After Wednesday night’s votes to impeach President Donald Trump, many Republicans are understandably upset. When people are upset they make rash statements and say things they don’t mean. Many times, angry people will spitefully make threats that would hurt themselves as much as the target of their anger. That is the case with the Republicans who are threatening that Trump’s impeachment will lead to an era of impeachments as both parties reflexively impeach any president of a different tribe.
Reince Priebus, former RNC chairman and Trump chief of staff was one of the people suggesting that Trump’s impeachment was a “new political game” that Republicans would likely play against the next Democratic president.Priebus and the others making the same suggestion are almost certainly wrong for several reasons.
The first reason is constitutional. Impeachments originate in the House, which the Constitution says has the “sole power of impeachment.” If a party doesn’t have a House majority, they can harrumph all they want, but there will be no impeachment.
But it takes more than a majority to impeach. Democrats have had a House majority for 11 months, but there was no impeachment until this week. There were attempts, but they invariably failed. As I pointed out yesterday, a Democratic impeachment attempt failed last July thanks to 137 Democrats who voted it down. Why would Democrats kill an impeachment resolution if all they cared about was putting points on the board in the impeachment game?
The answer is that they want to get re-elected and there was little public support for impeachment from voters, especially from swing voters in swing districts. These are the voters who decide elections and they have a moderating influence on politicians of both parties, whose prime concern, if we are honest, is to get sent back to Congress next term or move up to higher office. With few exceptions, radicals and troublemakers aren’t rewarded with higher office. Those who do usually represent a solidly partisan state or district.
Republicans might well try to impeach the next Democratic president, but if they do so without convincing a large number of voters that the president needs to be removed, it will backfire. Most voters won’t back a revenge impeachment.
Despite Republican claims to the contrary, Democrats had a plurality of the public in support of impeaching Trump. FiveThirtyEight’s polling average consistently showed a slight advantage for impeachment. More Americans supported impeaching Donald Trump than Bill Clinton.
Spiteful Republicans may try it anyway. Both parties have a tendency to veer toward fringe policies when they gain power. When they win control, the parties typically try to please the base with a partisan wish list rather than steering for the center and attempting to build a lasting coalition to stay in power. Reflexive impeachment may well join the Wall and Obamacare on the long list of unpopular policy ideas that the parties pursued anyway… and suffered losses for doing so.
If you think about it, the claim from people like Priebus is insulting to Republicans. The impeachment game could be considered to have begun when Republicans rammed through the unpopular impeachment of Bill Clinton (full disclosure: I supported Clinton’s impeachment). Angry Democrats no doubt felt the same way that many Republicans do now.
Yet Democrats didn’t try to score an impeachment point against George W. Bush, even though they controlled the House in Bush’s last two years when he was at the depths of his popularity. Impeachment was discussed but never seriously pursued.
The argument that Republicans would impeach on a purely partisan basis, simply because a president is a Democrat and Republicans have a House majority, seems to indicate that Priebus thinks Republicans are less objective and restrained than Democrats, a tall order. The Reagan and Bush Republicans of my youth would not fit this description. I’m not sure about modern Trump Republicans.
I know some of you will point out that Democrats have opposed and obstructed Trump since Day One, plotting revenge and telling lies about the president. Why shouldn’t Republicans adopt the same strategy? they ask.
To them I answer, isn’t being different from the Democrats sort of the point?
The best advice for modern Republicans is to accept that Trump’s impeachment would not have happened without Trump’s bad behavior. One of the hallmarks of conservatism is personal responsibility. People, including presidents, should take responsibility for their actions, accept the consequences, and learn from their mistakes.
If President Trump accepts the congressional rebuke and changes his behavior, he could salvage his first term and possibly win re-election. On the other hand, if the president doubles down on divisive, offensive, and impeachable behavior and the Republican campaign turns into an anger-fueled quest for revenge, both Trump and the Republicans are likely to be cast into the wilderness.
Anger and revenge may play well with the base. However, that isn’t true for the swing voters that Republicans need in order to win in 2020, Average Americans just want the parties to work together and get things done.