by Roger Kimball
Welcome to the new and improved Get Trump Daily, special impeachment edition. A couple of days ago, on Halloween, a cute kid of about 7 came to our door dressed up as a dinosaur. It was a pretty nifty costume, green with spindling protuberances, tail with spiky-things, and bits on the head that expanded in a showy way when the budding tyrannosaur pressed a button.
This had two effects: One, you could tell that it was supposed to be scary, so it was a cue to say, “Oooh!” and “Ah! That’s scary!” Two: it made the costume’s occupant feel important, and I think that was probably the major effect.
“Trick or treat.” We gave the kid some candy and he toddled off down the street to impress the neighbors and, even more, himself.
If this were a story by Stephen King, maybe the kid might have been an evil demon and his expanding dinosaur head would have devoured us. But he wasn’t and we weren’t, which, frankly, is what we expected.
Of course, we might have been wrong.
I think that the Halloween impeachment show is a lot like that tyke’s costume. “Impeachment” sounds scary. As Kryptonite is to Superman, so impeachment is to the president. It’s just about the only thing that can bring him down. So I suppose it is not surprising that you can practically smell the self-importance oozing out of Adam Schiff. Like our little dinosaur, he is mighty impressed with himself.
By the Numbers
But “impeachment” means many things. Until 15 minutes ago, I’d wager, many people believed it was a synonym for “remove from office.” But with the House shouting “impeach him, impeach him, impeach him” in tones more or less like those that emanated from that angry mob which sided with Barabbas in front of Pontius Pilate, lo, these many years ago, we have all been reminded that while the House may bring articles of impeachment, it takes two-thirds of the Senate to convict the accused and remove him from office.
Two-thirds. I was told there would be no math, but I am pretty sure that means 67 senators, when 53 of them are now Republicans. According to my abacus, that means that 20 Republican senators would have to jump ship and vote with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to remove the president from office. How likely is that?
Given the popularity of Donald Trump among Republicans, another way of asking that question is: Are there really 20 Republican senators who would commit political suicide in order to please Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Adam Schiff?
I hate it when people jump to conclusions, so I want you to think long and hard about that before answering.
My friend Andy McCarthy is absolutely right to point out that “impeachment is unpredictable.” Now that the House has started down that path, it is hard to say exactly how things will end. I suspect it will all peter out, with sound and fury, perhaps, but almost certainly signifying nothing.
And yet “nobody,” Andy observes, “knows for sure how impeachment proceedings will go.” This is true.
But how many things, when you come right down to it, are you really 100 percent sure about? For me, the number is very small. I suspect the number is pretty small for McCarthy, too.
Where Is the Bipartisan Support?
McCarthy’s rhetorical place-clearing for the possibility that the impeachment train would reach its destination is really only the preface to another point. The firewall of having to get a super majority of 67 may seem to make Donald Trump secure, Andy acknowledges, but only so long as there is “nothing other than what we already know about” (his emphasis).
The fact that President Trump mentioned Joe Biden in a telephone call with the Ukrainian President is hardly likely to be sufficient cause to remove him from office. But what if the investigation turns up more stink bombs, more pussy-grabbing tapes, more malversation, more dirty-dog rhetoric about would-be potentates?
All this is possible. But just as Andy says with respect to the impeachment of Bill Clinton that “[i]t was obvious that Clinton was not going to be removed,” so many observers, myself included, believe that it is at least as obvious that Trump will not be removed.
Andy points out that Donald Trump is a supremely unpredictable (not to say erratic) political actor, and that this unpredictability may be a liability in the impeachment sweepstakes. This is probably correct.
But against this are a couple of striking arithmetical facts. First, not a single House Republican voted for pushing on with the impeachment inquiry, not one. Second, two Democrats sided-with the Republicans. Compare this with the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton when thirty one Democrats sided with Republicans to make the vote a comfortable bipartisan 257 Yea to 176 Nay in favor of impeachment.
It is often pointed out these days that impeachment is first of all a political, not a legal remedy (see Andy’s excellent book on the subject, Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment). Which is why impeachment cannot, as a practical matter, be a wholly partisan tool. The public just wouldn’t stand for it.
As Newt Gingrich noted a couple of days ago, this is a political truth that Nancy Pelosi stressed when she acknowledged last March that “impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path.”
Quite right. And if she has changed, or has seemed to have changed her mind, it is not because it is no longer true that impeachment requires bipartisan support but rather because she is trying to maintain some control over a caboose that has jumped the tracks and is careening wildly across the yard. We’ll see how she manages that. In the meantime, I think Newt is right: “The Halloween vote for impeachment was an enormous strategic defeat for Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”
Zero Plus Zero
I am not sure that there is no radioactive skeleton in Donald Trump’s closet. Maybe the Democrats will discover something heinous, something sufficiently potent to bring him down.
I am not sure, but I doubt it, partly because I think that Donald Trump’s erratic behavior is mostly epiphenomenal—a matter of words and gestures, not substance—partly because we’ve seen this show so many times before: the pussy tapes, Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen, “Russian collusion,” Robert Mueller’s two-year fishing expedition, and now a telephone call to Ukrainian President Zelensky. Since I’ve already introduced sums, l’ll follow by observing that all those supposed torts do not add up to squat—or, rather, squat, i.e., zero, nada, rien, zilch is precisely what they do add up to: zero + zero + zero + zero = zero. And it doesn’t matter how many zeros you add on to the problem. The answer will still be zero.
A lot of people, including many who support him now, wished that someone other than Donald Trump had been elected in 2016. We’ve passed, as the great aphorist Samuel Goldwyn is supposed to have said, a lot of water under the bridge since then. I think that there are two big takeaways from the impeachment follies playing on a CNN television screen near you.
One concerns precedent. Should, per paene impossible, Donald Trump be impeached and removed, what is there to prevent the next House majority that takes a dislike to a president from another party from engaging in the same destructive hijinks? Answer: nothing. And that way lies The Great Unravelling.
One of the several things that a democratic republic depends upon is trust, and the partisan weaponization of impeachment, a tool of last resort for deployment only in the most egregious “high-crimes-and-misdemeanors” cases, is enormously destructive of trust.
The “Deep State” Struts
The other big takeaway concerns what has variously been called the “deep state” or “the administrative state,” that cadre of unelected bureaucrats who staff the government and its echo chamber in the media.
Over at American Thinker, Thomas Lifson quotes from a remarkable interview with John McLaughlin, former acting director of the CIA. Responding to an observation by the event’s moderator that the ongoing impeachment inquiry “feeds the president’s concern . . . about a ‘deep state’ being there to take him out,” McLaughin replied, “Thank God for the ‘deep state.’” He continued:
Everyone here has seen this progression of diplomats and intelligence officers and White House people trooping up to Capitol Hill right now and saying these are people who are doing their duty or responding to a higher call . . . With all of the people who knew what was going on here, it took an intelligence officer to step forward and say something about it, which was the trigger that then unleashed everything else.
Hark: a former acting director of the CIA thinks it is OK for members of the Intelligence Community to respond to a “higher call[ing],” circumvent the democratic electoral process, and seek to unseat a duly elected president of the United States.
Last month, a formerly sensible commentator who has been suffering from a debilitating case of Trump Derangement Syndrome warned that “The Deep State Conspiracy Is About to Go Into Overdrive.” He was right about that (and he was right, too, that I’d be among the “conspirators”). But when you have senior members of the Intelligence Community publicly acknowledging not only the existence of the “deep state” (something that until yesterday was supposed to be merely the figment of Steve Bannon’s fevered imagination) but also its role in attempting to “take out” the president, then I’d say it was a good thing, not a bad thing, that efforts to expose the malignant, anti-democratic workings of the deep state are revving up and about to go into overdrive.
Amen to that.
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Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books.