Why Impeachment Failed

Clerk of the House Cheryl Johnson and House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving deliver the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill, January 15, 2020. Following are impeachment managers House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Rep. Sylvia Garcia, Rep. Val Demings, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, and Rep. Jason Crow. (Jose Luis Magana/ Pool via Reuters)

House Democrats rushed through a botched process and then complained bitterly and endlessly that Senate Republicans wouldn’t do their work for them.

Unless more incriminating evidence emerges to dramatically alter public perception, the impeachment trial of Donald Trump is effectively over.

It’s comforting, no doubt, to believe that Trump has survived this entire debacle because he possesses a tighter hold on his party than Barack Obama or George W. Bush or any other contemporary president did. But while partisanship might be corrosive, it’s also the norm. In truth, Trump, often because of his own actions, has likely engendered less loyalty than the average president, not more.

It’s difficult to recall a single Democratic senator throwing anything but hosannas Obama’s way, which allowed the former president to ride his high horse from one scandalous attack on the Constitution to the next. In 1998, not a single Democrat voted to convict Bill Clinton, who had engaged in wrongdoing for wholly self-serving reasons, despite the GOP’s case being methodical and incriminating. Attempting to impeach a president for lying under oath to a federal grand jury in a sexual-harassment case in an effort to obstruct justice was, as Alan Dershowitz and many others argued, “sexual McCarthyism.” Few Democrats, though, claimed Clinton was innocent, because no one could credibly offer that defense; they merely reasoned that the punishment was too severe for what amounted to a piddling crime.

The chances of any party’s removing its sitting president without overwhelming evidence that fuels massive voter pressure are negligible. It’s never happened in American history — unless you count the preemptive removal of Richard Nixon — and probably never will. Democrats are demanding the GOP adopt standards that no party has ever lived by.

Perhaps if the public hadn’t been subjected to four years of interminable hysteria over the United States’ imaginary decent into fascism, it might have been less apathetic toward the fate of “vital” Ukrainian aid that most Democrats had voted against when Obama was president.

And perhaps if institutional media hadn’t spent three years pushing a hyperbolically paranoid narrative of Russian collusion — a debunked conspiracy theory incessantly repeated by Democrats during the impeachment trial — the public wouldn’t be anesthetized to another alleged national emergency.

You simply can’t expect a well-adjusted voter to maintain CNN-levels of indignation for years on end.

Beyond the public’s mood, the Democrats’ strategy was a mess. House Dems and their 17 witnesses set impossible-to-meet expectations, declaring that Trump had engaged in the worst wrongdoing ever committed by any president in history. (I’m not exaggerating.) When it comes to Trump criticism, everything is always the worst thing ever.

Even if Trump’s actions had risen to the level of removal, Adam Schiff and Jerrold Nadler were quite possibly the worst possible messengers to make the case. These are not the politicians you tap to persuade jurors; they’re the politicians you pick to rile up your base.

Despite all the fabricated praise directed at Schiff over the past couple of weeks, the man reeks of partisanship. Not only because he’s been caught lying about the presence of damning evidence against Trump on more than one occasion, but because he personally played a sketchy role in helping the whistleblower responsible for sparking the impeachment come forward.

Lots of Americans rightly believe that a large faction of Democrats has been looking to impeach the president from Day One. Nadler happened to be someone who was actually caught scheming to do it.

Even then, instead of spending the appropriate time building a solid case, subpoenaing all the “vital” witnesses, and laying out a timeline, House Democrats, by their own admission, rushed forward. They justified taking shortcuts by warning that the country was in a race to stop Trump from stealing the 2020 election just as he had allegedly stolen the 2016 election.

That wouldn’t have been a big deal if Nancy Pelosi hadn’t exposed the supposed need for urgency as a ruse, by withholding the articles of impeachment from the Senate for weeks. She did so despite having zero standing to dictate the terms of the trial, no constitutional right to attempt to dictate them, and no political leverage. In the end, she got nothing from Mitch McConnell for her trouble.

Meanwhile, Democrats had spent most of the House hearings focusing on the specific criminal offenses of “bribery” and “extortion” — poll-tested words that were taken up after the House realized “quid pro quo” didn’t play as well with the public. If, as seems likely, it’s true that Americans are more familiar with the concepts of “bribery” and “extortion” than with the concept of a “quid pro quo,” that just means they have clearer expectations regarding the evidence needed to substantiate those accusations. And the Democrats didn’t have such evidence. They didn’t even bother including the former “crimes” — no, you don’t need a violation of criminal law to impeach, but the word was incessantly used by House Dems anyway — in their open-ended articles of impeachment, which were expressly written to compel Senate Republicans to conduct an investigation for them.

The House had no right to demand that, and the Senate had no reason to comply. So as soon as the upper chamber took up impeachment, Democrats began dropping one “bombshell” leak after the next — the same strategy they deployed during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings — to try and drag out the spectacle and maximize the political damage. It didn’t work.

Some of us would certainly have preferred that more Republicans concede Trump’s call was unbecoming and, in parts, inappropriate, even if it didn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense. Those who did, such as Alexander and Pat Toomey, had a better case to make in dismissing the need for any witnesses. Trump’s actions, though not ethically “perfect,” fall under the bailiwick of presidential power. Voters can decide his fate soon enough.

Democrats, though, keep demanding that Republicans play under a different set of rules. The Constitution, a document that is under attack by the very people claiming to want to save it from the president, worked exactly as it should in this case. The House is free to subpoena all the “vital” witnesses Republicans have supposedly ignored, and then send a new batch of impeachment articles. Impeachment isn’t tantamount to a “coup,” any more than Senate acquittal is unconstitutional or corrupt.

Pretending that Republicans are motivated by historically unique strains of partisanship, acting like democracy is on the precipice of extinction simply because you didn’t get your way, though, is nothing but histrionics.

David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun

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