- - Thursday, April 26, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Impeaching President Donald Trump may be the Democrats’ biggest myth; it would also be their biggest mistake. A formal attempt would trigger a series of successively worse events for Democrats. Conversely it would potentially do the opposite for Mr. Trump, and it certainly would for Republicans.

For liberals, Mr. Trump’s impeachment is the carrot in front of the donkey. Dangling juicily ahead, it makes every exertion worthwhile. If only they could reach it.

In reality, impeachment would prove no panacea, but exacerbate Democrats’ problems. Impeaching a president is not easy. The formal constitutional procedure takes on a life of its own a very long life.

Impeachment must start in the House and articles of impeachment must pass by simple majority vote. Therefore, Democrats must first have a majority, which means winning it this November.

Such midterm victory requires flipping sizable numbers of Republican seats. Impeachment at the left’s insistence would immediately endanger those hard-won marginal seats in less than two years. This highest profile and most partisan of votes will begin driving a wedge into the party — and even if successful, it will be substantively meaningless once the case arrives in the Senate.

Having passed articles of impeachment, the Senate hears the case. House managers would present their cases — for and against — to the senators, two-thirds of whom must vote to remove President Trump from office. That high hurdle has never been cleared before.

And removing this president could be the hardest ever attempted. There is very good chance Democrats will not hold a Senate majority, and even should they, would need large numbers of Republicans to join them. Also consider: In 2016, Mr. Trump won 30 states, represented by 60 senators. A large number of these would be required to remove the president their own voters had elected.

It is important to remember that once the Senate vote fails, Mr. Trump would not simply remain in office; he would be acquitted of the charges. This would effectively vindicate all who thought this a political witch hunt. It would also simultaneously indict all who undertook it: Those originally tough votes taken by Democrats holding precarious seats, retroactively become even worse.

Democrats will not get to this bad outcome quickly. Bill Clinton’s formal impeachment proceedings took two months. During that time, the public further soured on the case’s details and Mr. Clinton effectively gained relative to his prosecutors. This transformation Mr. Clinton could not have managed himself.

Following revelation of his affair’s details, he had become a national punch line. Two months of impeachment proceedings changed him to victim and his prosecutors to persecutors.

Considering the constant revelation of details about Mr. Trump, there is little reason to believe impeachment proceedings against him would not follow the same course. Despite many defamatory details, Mr. Trump won the presidency. In office, his approval rating has improved — even with relentless establishment media attacks.

While accusations against him have long existed, an unfiltered defense of him has not. Impeachment would give him that on televisions across the country.

During this, Democrats will suffer the opposite. They will come to resemble inquisitors. Pushing impeachment in the House, inevitably they will overextend themselves in making charges, making themselves look excessive. To prosecute these in the Senate, they will pick the most stridently liberal members to do so — as moderates eschew the role — making the party look out of step with most of the viewing public.

Once begun, Democrats will be unable to retreat. Each juncture will get harder and their divisions deeper. Each vote will become tougher, but more necessary to vindicate earlier tough actions. Pressure will grow greater on those most unwilling, and politically unable, to go further.

This is impeachment’s reality. To understand how foolhardy the attempt, imagine the unreality: Success.

Vice President Mike Pence immediately becomes president. Mr. Pence is far more conservative than Mr. Trump and a far better politician. Like Gerald Ford following Mr. Nixon, he would assume office with a wave of goodwill — becoming far more popular than Mr. Trump and the prosecutorial Democrats.

Mr. Pence would have just under two years of incumbency to prepare for his election as president. Because it would be less than two years, he would also be eligible to seek election to a following term too — giving him almost potentially 10 years as president. And because incumbent presidents rarely lose, he would be favored to win both.

What Democrats should fear more than impeachment is being stampeded into it by an implacable left bent on it. There is a reason lemmings do not vacation at the beach: It is a dangerous place for them. Impeachment — progressively harder and more divisive at every stage and ultimately futile — is just such a place for Democrats.

J.T. Young served in the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget.


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