Is Impeachment DOA?
Two wise, older political writers that I pay attention to are Elizabeth Drew and Peggy Noonan. Drew covered the Watergate hearings and impeachment for The New Yorker and often appeared on PBS. She now appears occasionally in the pages of New York Times. Peggy Noonan was a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan. Her weekly commentary appears in the Saturday Wall Street Journal. While I don’t agree with either one all the time, I always find that they have something important to ponder.
Elizabeth Drew wondered this past weekend if impeachment is no longer an effective constitutional remedy in times of ultra-partisanship. She describes Trump’s hold on the Republican Party as “cult-like.” She also notes that the founders did not anticipate such partisan factionalism, nor did they anticipate a President who would feel free to completely stonewall the impeachment process. Here’s Drew.
“What, then, are we learning about Congress’s ability to check a wayward president? One can conclude that in our highly polarized world, a strong-willed president like Mr. Trump can limit impeachment — and possibly wreck it.
“Had a whistle-blower not raised concerns, and had those brave State Department witnesses not testified before Congress despite the president’s admonitions not to, the House Democrats would have had too little validation for their effort to bring charges. And then, because Mr. Trump’s hold over Senate Republicans seems almost cultlike, he is all but certain to be acquitted at the trial early next year.
“What checks, then, remain? The unwieldy 25th Amendment, which essentially relies on the vice president to initiate the process of removal, is no real alternative, unless a president is near comatose.
“That means that unless our political system undergoes a radical change, we could be on the brink of having no check on the president, no matter how radically he defies the Constitution.” (italics added)
That last bit is the quite scary part. The way this has developed we appear to have no way to hold any President accountable “no matter how radically he defies the Constitution.” The remaining check, if impeachment is down the drain, is the election itself, which is of course what President Trump was trying to subvert by asking the Ukraine President to announce that he was investigating the Bidens.
Peggy Noonan was looking beyond impeachment to the election asking, “Who Can Beat Trump?” Given the economy and that we aren’t at war (well, sort of) it should be an incumbent’s election to lose. But then Noonan notes that despite relative peace and prosperity — usually enough for re-election — the President’s approval rating stay steady, or stuck, at the low 40% level. This suggests Trump is vulnerable and should encourage the opposition.
But then at the very end of her column she throws in this little kicker. “This in turn brings up the familiar 2016 theme of shy Trump voters, people who don’t tell pollsters they’re going to vote for him, or even tell themselves.” The “Shy Trump Voter.” I suspect there’s more of these folks out there than we know. People who don’t maybe want to admit that have voted for, and may again vote for, a liar and a con. Why do they vote for him — shyly? Maybe he stirs up their fears? Maybe they like the “strongman” affect? Maybe they think he’s bad, but that there’s no one better.
Which brings us back to the Democrats. I can’t see that any of the candidates has what I would call the energy factor, which cuts two ways. One, the candidate radiates energy, but even more importantly, she or he excites the energy of voters. Obama did that. Hillary did not. Is anyone doing that in the current field?
The two most recent additions to the race, Duval Patrick and Mike Bloomberg, are unknowns on this score. Patrick seems quite appealing. Bloomberg doesn’t appear to have a lot of charisma. But he does strike me as tough. Maybe thirty years ago someone commented off-handedly to me that in U.S. Presidential elections the voters will go with whoever they perceive to be the tougher candidate. I’ve remembered that. It’s not an especially appealing observation, but I think there’s some truth to it. Bloomberg strikes me as someone who may be able to go toe to toe with Trump.