After the release of the redacted version of the Mueller report, it was clear that Attorney General Barr had misrepresented its contents via the memo he sent to Congress about it. It was clear when Barr released his memo that it wasn’t the same thing as releasing the Mueller report, but with the release of the Mueller report itself, this is crystal clear.
The question before the people of the United States is whether Impeachment proceedings against Donald J. Trump are warranted. Impeachment proceedings against Donald J. Trump need to begin now. To me, this means public hearings.
For some, Impeachment represents a strategic misfire, because the lack of a Democratic majority in the Senate means that Trump won’t be convicted. I find this argument problematic for many reasons; it assumes that, for example, Republicans in the Senate could tolerate a 24% approval rating for Trump. But if we accept the argument on its face, there’s a reasonable case to be made that leaving Trump to his own devices and simply waiting for an election is a strategically better option. This is premised, at least partly, on the idea that the Impeachment of Bill Clinton in from 1998–1999 hurt the Republican Party.
Strategically, Impeachment proceedings don’t hurt political parties who use them for the right reasons, when actual crimes and misdemeanors have occurred. And if we look at the outcome of Clinton’s impeachment, the idea that the Republican Party was ‘hurt’ by their actions seems specious.
On Friday, April 19, 2019, the Trump-friendly New York Post noted Trump had a 37% approval rating in the wake of the release of the Mueller report. Rasmussen Reports, a polling outlet friendly to conservatives, generally puts the thumb on the scale to overweight certain responses. This means they generally have a good picture of how well conservatives align with general polling data, or how much they diverge. The key figures to examine are their “Strong Approval/Strong Disapproval” figures, which generally show how close conservatives align with the general public.
As of today, Rasmussen has Trump’s approval rating at 47%, and his disapproval at 51%. And their “Strong Approval/Strong Disapproval” figures showed 35% Strong Approval, and 43% Strong Disapproval, which aligns with the polling figures noted for Friday.
To put this in context, in January 1973 as Nixon began his second term after winning in a landslide, he polled at 68% approval. Watergate had been running in the background in 1972, but he won anyway.
By May 1973, when the public Watergate hearings began, Nixon polled at just under 50%. The lead up to those hearings, and all of the Watergate news, drove his poll numbers off a cliff. By July 1974, over a year later, he was polling at 24% approval.
Trump already has a lower approval rating than Nixon did when the Watergate Hearings began.
And for anyone who thinks Republicans were hurt by the Clinton impeachment hearings, I’d like to note that while Clinton’s approval went up, by the time of the 2000 election, 58% of Americans found him dishonest. If you remember, honesty and morality became the center of the 2000 Presidential campaign, and the origin of ‘Compassionate Conservatism.’ And Gore, to avoid being ‘tainted’ by Clinton in a campaign centered on morals and honesty, distanced himself from Clinton.
Granted, Gore won anyway, although he lost due to that Supreme Court decision and the bad recount process. And then in the next Senate wave, Republicans took the Senate, and Bush and the Republican House and Senate got us into two wars and tanked the Clinton budget surpluses.
The reason Clinton’s popularity went up was simply because most people looked at the matter as private and unworthy of an impeachment process. The reason he was seen as dishonest was because he lied, and used his executive powers to cover it up. But the public, despite rewarding Clinton with higher approval numbers, didn’t punish Republicans at the ballot. On the contrary, Republicans were rewarded.
To recap, strategically, Impeachment didn’t hurt the Republican Party, since they quickly took over every branch of government in the wake of the Clinton years. And in this moment, Trump is already polling lower than Nixon did when the Watergate Hearings began. Should the House of Representatives wait, having watched a lot of local news, the question I imagine voters will have for anyone talking about Trump corruption in 2019 and 2020 is, “if he’s so bad why aren’t they impeaching him?”
As of now, the story of the Mueller report is often being told on Trump’s terms. And it’s quickly becoming an issue for the Democratic Primary. All of this distracts from the business of the country; if the Democratic Party would use the Judiciary and Oversight committees to hold public hearings on the matter, all candidates could refer questions to those committees. This frees Presidential candidates to focus on policy.
Which gets to another point, namely, how do we define impeachment? For me, impeachment begins with those public hearings. And we’re far past the time for those to have begun. I don’t see a downside to the House Judiciary committee taking up this matter of Impeachment and holding public hearings, because it answers those kinds of questions, and gives moral weight to questions about why Republicans continue to abdicate their responsibilities. If the House finds enough to merit an Impeachment trial, they can forward the results to the Senate. And if the Senate chooses to acquit Trump, and leave him in office, each and every Senator can explain their votes to the public.
As a reminder, another thing quickly getting lost is that in 2017, Republican Attorney General Jeff Sessions, working for Republican President Donald J. Trump, allowed his deputy, life-long Republican and Republican appointee Rod Rosenstein, to appoint life-long Republican prosecutor Robert Mueller to the office of Special Counsel to investigate the matter. When this appointment occurred, life-long Republican partisans reacted with joy.
And life-long Republican Mueller referred the matter to Congress in his report, essentially recommending impeachment, based on what he found.
Essentially, when the Republican Party held both the House and Senate from 2017 to 2018, they abdicated their oversight responsibility. And if the Republican Senate, after a trial that the public feels shows Trump should be removed from office, if after that the Republicans choose to leave him, to not punish him or censure him, then that continues the story of their abdication of responsibility. At some point as a nation, we need to not pat ourselves on the back for assuming the Republican Party will be hypocritical and capricious, and instead demand a higher standard of their behavior. The mess of the Mueller Report belongs to the Republican Party, and the lack of oversight over Trump for the years 2017 — 2018 belong solely to Republicans. And yes, this matters.
Because Trump is different. Trump’s lies are neither Nixonian, nor Clintonian, in nature. They are Trumpian, a new, dangerous class unto themselves.
Trump’s lies are in no service to any grand vision for our country; his vision is cruelty wrapped in a flag, with his branding on it for the Profit of his own coffers. If we punt this question to an election, similar to how the question of the Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination was punted to the 2016 election, we essentially say, “We can only remove the President every four years, no matter what that person does in office.” And that takes one of the critical oversight powers of the American people away from our norms of governance, and leaves little room if the election is lost. In a democracy, this can’t stand.
Democracy is hard work, and requires a lot of the people who live under it to sustain itself. But it’s work worth doing, lest we slide further into authoritarianism. For both strategic and moral reasons, it’s clear to me that impeachment proceedings against Donald J. Trump must begin, now.