-democratic in an election year. Democrats, including Pelosi and Nadler, resisted the trap. Will history repeat itself?