In an editorial published Wednesday at National Review, the editors argue that an “unspoken consensus” has emerged among Republican senators that what President Trump did was wrong but it doesn’t warrant his removal from office. The editors think this a “reasonable” position and that Republicans should make the case for it publicly, but they can’t because of the president’s “obstinacy” in defending his actions vis-à-vis Ukraine.
Instead of insisting that Trump “cannot be impeached for any abuse of power unless that abuse took the form of a criminal violation of a statute,” they write, “Republicans would be better off arguing that in this case the president’s behavior, while objectionable, should be left, as scheduled, to the judgment of the voters directly.”
My colleague David Marcus yesterday pointed out some serious problems with this argument, not least of which is that there is no evidence of an emerging unspoken consensus among GOP senators that what Trump did was objectionable—just the opposite, in fact, as the impeachment trial drags on.
But one aspect of Marcus’ argument deserves more fleshing out because it gets to the heart of the divisions on the right over Trump generally and impeachment specifically. He writes:
The notion that a Trump apology over his call, accompanied by grave-faced GOP officials decrying the act but begging that Trump be given a second chance, would have led to Democrats backing down on their impeachment push is pure fantasy. Just as Rep. Adam Schiff tried to do in his arguments yesterday, the Democrats would have seized on Trump’s admission of any flaw in his approach as just one in a chain of illegal acts they believe the president has committed.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that the editors of National Review (and full disclosure: over the years I’ve occasionally written for both NRO and the print magazine) are right about this unspoken consensus among Republicans. And let’s say they follow the editors’ advice and concede that Trump should never have asked Ukraine for an investigation into Burisma or the Bidens or possible 2016 election interference. They argue that this was very bad, very objectionable, but surely it doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment. Surely, we must leave this to the voters.
Let’s say they make that case. What do the editors think would be the outcome? Do they think it would persuade even one Senate Democrat to vote for acquittal? Do they think it would satiate Resistance Democrats who have been calling for Trump’s impeachment and removal since November 2016? Do they think it would endear Senate Republicans to Trump voters, who will see that, yes, these senators are indeed principled and serious people, and deserve our confidence and respect?
I should say, if the editors really believe what Trump did was wrong but he shouldn’t be impeached over it, fine. But to counsel GOP senators to engage this sort of argument as a political strategy against a Democratic Party marching in lock-step for impeachment is deeply naïve. After all, we’re talking about a Democratic Party that to date has voted four times on impeachment in the House, beginning with a vote in December 2017 on articles of impeachment for the high crime of criticizing NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem. Fifty-eight Democratic members of the House supported it.
A month later, 66 Democrats voted for impeachment after Trump’s “sh-thole countries” comment. In July of last year, 95 Democrats—more than 40 percent of House Democrats—voted to impeach Trump for tweeting that members of the Squad should “go back” to their home countries if they don’t like America. Clearly, a significant portion of House Democrats are not all that concerned about the reason for Trump’s impeachment, so long as he’s impeached.
Democrats Want to Destroy Trump ‘Thoroughly’
This of course has been their plan all along. When Democrats gained a majority in the House in the 2018 midterms, House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler was overheard on the Acela train from New York to Washington talking about how House Democrats were ready to go “all-in” on impeachment. This was the entire purpose of the Robert Mueller probe and the Russia collusion hoax, which turned out badly for Democrats when, after more than two years of investigating, Mueller turned up nothing.
Even before the Mueller probe, Democrats have been angling to destroy Trump. Four months before the 2016 election, President Obama’s former campaign manager David Plouffe wrote in a since-deleted tweet, “It is not enough to simply beat Trump. He must be destroyed thoroughly. His kind must not rise again.” Elaborating on this to a New York Times reporter, Plouffe said, “This could still be a relatively close race, but it’s more likely to be a blowout than a Trump win.” (Funnily enough, Plouffe has a book coming out in March called, “A Citizen’s Guide to Defeating Donald Trump.”)
The point is that Democrats are not interested in subtle arguments about what’s an impeachable offense and what isn’t. They aren’t even interested in basic details of their own case against the president, like whether there was a legitimate basis for Trump to ask for an investigation into a notoriously corrupt Ukrainian energy company. Did Trump ask President Zelensky of Ukraine for an investigation, or did he ask him to fabricate dirt on a political rival?
As National Review’s own Andrew McCarthy pointed out this week, Rep. Adam Schiff has from the start ignored that distinction, instead simply asserting that there was no legitimate reason for Trump’s request—as if his say-so should be enough to put the matter to rest and move forward with the removal of a duly elected president.
Only the most rabid partisan would find that convincing in the least—the sort of partisan who would take any admission by Senate Republicans of Trump’s wrongdoing as proof positive that he must be removed from office, niceties about what constitutes an impeachable offense be damned. As it happens, those are precisely the kind of partisans now in charge of the Democratic Party, and they won’t stop until Trump has been destroyed thoroughly.