V.I. Lenin, no slouch as a political commentator in his day, was the author of a strategically important 1901 pamphlet entitled “What Is to be Done?” with an opening section “Where to Begin?” Precisely the same questions—in totally different contexts, of course—are uppermost in people’s minds today. What should those of us in the loyal opposition be doing now that Donald Trump has assumed the office of president? And where should we begin?
Pressing for prompt impeachment proceedings should be our first port of call and not just a strategy of last resort. George Packer (writing in The New Yorker) recently argued that Trump should be given enough time to break his campaign promise to govern like an autocrat. We demur. Delaying decisive action simply increases the likelihood that Trump and senior White House strategists like Steve Bannon will find new and better ways of taking seriously toxic and irreversible missteps. The impeachment of Donald Trump is legitimate legally, promising politically, and far more pragmatic as a solution than many of the alternatives now being bandied about.
Delaying decisive action simply increases the likelihood that Trump and senior White House strategists like Steve Bannon will find new and better ways of taking seriously toxic and irreversible missteps.
Today’s menu of Trump’s “high crimes and misdemeanors,” as assayed by legal scholars and former ethics officials, ranges from fraud (Trump University) to foreign financial corruption (emoluments) to treason (“aid and comfort” as defined in the Constitution). And it doesn’t take a cynic to imagine that the brazen and uncontrolled Mr. Trump will stop there. As his financial web unravels, as it almost certainly will, the menu will only increase in length, variety, and downright outrageousness.
The immediate keys to a successful impeachment campaign have two main components.
By definition, the process in the House and Senate is political and the pressure for partisan avoidance and procrastination (of the “cut Trump some slack” variety) will be enormous. To succeed in both houses, some number of Republicans will have to be convinced to cross over. In all probability, frank revulsion by the degree of moral corruption displayed by Trump will convince potential cross-overs that their constituents will turn against them if they are seen to be impeachment deniers.
Thus, the very first decision (and a low bar it is, indeed) must be the selection of the impeachable offenses to be filed against Donald Trump. They must obviously be legally flawless but they must also be politically compelling in the eyes of potential swing Republicans. The imperative, here, is to be sufficiently selective while trolling in Mr. Trump’s shop of horrors.
The more difficult choice may be selection of the right standard bearer for a Dump Trump impeachment campaign. Ideally, the best nominee should be a person of unquestioned stature and integrity, the necessary conviction and demeanor to serve in this capacity, highly regarded across the political spectrum (not simply in one camp or another), and able to obtain the necessary financial commitments and mobilize and provide leadership to an as yet to be created team of impeachment workers.
We hereby nominate Vice President Joe Biden as our leader. Biden meets each of the criteria: stature and integrity, conviction and demeanor, political regard, financial access, and leadership skills. One other attribute merits special recognition. Biden served for two decades as a highly regarded member and then chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he worked side-by-side with two incumbent Republican members, Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch. While neither can reliably be counted on for impeachment support, both have been publicly critical of Trump from time to time, the two seem to enjoy good collegial relations with Biden, and each has sufficient tenure to be more independent than many of their peers.
While many people will be fighting back against Trump on specific issues—health care, the environment, labor, foreign policy—impeachment sharpens the focus on the threat Donald Trump poses to our country’s values, institutions, and national security. Even if impeachment does not immediately get sufficient support in the Senate, it puts Trump on notice for the future.
Larry Kirsch and Mel Gurtov