Scholar Allan Lichtman revels in his Nostradamus-like reputation for having predicted Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election victory — and now those gripped with anti-Trump fever are hoping he is right again.
A distinguished history professor at American University, Mr. Lichtman not only foresaw Mr. Trump’s win, but at almost the same time, he predicted the president would be impeached by a Republican Congress.
He sounded the impeachment gong repeatedly during the initial year of the Trump administration: first in a USA Today op-ed in April that coincided with his book “The Case for Impeachment” and again in a Time magazine essay in November.
“I see grounds for it, as an observer, but I don’t see the politics of it,” Mr. Lichtman said last week when asked where he puts the odds.
He is at the forefront of a cottage industry developed around possible impeachment.
Opponents have sought to end the Trump presidency from the moment he won the election, beginning with pressuring Electoral College voters and now arguing that impeachment is the surest path to ridding themselves of a hated figure.
From billionaire left-wing financier Tom Steyer, allegedly nonpartisan groups pushing impeachment, academia and the media, the cry “impeach” is ringing.
“Trump has committed numerous impeachable acts,” says Democracy for America, a leading liberal pressure group. The Resistance, another anti-Trump organization, is fundraising off the chances, asking for donations of $20.18 — a clear indicator of when they hope the House will take the leap to impeachment.
PaddyPower, an Irish oddsmaker, puts the odds that Mr. Trump will face impeachment in his first term at even money.
For now, they have a long way to go.
Rep. Al Green, Texas Democrat, forced a first test vote on articles of impeachment in December but garnered a meager 58 votes. When he tried again last month — after Mr. Trump’s disparaging comments about Haiti, El Salvador and other “s—-hole” countries — the impeachment resolution got 66 votes of support.
Sometimes lost in the raucous rancor, as Mr. Lichtman noted, is the difference between the legal case and the politics. While he initially predicted that a Republican Congress would set impeachment into motion, he no longer seems certain.
The one thing that could change all that would be an explosive report from independent counsel Robert Mueller in the coming months that “boxed the Republicans in,” he said.
“The politics of it is really complicated,” Mr. Lichtman said. “I don’t think this is going to develop organically in Congress, and so the critical component has to come from the special counsel. One scenario in which the Republicans could act is if pressure built after the special counsel comes back in, say, June with something truly shocking like money laundering or obstruction of justice.”
That would trigger what Mr. Lichtman ranks as a premier rule of holding office, namely survival. If Republicans conclude that defending Mr. Trump from such a report could make the party radioactive in November, they might have to act.
Although Mr. Lichtman thinks the retirement announcements of several prominent Republican lawmakers could be a telling signal in that direction, the scenario in which they join a push for impeachment remains fraught with “ifs.”
What impeachment charges would entice Republicans is unclear.
In his USA Today piece, for instance, Mr. Lichtman declared “in the early stages of his presidency, Trump has already begun matching the abuses of Nixon,” but he offered zero evidence to support that charge.
That may be why some modern academics who seem to be riding the impeachment bandwagon calibrate their commitment.
“Please note that I am not in favor of impeachment, but instead of an impeachment investigation,” said Jennifer Taub, a law professor at the University of Vermont.
She was part of a panel discussion at the National Press Club in December sponsored by Free Speech for People and by Impeach Now, Mr. Steyer’s group.
Free Speech for People, which proclaims itself nonpartisan, features a webpage replete with anti-Trump messaging. Trump opponents who want to sign an “Impeach Trump Now” petition, or who favor revoking “the corporate charter of Trump Inc.,” for example, can make tax-deductible contributions toward those goals.
The group claims there already exist “eight grounds” on which to authorize impeachment hearings in the House.
Mr. Steyer, meanwhile, has spent tens of millions of dollars on his impeachment crusade, including a high-profile string of television ads, the latest ad buys timed to coincide with Mr. Trump’s State of the Union address.
“Donald Trump’s deep-seated dishonestly is destroying the democratic foundation of this country, undermining our justice system and endangering every single person living in America,” Mr. Steyer says in one ad. “The debate is no longer whether he has met the standard for impeachment, but whether members of Congress will allow him to get away with it.”
That brash approach isn’t sitting well with top Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who hails from the same San Francisco base Mr. Steyer calls home and who reportedly wants him to tone down the rhetoric.
Thus far, Mr. Steyer, who could not be reached for comment, has rebuffed Mrs. Pelosi’s entreaties. He told The New York Times on Jan. 27, “We’re just telling the truth to the American people, and if you don’t think it’s politically convenient for you, that’s too bad.”
Questions about their core integrity dogged Presidents Nixon and Clinton their entire political careers, but it wasn’t until both had been re-elected president that either faced the prospect of impeachment.
In 2006, with President George W. Bush reeling from a bungled response to Hurricane Katrina and grinding wars, Mrs. Pelosi publicly declared impeachment “off the table.” Months later, she led Democrats to massive midterm election gains, catapulting her to become House speaker.
Francis Buckley, a law professor at George Mason University and an occasional speechwriter for the Trump campaign in 2016, said the factual case for impeachment is less of a problem for Mr. Steyer and his collaborators than the politics.
“I don’t think there are really any restrictions on what constitutes grounds for impeachment and removal — apart from two-thirds of the Senate,” he said. “Since that’s not going to happen, the movement is best seen as simply an invitation to hatred in advance of the November elections.”
Mr. Lichtman hinted that the cottage industry in which he is a player is also too focused on the latest flare-ups. He said impeachment advocates should keep an eye on the House Judiciary Committee, which is where the heavy lifting occurred during the Nixon and Clinton impeachment proceedings.
The ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, voted last month to table Mr. Green’s impeachment effort, suggesting the unease with which Democratic leaders view the impeachment push.
Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment, but Mr. Clinton hung on and survived a vote in the Senate.
Mr. Lichtman insists that history will repeat.
“The House can do whatever it wants and impeachment could get started in any fashion whatsoever, but that’s the Nixon model,” he said. “And I think there already is as strong or stronger case for obstruction of justice than there was in the one charge against Clinton.”