Some impeachment advocates compare today’s process to that of 1973–74, when Richard Nixon’s position gradually crumbled. Maybe, but 1973 and ’74 were years of severe economic distress, a losing war in Vietnam, rising crime in U.S. cities, and long lines at gas stations. Nixon headed a party in the minority in both the House and Senate, and a party less cohesive than the Republican Party of today. Once it split over Watergate, he fell. Trump’s party may lose a defector or two, but it won’t split.
So … eyes open. “You come at the king, you best not miss.” How do you incorporate that wisdom into today’s predicament?
Here are some guidelines to impeachment for realists:
1. Keep the story simple. Some have proposed a massive array of inquiries, delving into every facet of Trump’s corruption and abuse of power. This approach ensures a process that goes slow, yields confusing masses of facts, and opens endless opportunities for bad faith excuse-making by Trump and his enablers. Congress is not very good at investigating, and the more investigations Congress pursues, the more it is likely to mire itself in a morass.
Impeachment in the House is above all things an educational exercise for the voting public. Teach them one lesson: Trump betrayed the national-security interests of the United States to smear a political opponent.
2. Be political, not legal. Robert Mueller built a failure machine because he defined his job as punishing crimes rather than discovering the truth. If he found something that was very bad, but not criminal, he ignored it. If he could not establish a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, the criminal got away with it. If the crime was committed by the president, he in effect protected it. Mueller’s logic was amazingly self-defeating: Because the president cannot be indicted, he will never be heard in court; because the president will never be heard in court, it is unfair even to present evidence of crimes that will never be litigated. Impeachment busts out of this ridiculous trap.
3. Recognize that the opponent is McConnell. Trump is the target of impeachment, but the strategic locus of the impeachment process is Trump’s enabler and defender in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. It is McConnell who will set the rules of the trial, McConnell who will determine how long it lasts and which witnesses are hard. McConnell presumably knows better than anybody how guilty Trump is—and for that very reason will work harder than anyone to protect Trump. The first task in a successful process is to shrink McConnell’s options for abusive behavior. That means prying just enough Republican senators loose from McConnell’s grip to create a bloc for fair rules.