To Impeach Or Not to Impeach

Alan Zendell, October 23, 2019

The latest Quinnipiac University poll, released this morning, found that 59 percent of registered voters believe President Trump acted in his own interest and against the interest of the United States in his dealings with Ukraine, and 48 percent supported his removal from office. 55 percent now support the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry, while Trump’s overall approval rating has slipped to 38 percent.

The results are a snapshot of voter sentiment from last week, prior to yesterday’s devastating testimony by acting Ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor. Taylor corroborated the whistle blower complaint that started all this and offered excruciating detail providing context that painted a bleak picture for Trump. Perhaps more significant than the numbers themselves is that all three poll results continued negative trends that have been consistent since the last week in September.

That’s important because Senate Republicans read those trends, and Trump’s fate ultimately rests with them when (not if) the House votes to impeach him. Until now, those same Senators, with just a few exceptions, have marched in lockstep in their public statements supporting Trump, but conventional wisdom says that will change if Trump’s approval numbers continue to go south.

And here’s something even more interesting that was reported by the Conservative website, The Daily Caller. The Caller polled all fifty-three Republican Senators, asking if they would rule out removing Trump from office when the impeachment trial lands in the Senate. Only seven of the fifty-three were willing to state unequivocally that they would. Of the other forty-six, about half gave equivocal responses, meaning they wouldn’t go on the record until they heard all the testimony, while the rest chose not to respond at all. As in the Quinnipiac poll, almost none of the results to The Caller’s inquiry reflected reactions to Ambassador Taylor’s testimony.

I’m not a fan of hypothetical speculation, but this is an opportune time to ask a couple of “what-if” questions. By now, every American is clear that impeachment trials are not necessarily about breaking laws, and the standards of proof and evidence have little resemblance to those used in criminal court trials. Impeachment is one hundred percent political, which means each Senator will be weighing the evidence of harm to the nation against his or her own political future. In the simplest terms, if they feel vulnerable to Trump’s base, and they see that base holding firm, it’s going to take a mountain of damaging testimony to get them to vote for removal.

What if the downward trends for Trump continue? How bad do his approval numbers have to get before Senators perceive Trump’s base as soft enough to not threaten their own re-election chances? In other words, when will it be safe for integrity to win out? The Republican Party used to be all about conservative defense of the Constitution. But in this administration, Senators like Jeff Flake, who believed in that kind of conservatism have largely been forced into retirement.  

Until now the Republican defense of Trump has officially been along the lines that impeachment is simply a partisan reaction to a president Democrats hate. But the testimony heard by the House this week was given by career diplomats and State Department professionals who are the most apolitical people in government. There was clearly no partisanship in Ambassador Taylor’s testimony, nor did the DNI Inspector General find any in the whistle blower’s complaint. So let’s assume, for the sake of argument that the deluge of damaging information from professionals with no political ax to grind continues.

Republican Senators may find themselves as exposed as the emperor with no clothes as they defend their positions before the court of public opinion. Will integrity win in the end? How many will execute their sworn responsibility to defend the Constitution?

Though most people (including me) previously predicted that Trump would never be convicted by the Senate, I recall feeling the same way in 1973. We all knew Richard Nixon had committed felonies in office, but as we’ve said, the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” doesn’t imply what it might mean in criminal court. In the end, the Republican Senators who had supported Nixon throughout the Watergate inquiry found that they could not any longer. Nixon’s resignation was a result of his Senators telling him he had no choice but to quit. So who knows? Just when things look darkest……….

In the end, the real question may be what Trump does if he finds his back to the wall with nowhere to turn. He’s threatened civil insurrection more than once. I wouldn’t put it past him to call his base to arms.

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