The House of Representatives will vote to impeach President Donald Trump today, and the strongest case for this vote is that ultimately, it won’t matter.
We hear all the time that impeachment is a political decision, not a legal one. Given that, the case for impeachment as a decision made by Democratic leadership has to be argued on political terms. And understood in that context, those who favor impeachment benefit from lowering the stakes and turning it into something that occupies a far less serious position than it has historically.
When the process began, Nancy Pelosi was in the rare position of being boxed in by her conference and her donors, forced to pursue something she clearly believed to be politically risky on the eve of a presidential election. She worried that it was a roll of the dice against an unpopular president which could harm Democrats’ chances in 2020 and crowd out agenda items necessary to defend the red-leaning seats they won in 2018.
All of this is logical, and Pelosi’s concerns – shared by many smart Democrats – could still prove true. Concern that Independent voters would not come along for the ride already have:
Currently, 46% support impeachment and removal, down six percentage points from the first reading after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry. Meanwhile, 51% oppose impeachment and removal — up five percentage points over the same period…
The movement in the national figure mostly reflects a small shift among political independents, a slight majority of whom supported impeachment and removal in two October polls (55% and 53%), but whose support has fallen below the 50% mark in the two polls since (45% in November and 48% in the latest poll).
I’ve argued in this space and others that Democrats ought to have pursued a rapid impeachment months ago – that as soon as the transcript emerged, they should have drafted the Articles and had their vote. If it is impeachable on its face, just do it. Instead, they turned impeachment into a process story – loved by Washington media, tuned out by the public – that gave any wavering Republicans plenty of rabbit holes to dive down. A vote within a week might have been bipartisan – today’s won’t be.
So the strongest political case to make for impeachment is that Democrats locked themselves into this, and eleven months from now, it just won’t matter. Democrats in red districts will find ways to move on – pointing to USMCA and other steps as proof that they can work with even a president they’re impeaching as a rap on the knuckles for his behavior. Best case scenario, it makes things a little difficult for Susan Collins and Cory Gardner, and it’s another argument to use against Trump potentially appointing another Supreme Court justice should a vacancy occur next summer.
This transforms impeachment from being a matter of the utmost seriousness to just another method of chiding and censuring an executive the Congress can’t control. (Though it will be interesting to see what percentage of voters don’t realize that impeachment does not equal removal.) Will it matter? For a moment – but by Friday, we’ll be talking more about the outrage surrounding The Rise of Skywalker than impeachment. Culture bests politics, once again.
Perhaps that’s a good development. Impeachment thus becomes a perfect representation of our post-policy expectations for the legislative branch, where members are expected to stand as avatars of their base without any responsibility to get anything done. Impeachment is reduced to one more base-satisfying Instagram story, ephemeral, pointless, lacking any real consequence. It gives both political bases a temporary dopamine hit, and then we move on to the next scandal and outrage of the moment.
A few weeks ago on Face the Nation, Amy Walter made the point that she didn’t think impeachment would factor at all in November 2020. She’s right. There are five hundred things that will happen between now and then, shocks to the system and unexpected developments, that will be more important than what’s played out over the past several months. And that’s the strongest case for impeaching Trump today. Go ahead and do it, because it won’t matter.