Gail Collins: Will impeachment drive Trump batty?

(Paul Sancya | AP) President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Battle Creek, Mich., Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019.

The only problem with impeachment is that it might drive Donald Trump even crazier than usual.

Or probably.

The scariest thing about the whole process has been the president’s absolute, total inability to handle it like a sane person, let alone a sensible politician. On the day before the impeachment vote, when reporters asked Trump if he accepted any responsibility for what was happening, he did not say, “I just wish I could have been clearer about my total dedication to the country’s welfare.” He said: “No. I don’t take any.”

This was at a meeting with the president of Guatemala, during which Trump suggested that Guatemalans, whose country is mired in political corruption and violence, would know how to handle those House Democrats.

During the impeachment debate, Republicans howled about how the opposition was trying to turn back the results of the 2016 election. It’s true that Democrats would love to be living in a country where the woman who won the popular vote was in the White House. But, as Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler pointed out, if Trump actually did get tossed out of office, “the new president will be Mike Pence, not Hillary Clinton.”

What no one in Trump’s party admitted was that many of them would secretly love, love to replace him with a Republican who’s not nutty. Boring, sure, but there are times when dull is delightful.

The events leading up to the House’s big day were a pretty good example of how out of control the president has become. He sent a loopy six-page letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, attacking her for saying, “I pray for the president.” (“It is a terrible thing you are doing but you will have to live with it, not I!”)

He forwarded the letter to members of Congress — in the same package as the White House Christmas card. Meanwhile, a Times analysis found five of its claims were false, seven misleading and five exaggerated. Hey, nobody’s perfect.

In the impeachment vote run-up, Trump also tweeted that Pelosi’s “teeth were falling out of her mouth.” We are not going to discuss the state of the speaker’s teeth, which appear to be fine. And you cannot let him pull you into this kind of rabbit hole. It’s nasty to make fun of politicians’ personal appearance. Next thing, you’ll be talking about people’s hair and deeply artificial skin color.

Trump has been constantly complaining that the Democrats are treating him like a victim of the Salem witch trials. (It could be worse — in the House, one Georgia Republican compared the president to Jesus and the Democrats to a lesser version of Pontius Pilate.)

The Salem theme is never going away. On Wednesday, Trump sent an email to supporters whining that “No President ever could have endured or passed this many witch hunts.” The missive ended, of course, with a request for cash. (“Before the upcoming vote, I want to post another HUGE fundraising number.”)

He also tweeted his all-purpose outrage: “Can you believe that I will be impeached today by the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats, AND I DID NOTHING WRONG! A terrible Thing. Read the Transcripts. This should never happen to another President again. Say a PRAYER!”

This would presumably be a better type of prayer than the ones Pelosi is saying.

While the president was tweeting his wrath, the House debate went on for eight hours. Republicans continually demanded that Congress let voters make the decision about Trump’s future in 2020. Democrats warned that would give him a lot more time to mess around with the Constitution. “Just last week Rudy Giuliani was back at it in Ukraine, so please don’t tell us to wait, because the corruption continues,” argued Cedric Richmond of Louisiana.

It’s a good point. Trump isn’t likely to reform since he thinks everything he’s done is “perfect.” The current crisis is about stuff he’s already done. But the far scarier subtext is what he still thinks is a good idea. Like Rudy.

During the debate, the Republicans were perhaps louder, and yelling generally works pretty well if you’re limited to two minutes. They castigated the House procedures and the Democrats’ intentions. They ranted on about everything, Nadler noted, “except a defense of President Trump’s conduct — which is indefensible.”

The Democrats spent a whole lot of time talking about the founding fathers. (“In Federalist No. 65, Alexander Hamilton wrote. …”) Hamilton came up constantly. Really, somebody should write a play about him.

It was certainly a long day of speechifying. But we’re here for a major moment in American history. Stop complaining for a minute and take it in. Pretty awesome.

Impeachment doesn’t do anything without Senate conviction. But Trump is perfectly aware of — OK, tormented by — the fact that a vote to impeach, all by itself, puts a big asterisk next to his name.

“It will follow him around for the rest of his life,” predicted California Democrat Ted Lieu during the debate.

Unless Trump does something so ungodly that being impeached will just look like a footnote. Shudder.

Gail Collins

Gail Collins is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.