Donald Trump committed an impeachable offense on that call with the Ukrainian president. But that doesn’t mean Democrats are right to start an impeachment process.
Remember, impeachment is a political process, not a legal one. There is no obligation to prosecute. Congress is supposed to do what is in the best interest of the country. And this process could be very bad for America:
This will probably achieve nothing. To actually remove Trump from office, at least 20 Republican senators would have to vote to convict him. If you think that will happen because of this incident, you haven’t been paying attention to the Senate Republicans over the past 2 1/2 years.
Usually when a leader takes a big risk, it’s because there’s a big upside. But Nancy Pelosi is taking a giant risk and there is little upside. At the end of this process, Trump will probably be acquitted by the Senate. He will declare himself vindicated and victorious in his battle against The Swamp. An ugly backlash could ensue — in both parties.
This is completely elitist. We’re in the middle of an election campaign. If Democrats proceed with the impeachment process, it will happen amid candidate debates, primaries and caucuses. Elections give millions and millions of Americans a voice in selecting the president. This process gives 100 mostly millionaire senators a voice in selecting the president.
As these two processes unfold simultaneously, the contrast will be obvious. People will conclude that Democrats are going ahead with impeachment in an election year because they don’t trust the democratic process to yield the right outcome. Democratic elites to voters: We don’t trust you. Too many of you are racists!
This is not what the country wants to talk about. Pelosi said she would not proceed with impeachment unless there was a bipartisan groundswell of support. There is no bipartisan groundswell, and yet she’s proceeding. According to a Quinnipiac University poll, only 37% of Americans support impeachment.
The presidential candidates all report the same phenomenon. Voters are asking them about health care and jobs and climate change, not impeachment. This week, while all this was unfolding, I was in Waco, Nantucket and Kansas City. I had conversations or encounters with hundreds of people. Only one even mentioned impeachment, a fellow journalist.
There is a big difference between the conversation Twitter wants to have and the conversation the broader populace wants to have.
Democrats are playing Trump’s game. Trump has no policy agenda. He’s incompetent at improving the lives of American citizens, even his own voters. But he’s good at one thing: waging reality TV personality wars against coastal elites. So now over the next few months he gets to have a personality war against Nancy Pelosi and Jerrold Nadler.
The Democrats are having a pretty exciting and substantive presidential primary season. This is what democracy is supposed to look like. Why they would want to distract from that is beyond reason. Trump vs. Nadler is exactly the contrast Trump wants to elevate.
This process will increase public cynicism. Impeachment would be an uplifting exercise if we had sober leaders who could put party affiliation aside and impartially weigh the evidence. It would be workable if Congress enjoyed broad public affection and legitimacy. We don’t live in that world. This process is already devolving into the sort of mindless partisan war that causes Americans to be disgusted with Washington. Impeachment is no longer a rare and grave crisis in American life; it’s becoming a device parties use when the House and the presidency are in the hands of different parties. Democratic House members have already introduced impeachment articles against Trump on at least four occasions. It’s just another partisan thing.
This could embed Trumpism within the GOP. If Trump suffers a withering loss in a straight-up election campaign, then his populist tendency might shrink and mainstream Republicans might regain primacy. An election defeat would mean the people don’t like Trumpism. But the impeachment process reinforces the core Trumpist deep-state message: The liberal elites screw people like us. If Trump’s most visible opponents are D.C. lawyers, Trumpism becomes permanent.
This could distort the Democratic primary process. It’s already obvious that impeachment upstages the Democratic primaries. In the months ahead, the Democratic candidates are going to have a harder time getting attention. Democratic policy debates are going to be obscured. Congressional Democrats will become the most visible party leaders.
Impeachment will doubtless roil the Democratic primary race in unpredictable ways. The most bellicose candidates may profit as the impeachment wars grow more vitriolic. The moderates may be further marginalized.
Democrats are running against a man whose approval rating never gets above 45%. They just have to be normal to win. Instead, they’re rolling the dice in a very risky way. I get the need to remove this unfit man from office. But this process will not produce that outcome.
An election can save the country. An inside-the-Beltway political brawl will not.
David Brooks is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.