Autopsy of an Impeachment

Now that the politics have settled, it’s the right time to return to impeachment, examine it, and learn why it failed. It was only the third such trial in our history.

In one of its final reports, the New York Times, while calling the acquittal of Trump a “resounding victory” for the president, added, “both sides agreed that the final judgment on Mr. Trump will be rendered by voters when they cast ballots in just nine months.” Conventional wisdom holds that Senate Republicans were predetermined to acquit Trump of any charges.

While there’s a hint of truth to this conventional wisdom, it’s not the entire story. Impeachments, like elections, have political fundamentals at play. And so I’m entering this autopsy thinking of what drove the process, apart from the daily news cycle.

The impeachment power. 

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  • thoughtful informative piece and just what we are coming to expect from the dispatch

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  • While this is a pretty solid analysis, it leaves out a key factor. From the moment Trump was elected Democrats have been clear that they want him removed from office by whatever means necessary. Throughout the Mueller investigation we were always on the cusp of the big revelation that would bring him down. By the time the “perfect” phone call came to light, the public skepticism about the sincerity of Democrat motives was so significant that there was little chance of building sufficient support to successfully impeach.
    While the chances of removal were never good, the relentless drumbeat for impeachment for 3 years provided plenty of cover to oppose it when an arguably valid reason was finally uncovered.

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    1. There's a difference between Democrats here and there talking about impeachment early on (leadership refused to bless it or take it up) and leadership's decision in light of the Ukraine scandal that things had gone too far. You are simply repeating the partisan talking points of right wing media "from the moment Trump was elected . . . ." This is a form of deflection. Trump brought impeachment upon himself with his reckless actions. No president is above the law. However for impeachment to work as intended, there needs to be some reform of the process which doesn't permit stalling the process through the court system. Any legal challenges should be decided within weeks, not months or years.

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      1. I pretty much agree with everything you say here although it was much more than a few Democrats “here and there”. Removal of Trump has been an obsession for them from day one. The point I am making is that, as most people don’t immerse themselves in politics every day, this just sounded like yet another story about Democrats wanting to remove Trump. So the Democrats put themselves in the position of having to prove why this time it really was different. Which they chose not to do. It is not immediately obvious to everyone why this call was so problematic. That he did everything he’s accused of is not debatable. Heck, HE didn’t even deny it. But if they felt impeachment and removal were warranted they should have built the case. Their behavior since November 2016 just made the job that much harder.

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  • So if impeachment is political, maybe it didn't fail. Not proceeding could have left the Democrats divided. Now they are pretty united, and behind the guy supposedly hurt by this (at least it seems like it the day after Super Tuesday). Also, Trump's actions were exposed for all to see, perhaps swinging a vote here and there in November.

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    1. Impeachment is political in that the accused conduct may be judged using political considerations rather than only legal ones. If impeachment is used whenever one party thinks it will help them politically (e.g., uniting them for the next election or swinging a vote here and there), that would likely be unhealthy for our republic.

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      1. I totally agree. My narrow point was only that it may not have been a failure.

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  • Excellent. A very well done post-mortem.

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  • Very thoughtful piece. Very much appreciated.

    The thing I still don't get is the way the House used the impeachment to hurt other Democrats. It seemed very clear to me that Joe Biden was being thrown under the bus by it. If this had come out as some kind of dirt that Giuliani dug up in Ukraine I think it may have hurt Trump. Instead Trump got a chance to clear his name and Joe Biden never will.

    The other thing was the timing of sending the articles over. It looked like it was timed to provide maximum damage to the campaigns of Senate Democrats. I know what they said. But I don't believe for a minute that they wouldn't rather be in Iowa for the Caucus.

    Obviously Democrats aren't trying to get Trump elected. But I really don't understand what they're doing. I'm obviously missing something but I don't know what it is.

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  • This piece feels like a great example of Goldberg and Hayes' stated attempt to "slow things down" with The Dispatch. Now that we're in full-blown Primary/Coronavirus coverage, impeachment already feels like a year ago, which makes it all the more useful to reflect back over it at length now. There have been so many news cycles in the Trump era that consumed everyone's attention in the moment, and yet were utterly forgotten within days as soon as the next thing happened. Giving a sort of "first draft of history" interpretation and analysis of major events like this is a worthy exercise. If this sort of thing catches on, it might help promote a bit more restraint and less hyperbole.

    I'll definitely read more post-ops of big events like this.

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  • Correct from the standpoint of cold political calculation. But the impeachment was initiated also because of the need to have a full public exposition of the corrupt acts of the President and demand an accounting. That it was subverted by the Republicans in the way it was, in no way changes the facts. Judging by the turnout on Super Tuesday, versus the punditocracy or the Twitterati, a lot of people are angry and fed-up. This is what I saw in our purple district at our Representative's town hall meetings. People aren't that stupid and they know when justice hasn't been done. The egregious way in which the Senate and Trump's attorneys behaved, just another version of "the rich guys get away with murder," is going to create an eventual backlash.

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    1. I agree that a full public exposition of the president's acts was needed, but the House did not do that, mainly because Nancy Pelosi rushed the process. Were I a senator, I think I would have voted to convict and remove the president. But for the reasons Daniel Vaughan explains, the rushed House process being one of them, public opinion and other political considerations never moved very far in favor of removal.

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      1. Public opinion was pretty much set ahead of time, as right wing media propaganda outlets and their publics were never going to accept that the President was guilty due to relentless spinning and misinformation. Even if hearings went on for 6 more months, no minds would've been changed.

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  • This impeachment process has showN the true colors of our government. Our government has devolved form being about the people and has turned into who has the power and how far people are willing to go to keep it/or take it. The Democrats in the house rushed to a vote for an impeachment inquiry. Something that they should had done more due diligence on. And the Republican Senate openly defied due process and even before the articles were sent over, they said “no matter what we are voting no to impeachment”. I think that one thing everyone can agree on is that the senate failed the people. One of the key points of their oath to the people during an impeachment trial is “to do IMPARTIAL justice according to the Constitutions and Laws”. Can we agree that both Democrats and Republicans did not do their job here? When you have clear partisan voting, you know that impartial-ness is no longer alive.

    I am sick of the ‘lifers’ in Congress. When will we have term limits imposed upon the House and Senate? When you have Congressmen who have been in office for multiple decades, how can they still be in touch with who they are suppose to be representing.

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    1. "I am sick of the ‘lifers’ in Congress."

      That's a fair point. But the reason these guys are there is because of how powerful control of the committees are, which are typically awarded by seniority. They stay in touch with the voters by providing pork barrel projects for their states.

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    2. I personally can't see why "new" people would make any difference...

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  • While the Democrats had no choice but to impeach Trump and at least get him to slow down his efforts to corrupt the 2020 elections, Trump's acquittal by the Republican Senate was a turning point for our Republic. Trump has established a new Executive branch with virtually limitless powers as long as 1/3 of the Senate is a member of his own party.

    The Dershowitz Precedent in particular will be held up by every future president: as long as the president thinks the action helps his reelection campaign, it cannot be used as an article of impeachment.

    The American people can pass the final ratification of the Dershowitz Precedent by reelecting the Republican Senators who voted for it. While we can all hope the Republican Senate gets the electoral annihilation it deserves in November, the reality is that it probably won't extend to more than a handful of Republican Senators. The rest will be rewarded for their loyalty to Trump and their disloyalty to our country's founding principles.

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    1. All the should'ves, could'ves, would'ves by the prosecutor's are meaningless. The honorable thing to do is to indict, even with the full knowledge that the jury wouldn't act in good faith.

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      1. Correct, and that's what the Democrats did. And while you can call it "honor" for some of their motivation, on a practical level they simply had no choice. Trump was corrupting the 2020 election making it impossible for the Democrats to resolve the problem using democracy. He may well still be doing that even after their impeachment but they had to at least try.

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