The dangers of impeaching the President
What the Democrats should be aware of during these impeachment proceedings
President Trump is a member of an extremely exclusive club. The two affirmative votes by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives confirmed that Donald Trump will become the third President to ever be impeached. However, with the imminent trial in the Senate, it is vital for the Democratic party to chose their path wisely.
As the 2020 election draws nearer, both parties are fully aware that the public perception of the upcoming trial will be central in determining whether the President can secure re-election. As a politician who has arguably faced more controversy than any other, President Trump is fully aware that a public trial can expose the partisan nature of current politics — something he can easily exploit. Therefore, it is crucial for the Democrats to avoid this trial being perceived as a ‘witchhunt’ at all costs.
The threat of impeachment is the nuclear weapon in any politician’s arsenal. While accusations and political pandering are commonplace in Washington D.C., impeachment is a relatively rare event.
Given the Republican Party’s control over the senate, these impeachment proceedings are even more extraordinary — since the Democratic leadership are fully aware that it is highly unlikely that it will result in President Trump being removed from office. Therefore, these proceedings will only serve to unearth possible wrongdoings by the President and to highlight their belief that he isn’t suitable to continue serving as President.
Only two presidents, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, have actually been impeached — both times resulting in the President staying in office. However, the impeachment proceedings in both cases were wildly different, indicating just how unpredictable impeachment proceedings can be.
Unlike Andrew Johnson’s impeachment in 1868, the impeachment of Bill Clinton took place under intense public scrutiny — with the proceedings being televised and every development scrutinized by a fleet of journalists. This creates a new dynamic, with the public perception of the trial being a significant factor in the proceedings. Even though the trial takes place in the Senate, every single politician in marginal districts will try to ensure that their constituents are satisfied with how the trial is conducted.
As a result, if a large majority of Americans wish to see the President be impeached, most politicians (even from their own party) would also support impeachment. This was on display during the Watergate Scandal in which President Nixon lost the support of many of his voters, with 57% of American voters supporting impeachment. Consequently, many senior Republican politicians withdrew their support for him and he subsequently resigned the Presidency — even before the impeachment trial had actually begun.
Can President Trump be impeached?
When the founding fathers wrote the constitution, they purposefully made the requirements for successful impeachment hard to reach. While you only required a majority vote in the House of Representatives for impeachment, the President can only be removed from office if 67 senators vote against the President.
In the current political climate, this possibility is highly unlikely because the Democrats are nearly 20 votes short of that target.
However, Nancy Pelosi didn’t begin these impeachment proceedings knowing that President Trump would be removed from office. Instead, she made the political calculation that the whole process will damage the credibility of the President and increase their chances to take back the White House.
For many, the Clinton impeachment was viewed as a witchhunt by the Republican Party, desperate to control the White House. This resulted in the public’s perception of President Clinton being unaffected and he even enjoyed his highest approval rating of 73% during this period. Consequently, with the 2020 election looming, the Democratic party will need to endeavour to avoid looking partisan. This is why you hear Nancy Pelosi repeatedly state how she prays for the president and was reluctant to use this nuclear option.
Is this one controversy too much for the President?
Donald Trump seems to have the capacity to weather any political controversy.
During the presidential campaign, his poll numbers were unaffected after the Access Hollywood tapes were released, in which he explicitly advocated for sexual assault. For every successive controversy, it seems that this only makes him more invincible and we have grown to accept the various outbursts he makes on a weekly basis.
However, he has not been impeached before now, so it is difficult to predict whether the public will continue to overlook his string of controversies. Indeed with the presidential election next year, if the opinion polls start looking less favourable for the president, the Republican lawmakers make start taking this impeachment procedure more seriously.