Now, let’s talk about how each party blew it.
For all of Nancy Pelosi’s early brilliance at orchestrating impeachment, waiting for a basically indisputable case to come along in Trump’s brazen use of public funds to demand that Ukraine perform political services for his re-election campaign, in the end she blew it on both timing and substance.
Timing, because as much as she delayed sending the bill of impeachment to the Senate, the House of Representatives should have reopened its hearings to hear testimony from former National Security Adviser John Bolton and from Lev Parnas, the eccentric associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Parnas, currently under indictment himself on campaign finance charges, seems to know an awful lot and have reams of documents. The Senate was never going to hear witnesses or late-breaking evidence.
Substance, because the House blurred its case against the president with high-falutin’ language about “abuse of power,” when it had proof of all of the Constitution’s most specific requirements for removing a president — bribery, treason, and “other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Let me explain. It’s pretty easy.
No article of impeachment was entitled “Bribery,” even though the facts described in Article I (“Abuse of Power”) tick off every element of the crime of bribery under federal law. It’s right there in 18 USC Section 201: “Being a public official [who] corruptly demands...anything of value personally or for any other person or entity in return for being influenced in the performance of any official act.” That’s exactly what Trump did.
No article of impeachment carried the header “Treason,’’ either, but the facts described check statutory boxes for conspiracy against the United States -- the charge then-special counsel Robert Mueller levied against Russians running the 2016 disinformation campaign to disrupt the US election. It’s fair for the House to argue that the specific requirements elsewhere in the Constitution that an act is treason only when committed in wartime don’t apply to impeachment, or alternatively, that US support of Ukraine’s armed resistance to Russian incursion meets the standard.
The right solution would have been for impeachment Article II to be entitled “Treason” -- and to lay out how Trump’s actions met the standards for conspiracy against the US, and the integrity of its democratic process. It’s hard to imagine a more serious crime, or abuse of power. Trump’s actions meet both the definition of 18 USC Section 371 on conspiracy, and the dictionary definition of treason: “The crime of betraying one’s country.” Arguably, that’s close enough for impeachment -- by its nature more a political process than a legal one.
The third article should have been called “Other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” It would have covered the campaign finance law violations Trump committed on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the obstruction of Congress detailed in Article II of the bill of impeachment the House did approve, and other acts.
In the end, Republicans’ whole argument was: OK, you got him. Trump did everything you said. But it wasn’t a crime — just an abuse of power voters can sort out. Several different GOP Senators said versions of this — Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Maine’s Susan Collins, Colorado’s Cory Gardner and others.
But it was a crime. A lot of crimes, actually. It was every ground for impeachment the Constitution has to offer.
And that brings us to the Republicans’ problem heading toward November.
They’re the party of state-sponsored crime now. Which would be even clearer if the bill of impeachment had been crafted to pin the tail on the yellow-haired donkey, but isn’t rocket science as is.
How big a role the GOP’s wholesale abandonment of law and order will play this fall is an open question — bringing Bolton and Parnas to testify before the House Intelligence Committee would certainly drive the point home. But Trump’s scandals, led by Ukraine, will compete for voters’ bandwidth with his lying, his manifest immaturity, and his terrible record on healthcare and the environment that Democrats hammered to win 40 House seats in 2018.
Put it this way — it’s not going to help them. That the Democrats would be punished for their behavior toward Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, a man accused of sexual assault, was an article of GOP faith in 2018 — for a minute. But the damage the nomination itself did to GOP standing with women endured. So will the damage from impeachment, and accompanying abandonment of even a pretense of the party’s belief in law and order, a core GOP value since Richard Nixon.
It’s the worst argument Republicans could possibly settle on — but it’s the one they chose.
Trump departs impeachment with a -7 net approval rating in Real Clear Politics’ polling average, and -9 in 538.com’s roundup of a slightly different group of pollsters. He’s got economic growth that’s distinctly “meh” (the 3.5 per cent unemployment rate he brags about was 3.7 per cent in October 2018, but didn’t affect the midterms). His 52 per cent disapproval is where it was in October 2018, per RCP.
Democrats’ errors may have given Trump a polling bump of about a point — for now. But the mistake the Republicans made will be worn around their necks for years.