I’ve heard a talking point a few times regarding the Christianity Today editorial calling for President Trump’s removal. It says Christianity Today is hypocritical because they didn’t call for President Obama’s removal for his support for abortion or his advocacy against religious liberty in several cases.
My gut response is that impeachment and removal is not something we do because we don’t like a President’s policies. Unfortunately, this may be a minority viewpoint in America. In 2007, 39 percent of Americans favored President Bush’s impeachment, and 35 percent wanted Obama impeached in 2014. Neither man was impeached, neither even had an impeachment inquiry launched against them despite the opposing party controlling the House.
The Constitution intends impeachment as a way to rid the nation of a corrupt officeholder who has committed treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. The American people view it as a way to get rid of a President you don’t like. Even allowing for crossover between Bush and Obama impeachment advocates, it’s safe to say that between 60-66 percent of Americans have supported a constitutionally baseless impeachment in the last decade and a half.
Impeachment makes for a great power fantasy. If you oppose a President, you tend to view him as the source of all that is wrong with the country. There’s something viscerally pleasurable about the idea of this most powerful foe of everything you believe being humiliated, stripped of power, and marched out of the White House. This fantasy skews our view of the reality of impeachment and is skewing much of the way we look at impeachment now.
For starters, much of the impeachment advocacy does seem hypocritical. When you look at the polls, 2/3 or more of the people who favor removing Donald Trump from office for his actions on Ukraine supported removing him without cause within weeks of him taking office.
At the same time, many Republicans wanted Obama removed or sought to undermine his legitimacy through birtherism. This also shades how they view Democratic support of impeachment. There’s a bit of transference going on. It’s easy to conclude the only reason someone could want Trump removed from office is that they hate him, his policies, and want to overturn the results of the last election when you had the exact same feelings about the previous president and wanted to do the same thing.
Making that assumption, it’s easy to see why some say, regardless of the facts, the president should be protected at all costs. As Peter Leithart of First Things wrote, “There are times when you have to oppose something just because you shouldn’t give the satisfaction of victory to its supporters.”
Jonah Goldberg of The Dispatch summed up the argument as, “The case for spite.”
Yet, it’s not fair or accurate to say Trump was impeached because Democrats wanted to remove him already. The substantial majority of rank and file Democratic voters have had an impeachment power fantasy. Democrats who held elected office have been more reticent because being in office requires realism. They can’t believe in impeachment as a power fantasy. They have to deal with it as a real-life process that’s complicated, tedious, and politically risky. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wasn’t a fan; neither was House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.
There were elements within the House Democrats’ ranks who wanted impeachment. Progressives from overwhelmingly left-wing districts led by U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, agitated for impeachment. In 2017, fifty-eight Democrats voted for it. After the Mueller report pointed to potential obstruction of Justice, the House voted 322-95 to put aside another resolution calling for impeachment in July. Far from eagerly looking for an excuse to impeach Trump, more than half of House Democrats were willing to ignore evidence, including Speaker Pelosi. Pelosi was content for multiple House investigations into Trump to turn up embarrassing information that could be used by Super PACs and the Democratic nominee.
The Ukraine matter has changed things, not only for House Democrats but for voters. All but two Democrats voted for at least one article of impeachment on the House floor in December. While upwards of 35 percent of voters were willing to impeachment Trump for no reason, polls have consistently shown support for impeachment in the high forties to the mid-fifties since impeachment began.
So two-thirds of the people who favor impeachment now would support impeachment for anything. However, that’s not why the president was impeached. It’s because many of the voters who were not committed to impeachment from the word go saw the president’s actions as impeachable and that many Democrats who opposed impeachment in July were either persuaded by evidence or the shift in political opinion, that support for impeachment is necessary.
In these polarized times, the bulk of initial support for any impeachment is going to come from a President’s most vociferous opponents whose reason for supporting impeachment is personal animus. That doesn’t mean the evidence offered is invalid, particularly when impeachment also draws support from that minority who are neither absolute advocates or opponents of the president’s removal from office.