In the weeks to arrive, we are going to be reading increasingly speculation approximately President Donald Trump’s possible impeachment. Much of it will boil down to the observation that ultimately, impeachment is a political decision. Republicans hold the power in Congress. whether they resolve they’d quite believe Mike Pence as president, they can surely cobble together enough to initiate impeachment proceedings against Trump. The persistent question will be: Are the benefits worth the costs to them?
to reply that question is to request Republicans to confront some of the deeper problems within the party. Impeaching Trump could solve some problems congressional Republicans face, but it could construct other ones worse. Ultimately, it will force the GOP to confront some internal party divisions that Trump’s election allowed the party to keep off. Ironically, though, these very divisions probably construct it more likely that Republicans will delay impeaching Trump, since doing so will require more coordination and consensus than the party seems capable of achieving.
What congressional Republicans could gain by impeaching Trump
Congressional Republicans believe four substantial problems right now.
- They now believe a very unpopular president in Donald Trump. This nearly certainly portends substantial losses in the midterms, perhaps enough to flip the House.
- Trump’s ongoing mess of scandals is taking up complete the oxygen in Washington, diminishing any fleeting chance of a successful legislative session with each day.
- The growing “impeach Trump” movement is energizing the Democratic base. whether Democrats procure to race a 2018 midterm election as a referendum on Trump, with the promise of impeaching him whether they win control of the House, this helps them tremendously.
- Trump is a ticking time bomb who could actually effect some real damage to the country or the world.
In theory, Republicans could solve these problems by impeaching Trump.
But that assumes he will recede with only a minimal fight, that politics will return to commerce, trade as usual after Trump, and that Pence will wind up being more celebrated than Trump.
complete of these are substantial gambles.
What congressional Republicans could lose by impeaching Trump
For congressional Republicans, impeaching Trump has three major risks.
- The real opportunity that Trump fights back, and tough. whether confronted with impeachment from his own party, Trump might react like an enraged bear and try to seize as many people down with him as possible.
- That the fight over Trump’s impeachment splits the Republican Party. Trump still has his supporters, and many of them will stick with him. They share his critique of a corrupt Washington, and this impeachment will nearly certainly prove his point. He tried to shake up Washington; “they” came for him with phony charges and stabbed him in the back. Since Democrats will nearly certainly vote along with many Republicans to question Trump, this will be “proof” that Republican insiders colluded with Democrats (the enemy) to procure rid of Trump. This will harm Republicans’ chances going forward. The pro-Trump remnant may race third-party candidacies just to sink establishment Republicans. Or they may just become demoralized and stop voting altogether. A seething resentment and deep frustration powered Trump. Those feelings are still present in many places.
- That Trump’s impeachment spoils the Republican brand for at least a few elections to arrive, perhaps, possibly even longer. To seize him down will require a damning case against him, and perhaps implicate many Republicans. The GOP will be branded as the party of Trump, with complete the stink of whatever comes out.
Weighing the costs and benefits of Impeachment
Now let’s compare the costs and benefits in four areas.
Damage to the party brand
The damage to the party brand question is a short-term/long-term calculus. Trump is clearly hurting the party brand as president in the short term. Impeaching him nearly certainly does even more short-term harm to the party brand.
In 1974, after Richard Nixon’s resignation, Republicans lost 48 House seats and four Senate seats. But in 1980, Ronald Reagan won the White House, and Republicans won control of the Senate. The party had a novel energy and a novel force.
The sooner Republicans boot Trump, the sooner they can procure on with attempting to rebuild the party brand. Of course, that logic may not appeal to the Republicans who will lose their seats in the 2018 and 2020 elections. Or Republicans who are convinced that whether Democrats ever procure back into power, it will be the finish of the republic.
Getting back to legislating
Congressional Republicans initially hoped that Trump would procure on board with the team and the GOP would pass a bunch of bills. Now that Trump is self-imploding, so much for that.
But to assume that impeaching Trump could finish the distraction and let Republicans procure back to legislating ignores three inconvenient facts.
The first is that congressional Republicans’ legislative problems are not really Trump’s fault. The party itself is internally divided, and does not believe a clear vision of what policies it wants to enact. Different factions within the party believe different indistinct ideas, but there is tiny consensus. And nobody in the party has the ability to unite and work out compromises among the competing instincts. As Paul Ryan renowned, it’s easier to be an opposition party. Governing requires trade-offs.
The moment issue is that without the 60-vote threshold in the Senate, Republicans are going to need at least some Democrats to enact any legislation. whether the Republican Party brand is taking a hit from the Trump impeachment, why would Democrats cooperate at complete in advance of the 2018 election, after which they will believe more power?
The third issue is perhaps the most uncomfortable for congressional Republicans to confront: that many of their policy goals (crop taxes on the rich, repeal Obamacare, roll back entitlements) are deeply unpopular. Republicans might believe been able to procure absent with these under the guise of Trump’s anti-establishment, faux-populist bluster. But with the Republican brand already receding in popularity, more Republican members will find themselves skittish in voting for unpopular policies.
Whither President Pence
Then there is the question of a President Pence. Mike Pence may be seen as a steadier hand than Trump, and far more attuned to the rhythms of Capitol Hill (he was previously in the House leadership). But it’s tough to suppose, to assume him as the charismatic leader restoring the Republican Party to glory. He was relatively unpopular as governor of Indiana, where he took some extreme far-right stands on social issues. He’s hardly a visionary leader who could rebuild the GOP.
Pence may be slightly more celebrated than Trump. But whether he ascended to president, he would also face the full fire of Democrats, who believe for now targeted their energies at Trump. Pence would also face fire from whatever pro-Trump Republican remnant remains, who will surely view Pence as the establishment usurper. whether Pence becomes president, his popularity will probably be even lower than Trump’s.
The Trump backlash
As for the extent of the Trump backlash, it’s tough to say how much he’ll try to seize down complete the furniture with him on the way out. Some of it depends on how overwhelming the evidence against him is. Some of it will depend on how exhausted Trump himself is. Some of it will depend on who’s with him in the bunker at the finish. whether it’s just him and Steve Bannon, Trump is probably more likely to recede down swinging than he would be with Gary Cohn.
My hunch is that whether he were impeached at this point, Trump would fight back, and that Bannon would be most likely to be with him at the finish, egging him on to finally create the chaos he hoped to sow complete along. But Trump may also just be so exhausted at the finish of it that he gives up, resigns, begs a pardon, and collapses.
And whether he does give up, the pro-Trump remnant will lack a leader, and probably be less of a threat than they would be whether Trump wanted to retain fighting. Still, it’s possible that even whether Trump gives up, some in the right-wing media will seize up his cause, and view this as their casus belli for taking down the Republican establishment. After complete, the 2016 Republican primary did reveal plenty of internal party resentment.
Will Republicans impeach Trump?
For congressional Republicans, these are uncertain calculations. Proceeding to impeachment has substantial risks, with limited and highly uncertain benefits. It seems more likely congressional Republicans will wait and see, and cling to the increasingly small hope that Trump will be exonerated, or that in a manner of speaking the regular thrum of scandal abates and they can procure on with whatever it was they thought they could accomplish.
But the political calculus will change as the facts change. Investigations will reveal more. The moment when impeachment becomes a reality is the moment that the majority of congressional Republicans eye at the pile of evidence, and the media narratives surrounding that evidence, and can no longer credibly recount themselves that impeachment is not an inevitability.
Given the uncertain calculus behind impeaching Trump, and the need for a large number of congressional Republicans to complete procure on the same page to construct impeachment successful, the case for impeachment will need to be incredibly compelling — on both political and evidentiary grounds.
And this may be the biggest reason impeachment is unlikely to happen immediately: Republicans believe to mostly unify around it. And just as Trump benefited from internal party division in the presidential primary, internal party division may continue to retain him in office.
Either way, Republicans are in a terrible situation. Their president is unpopular, their legislative agenda is unpopular, and the party is divided internally. Impeaching Trump won’t solve any of these deeper problems. It might even construct them worse. But at some point, congressional Republican need to face up to the issues. The only question is: effect they want to confront them sooner, or later?
Impeaching Trump would bring chaos on the party. But the chaos needs to happen at some point. The sooner the Republican Party confronts it, the sooner it can rebuild itself.