April 22, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Impeachment as Senate Strategy
Force GOP Senators to choose between party or country.
The United States Senate is the pivot point in the current impeachment debate. Arguments for and against can go one way or the other depending on how people understand its role. The conventional wisdom is that there’s no utility in House Democrats indicting the president if Senate Republicans won’t convict him. Some Democrats worry it might backfire, sinking their chances of retaking the White House. There’s a lot to that way of thinking. I used to share it. I’ve since changed my mind.
First, the idea that Republicans won’t convict a Republican assumes partisan loyalty can withstand massive public scrutiny of the facts of Robert Mueller’s report. That’s assuming far more than I think we should. Loyalty is durable but not absolute. There are cracks showing, even now. (They have been showing since Donald Trump took office.) Every single Senate Republican will be under a gigantic microscope. Imagine something similar to their vote to repeal Obamacare—only times a million.
Second, even if Republicans hold the line, failing to convict by one vote, they are putting themselves between a rock and a hard place. That “rock” is loyalty to the GOP. That “hard place” is loyalty to America. If nothing else, Mueller’s report drove a wedge between party and country—they are two separate things now, not one. Trump’s serial contacts and entanglements with Russian oligarchs have pulled them apart. If I were a Democratic candidate challenging a Republican incumbent, I’d be very happy being justified in questioning my opponent’s loyalty and patriotism. I’d be very happy to pin him or her to Vladimir Putin and myself to the loyal Americans of my great state.
Robert Mueller’s report drove a wedge between loyalties to party and to country. For the GOP, they are now two separate things, not one.
Lots of Republicans are up for reelection in 2020. Twenty-two out of 34 senators, to be exact. Some, like Thom Tillis, were vulnerable before the release last week of a redacted version of Mueller’s report. Now, in light of its release, they are going to grow more vulnerable, especially as they contend with pressure from constituents to behave constitutionally. Sure, there will be pressure from GOP voters to hold the line. But the opposition’s power is likely to increase if and when the Democrats chose (wisely) to dominate the Washington press corps’ attention with an impeachment inquiry.
Who would vote against Trump? Who would be among 67 Senators needed to convict? I’d start with Republicans who have shown willingness to stand up to Trump when he abused his power in ways voters won’t allow them to ignore. For instance, the dozen GOP senators who voted against his emergency declaration to build a border wall. Those include: Lamar Alexander; Roy Blunt; Susan Collins; Mike Lee; Jerry Moran ; Lisa Murkowski; Rand Paul; Rob Portman; Mitt Romney; Marco Rubio; Pat Toomey; and Roger Wicker. Add these to 47 Democrats and that’s 58. Nine more to go.
There are 10 sitting Republicans who voted to convict Bill Clinton. Those include: Richard Burr; Mike Crapo; Mike Enzi; Chuck Grassley; Lindsey Graham (he was in the House then); Jim Inhofe; Mitch McConnell; Pat Roberts; Richard Shelby; and John Thune. All of them, in one way or another, justified their vote to convict Clinton on the basis of his lying to the American people about his conduct. Mueller’s report illustrates the magnitude of Trump’s lying on top of the nearly 10,000 documented lies and false statements we already knew about. The AP says he’s still lying about his past lying. Add vulnerable senators Thom Tillis, Cory Gardner, Martha McSally, and Joni Ernst, and that’s at least 36 of 53 GOP senators who might turn on Donald Trump.
Will McConnell or Thune turn on him? Not on your life! But the point isn’t whether they all do. The point is whether some do, enough to convict, or at least enough to justify Democratic attacks on the entire Republican Party for being in bed with the most lawless, amoral, unpatriotic and corrupt president of our lifetimes. With enough pressure, I think there’s a chance of the Democrats retaking the Senate or at least enlarging their caucus substantially, even if the president is reelected. To my way of thinking, winning the United States Senate is better than winning the White House.
Nancy Pelosi and other leaders seem more concerned about winning the presidency. They worry that impeachment is going to hurt the party’s eventual nominee in swing states. That’s understandable but unfortunate, because it’s a defensive posture. An impeachment inquiry would dominate the national news. It would reach every corner of the country thus maximizing awareness of the president’s Russian entanglements. With an impeachment inquiry, the Democrats can take the fight to the reddest states and force Republican Senators to choose between party or country. That’s offense.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.