Impeaching Trump (and his voters)

William McGurn:

For the sake of argument, let’s stipulate that Donald Trump is everything Democrats say he is: a president who abuses his national-security powers by siccing a foreign government on his political rival, a racist/bigot/nativist constantly using “dog whistles” to stoke division, a man uniquely unfit to sit in the Oval Office.

Assume Mr. Trump is all these things. With an election scarcely a year away, the question then becomes: Why impeach him now? Surely a president as abominable as this ought to be easy to defeat at the polls. Mr. Trump would appear to be especially vulnerable, given that last time he lost the national popular vote and won several battleground states by razor-thin margins.

The answer speaks as much to what Democrats think of Trump voters—they don’t trust them—as it does to what they think of Mr. Trump. In this sense, the push for impeachment now may reflect a lack of Democratic confidence that they can persuade enough of the voters who went for Mr. Trump last time to give them the margins they need for victory come November 2020.

The lack of confidence extends to doubts about each of their leading candidates. It’s no secret that many Democrats worry Joe Biden isn’t up to the job of taking on Mr. Trump. So long as Ukraine is in the news, stories about Hunter Biden’s sweetheart deal with a Ukrainian gas company will be in the news as well. Other Democrats, meanwhile, worry that Elizabeth Warren is too far left to win. And Bernie Sanders’s heart attack probably spells the end of any chance he might have had at the nomination.

A year ago, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler told Roll Call that before using impeachment to overturn the results of the last election, Democrats would have to answer this question: “Do you think that the case is so stark, that the offenses are so terrible and the proof so clear, that once you’ve laid it all out you will have convinced an appreciable fraction of the people who voted for Trump, who like him, that you had no choice? That you had to do it?”

We are nowhere close to meeting the Nadler standard. True, public support for impeachment is up since news of Mr. Trump’s phone conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart broke. A FiveThirtyEight.com average of all the impeachment polls finds 46.5% for and 44.8% against. More telling is the divide the numbers show when they are broken down by party. While 79.1% of Democrats want impeachment, the number drops to 41.3% for independents and only 12.5% for Republicans.

So why the rush? Maybe because in addition to concerns about 2020, there’s an itch to punish Trump voters for what they did in 2016. In other words, it isn’t enough that Mr. Trump be defeated. His whole presidency must be delegitimized—along with the people who voted him in.

In 2016 Hillary Clinton famously expressed this contempt for Trump voters when she told wealthy donors at a Manhattan fundraiser “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.”

She went on. “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”

In “Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling,” reporter Amy Chozick confirms this was no one-off gaffe. Mrs. Clinton, she reports, used the line repeatedly to Democratic audiences she knew would appreciate the sentiment.

“The Deplorables always got a laugh, over living-room chats in the Hamptons, at dinner parties under the stars on Martha’s Vineyard, over passed hors d’oeuvres in Beverly Hills, and during sunset cocktails in Silicon Valley,” wrote Ms. Chozick. The unspoken corollary is that only a morally debased citizenry could have freely chosen Mr. Trump over Mrs. Clinton.

Today few publicly call Trump voters “deplorable.” But the assumption remains. Remember that high-school kid from Covington, Ky., who was accosted by a Native American activist? Simply because he was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, the 16-year-old was instantly transformed into the face of white supremacy by a good part of the American media.

When the facts finally emerged, of course, they told a much different story. But what happened to that Covington student could not have happened without many in positions of influence unthinkingly sharing the view that people who wear MAGA hats are what Mrs. Clinton says they are. Trump voters get this, while it doesn’t seem to occur to Democrats that the president’s supporters stick with him in part because they appreciate that the Trump hatred is directed at them as well.

In a poem written after East German workers rose up against their communist overlords in 1953, the playwright Bertolt Brecht suggested that if the government was dissatisfied with the lack of appreciation from its countrymen, perhaps it ought to “dissolve the people and elect another.” He meant it as irony. Some of those pushing hardest for impeachment appear to be taking it more literally.

Since the U.S. Constitution doesn’t specify what is an impeachable offense other than “high crimes and misdemeanors,” theoretically the House can impeach any president for whatever reason a majority of the House conjures up. There is no question, however, whether or not you approve of Trump, that this is this is the same kind of coup attempt Wisconsin Democrats attempted against Gov. Scott Walker in 2012.

 

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