Jonathan Vaysman: Impeachment isn’t all fun and games

Sunday, October 6, 2019 - 1:22pm

The nearly three years of Donald Trump's presidency have been an absolute whirlwind. From sexual assault accusations to the Sharpie scandal, there hasn’t been a second for us to catch our breath. Every time a scandal happens, people call for Trump's impeachment. Yet, he seems to get past each scandal relatively unharmed. That was until House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who had previously been hesitant to bring impeachment to the table, decided enough was enough and announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump (though he is still relatively unharmed). This came after a whistleblower complaint that Trump had allegedly pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. He also allegedly threatened to withhold aid to Ukraine should Zelensky not comply. While the impeachment inquiry should be exciting news to many Democrats, they should also be concerned.

There are two main reasons Democrats are excited about the news of a possible impeachment, with the first being their pure disdain for Trump. More than 200 House Democrats have a burning desire to see Trump kicked out of office. Presidential candidate former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, hammered Trump as being “sick” and “unfit for this office.” The only problem is that calling someone unfit isn’t a good enough reason for impeachment. Each party will claim that a president of the opposing party is unfit — that is party politics. However, pressuring a foreign leader to dig up dirt on a presidential candidate and his son may be the straw that breaks the camel's back, and it ultimately made Pelosi fold on pushing off impeachment. 

The other reason many Democrats want to see Trump impeached is because doing so would set a precedent. If Democrats do not pursue impeachment, then Trump’s illegal actions will become commonplace. One of the most dangerous things in politics is precedent. If Trump can do something illegal, what stops the next president from taking the same course of action? 

While many Democrats may be gung-ho about impeachment, they should be extremely wary of pushing ahead. I believe it is incredibly important for the Democrats to not allow a precedent to be set, but there is a much more present danger of impeachment. Should the Democrats in the House succeed in bringing up charges of impeachment, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and his colleagues in the Senate would not convict Trump and remove him from office. It would be totally off-color for McConnell. He blocked President Barack Obama's Supreme Court appointee and has blocked numerous bills that have recently passed in the U.S. House, including election security bills and gun control legislation. In order for the Senate to convict Trump and remove him from office there would need to be a two-thirds majority in the Senate. In this political era, it’s rare to get senators on the same page for simple things, so it would be virtually impossible to get enough of them to agree on something as polarizing as convicting Trump. 

What would a failed impeachment mean for Democrats? Well, for starters, the public appearance of the Democratic party would be tarnished. An impeachment without conviction would validate Trump’s claim that the continual calls for impeachment were a giant witch hunt. The bigger problem for Democrats would be the energy boost that Trump's base would receive: His rallies would be bigger, and his donations would skyrocket. It is not hard for one to imagine the rhetoric Trump would come up with after not being convicted. There would be endless name calling and hateful Twitter rants in all caps. Giving Trump momentum into an election year would be a very costly mistake for the Democrats. It could end in disaster for the party with Trump getting elected again in 2020. All it takes is to go on Twitter to already see how his base is reacting. Many of them are claiming that it’s all a lie and the Democrats are trying to steal the election, including the presidency.

Democrats have consistently said the main goal of 2020 is defeating Trump. While many see impeachment as one of the possible avenues to do that, I do not view it as the ideal pathway to Democratic success. If the Democrats really want to turn the country around, they should beat Trump outright in the 2020 general election and avoid the chaos of a failed Trump impeachment, and the inevitable division that will arise with it. 

Jonathan Vaysman can be reached at jvaysman@umich.edu.