With growing evidence that Donald Trump colluded with foreign governments against his opponents at home, and a lot of dangerous poling indicators, how long before some Republican Senators start to support impeachment, or at least not oppose it?
Impeachment For A Reason
Impeachment of a President is very difficult for good reason. The USA has a finely tuned constitution that, despite its corruption by lobbying, is designed to keep power in multiple and often opposing hands. As such, the tool for ousting one power (the President) cannot be made too easy for other powers (primarily the Senate).
That does not mean impeachment is impossible. Evidence is mounting that the present incumbent conspired with foreign powers against American citizens – notably Democrats.
This sort of thing is exactly why impeachment exists as an option. A president is powerful even if he doesn’t control all parts of government. One willing to conspire abroad is in breach of all sorts of rules and principles that the USA is proud to hold dear. It also represents a clear security risk to the nation.
Of course impeachment comes at a cost for those who do it. To take such severe action will inevitably mobilise the strongest part of the incumbent’s base. It also ties up great political capital in a long technical process that distracts from other matters.
There is an added strong risk that impeachment can fail even when it finds severe wrongdoing, because the case for impeachment has to be very specific. As such, this can appear to vindicate the incumbent even while they are not vindicated – not unlike the way the Mueller findings were treated as vindication for a time.
But it also costs the “other side”. To oppose impeachment of an incumbent who is then found or looks guilty can look like putting party ahead of country. It also leads to suspicion by association, even of the genuinely innocent.
With the incumbent seeking re-election in 2020, but with polling suggesting that victory is now unlikely, Republicans in the senate face a tough tough choice.
Lots of polling shows Americans feel their country is going in the wrong direction. The President has weak approval ratings too, and polling on general senate outcomes leans a little democrat for now, even while they squabble about who leads them next.
So Republicans with an eye on 2020 elections may need to weigh up what they do next with a dispassionate eye. Trump is “their” president, but do they want to be sunk by him – losing the presidency and colleagues in the Senate? If things worsen they could yet sway to a less unified support.
Senate Elections Matter
In 2020 twenty-three Republican senate seats are up for election. This compares to only 12 Democrat seats. While some of those republicans have safe seats, many will be nervous now.
The party hierarchy might look at the presidency, but these senators must consider their own seats first. Some will weigh that party unity and Trump’s base is a path to re-election. Others, however, may decide distance is better for them if their local electorate is more middle-ground.
This, in 2020, is where impeachment will likely be determined in the Republican mentality. The man at the top may be on his way out within twelve months even if impeachment doesn’t happen, but if it does and they judge poorly, so might they be.
So keep an eye on polling in places like Arizona, Colorado and Maine, and watch for how much leeway the party gives people to distance themselves from him over impeachment.