This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on 20170326.
Getting Trump dumped early would result in a far more conservative Mike Pence in the Oval Office and would also galvanize base support for Republicans.
Less than three months into Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency, whispers of impeachment are becoming louder.
Ladbrokes, a British bookmaker, has Trump’s odds of leaving office via impeachment or resignation before the end of his first term at 10/11. I am not a betting man, but with those odds, do not expect a large payoff.
Allan Lichtman, the professor at American University who has famously predicted the outcome of every presidential election since 1984, has written a book on what he refers to as Trump’s imminent impeachment.
Impeachment talk is almost a fetish in American presidential politics. For George W. Bush, the issues that prompted such talk were the Iraq War, the Valerie Plame affair, the treatment of PoWs, wiretapping, and the government responses to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
For Barack Obama, the issues that prompted such talk included the notion that he wasn’t born in the U.S., the handling of the attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, the federal directive on gender-neutral washrooms, and the alleged failure to enforce immigration laws.
In reality, only two of the 45 presidents in American history — Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton — have suffered the humiliation of an impeachment vote, and neither was actually convicted. Richard Nixon dodged impeachment over the Watergate scandal by resigning.
That said, the allegations of foreign influence seem far more damaging than an affair with a staff member.
Trump is facing three specific risks.
First is his unsubstantiated claim that Obama ordered a wiretap of his phones at the Trump Tower during the presidential campaign. On Monday, FBI Director James Comey delivered a thinly veiled rebuke to the president, saying he ‘had no information’ to support Trump’s allegations.
The second is the ongoing and now-confirmed FBI investigation into contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials. If it is proven that any collaboration between Russia and the Trump campaign helped elect the president, and that members of the Trump team were aware and helped co-ordinate these efforts, the Trump administration will be in serious jeopardy.
And finally, at the congressional hearings to confirm Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court, South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham warned last week that if Trump were to bring back waterboarding, he could ‘get impeached.’
Alas, the impeachment process is akin to the process to amend the Canadian Constitution — in that it is frequently discussed, but is designed to be difficult to carry out, and is likely never going to happen.
This is for good reason.
While liberals might fantasize about a Trump impeachment, the results of such a scenario might not be what they envision.
The likelihood of a Trump impeachment is significantly greater than was the case with either Bush or Obama, but it is important to keep in mind that Trump maintains an 80-per-cent approval rating with Republican voters and that the president’s party controls both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Barring a confession, or something as dramatic as, say, a nuclear crisis, it would be up to Democrats to start the impeachment process.
While such an effort would temporarily stymie the Republicans’ legislative agenda, it would be detrimental to the Democrats’ long-term interests.
If Trump were impeached, or if he resigns, Vice-President Mike Pence would become president. Pence is a skilled legislator, a more disciplined politician and has a far more aggressively conservative agenda than that of Trump.
Democrats ought to know that a Mike Pence presidency would almost certainly undue more of Obama’s legacy than the erratic, easily distracted and unpredictable Trump. A return to the Bush years might not be exactly what the Democratic Party is looking for.
In addition, an impeachment of President Trump would only serve to reinforce his narrative that the special interests of Washington will do anything to protect themselves. His impeachment would only galvanize his base of support and further anger those legions of Americans who feel that President Trump is their voice against interests that have long been aligned against them.
His impeachment would be a personal attack on them, their values, and their way of life.
Trump’s ideas and his way of doing politics are not exclusive to him. Pushing him out of office could increase the likelihood that a similar, or perhaps more erratic, candidate emerges in time for the 2020 election.
Democrats should instead look inward and refocus their energy on the 2018 mid-term elections and on rebounding in the 2020 presidential race.
It was a strategy that worked well for the Republicans in 2008, allowing them to sweep local and national offices across the United States.
It would be a wasted opportunity for the Democrats to pass up in favour of distracting, and ultimately pointless, impeachment attempts.
locquote>Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative stockquote>