Tomorrow, the House of Representatives will almost certainly approve two articles of impeachment against President Donald J. Trump. Now is a good time to update my thoughts about this development. (See my earlier essays “Don’t Impeach Trump,” 7/25/2019; “Slow Order for the Impeachment Train,” 9/27/2019; and “Further Thoughts on Impeachment,” 10/9/2019.)
It is highly unlikely that the Senate will convict the president. Indeed, the Senate appears as though it will be a kangaroo court. (We tend to think of a kangaroo court as a court that unfairly convicts, but the term applies to any purported judicial body that deliberately perverts justice. No one seems to know where the term came from.)
The jurors in any fair court are expected to be impartial, but the Senate Republican majority is clearly not that. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has declared that he will act as chief defense attorney for the accused. He also pretty much gets to make the rules of the court, a power any defense attorney would covet.
Nearly all GOP senators have supported President Trump through thick and thin and without reservation. We can hardly expect much impartiality from that crew. Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, has made it quite clear that his mind is made up, and he will not vote for conviction however the trial goes. It is unclear whether Chief Justice John Roberts, whom the Constitution specifies should preside over the trial, will have any real ability (or inclination, for that matter) to promote justice.
It is to be hoped that whatever happens in the Senate causes public opinion to move away from support of the president. But Trump’s approval rating during his entire presidency has been around 40% and has varied little around that figure. I have been tracking his approval on FiveThirtyEight and am distressed that the figure has recently been increasing. As I write this, his approval rating stands at 42.5%. (FiveThirtyEight aggregates poll results weighted for poll quality, recency, sample size, and so forth, updating results frequently.)
I fear that Democrats have miscalculated. They have sought impeachment on narrow grounds rather than charging Trump with a multitude of constitutional infractions, beginning with violation of the Emoluments Clause. Although Democrats see the president’s attempt to enlist the help of Ukraine in his re-election campaign as a smoking gun, the act appears less clear to low-information voters who are the core of Trump’s supporters and who are likely not paying close attention. Such citizens may not understand a quality allegation when they see one but might be more moved by the quantity of charges.
House Democrats chose not to pursue testimony from clearly relevant witnesses such as National Security Adviser John Bolton, witnesses Trump would surely have encouraged to testify before House committees had he thought their evidence would be exculpatory. Did Democratic leaders really think that Mitch McConnell would force these folks to testify at a Senate trial?
I can only assume Democrats believe that the charges against Trump plus a conspicuously unfair Senate trial will move public opinion. I hope they are right. I doubt that they are.
Today’s letter from President Trump to speaker Pelosi should convince any rational, educated person that (1) Trump knows nothing about the Constitution, and (2) the president is losing all semblance of composure. (Of course, Trump probably didn’t write the letter, though he surely influenced its tone. The letter contains too many long words to have been crafted by Trump all by himself.)
Doubtless, the Trump letter will mean nothing to his cultist supporters. Historians will make much of it.