Impeachment Super Bowl: Trump 2, Dems 0
The case against Trump isn't nonexistent, but after two days of prime time airing, it is ultimately unpersuasive.
It’s fitting that the retirement of veteran New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning came amid the Senate trial of President Donald Trump. There is a case to be made for the younger Manning brother to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in five years, but if I had a vote, I would vote no.
Similarly, one need not be Pontius Pilate to appreciate the case against Trump. If I were in the Senate, I’d still vote against it, especially as presented by House Democrats.
Embedded in this impeachment inquiry are hawkish assumptions about the absolute necessity of engaging in proxy wars with Russia far from the United States’ borders that I cannot endorse regardless of Moscow’s election interference and other misdeeds. “The U.S. aids Ukraine and its people so they can fight Russia over there and we don’t have to fight them here,” insists Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who is among the impeachment managers.
This is a bad parody of neoconservatism circa 2003, during the peak of George W. Bush’s messianic aspirations toward the Middle East. It could have been cribbed from Trump apologist Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who remains the least chastened of any important lawmaker of our experiences in Iraq and beyond. It is now aimed, however opportunistically, against a Russia that is substantially weaker than the Soviet Union during the Cold War yet remains nuclear-armed and dangerous.
Anti-Trump prosecutors also repeatedly make assertions that American foreign policy is set by unelected bureaucrats and professionals apart from the elected branches of government, including the president to whom they are constitutionally subordinate. Representative Syvia Garcia, D-Texas, is simply the latest to announce that Trump’s actions are not “consistent with official U.S. policy.”
Finally, there is an attempt to conflate Russian hacking and theft of emails with other efforts to swing public opinion, as Washington Post stories about Wikileaks emails or Fox News reporting on Hunter Biden and Burisma are all equally part of a foreign campaign to “influence the election” alongside Russia’s cybersecurity violations. Repeated claims that any reference to Ukrainian efforts to influence U.S. public opinion in 2016 requires a denial of the far more extensive and systematic Russian interference or a recitation of Kremlin propaganda are simply untrue.
To be sure, all foreign influence in our elections should be deterred. Hacking and stealing emails cannot be tolerated. But we must be proportionate in our responses and precise in what we are talking about when we discuss these matters. Elevating unfulfilled requests to the Ukranian government to the level of Russian electoral meddling in 2016 may be necessary to undermine arguments that Trump’s conduct should be judged by the voters, but it does more to obscure than to clarify.
The strongest arguments against Trump concern his arguable attempted usurpation of Congress’ legitimate appropriations powers under the Constitution. More broadly, there is a case to be made that Trump routinely behaves in a way that suggests an unwillingness or inability to separate public and personal interests in a way that fundamentally speaks to his fitness for the office he holds. It is nevertheless difficult to take seriously people who think the GAO’s serious but debatable legal opinion on the legality of Trump’s Ukraine aid delay is more binding and significant than the unambiguous Article I delegation of constitutional war powers to Congress.
It is admittedly more common among Never Trump Republicans than Democrats to simultaneously assert that the president does not have the power to delay the disbursement of lethal aid to a client state but does have the power to unilaterally bomb Iran. Legislators who defend Trump from impeachment but want to rein in presidential war powers even when a Republican is in office—think Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Florida Representative Matt Gaetz—are all too rare. Still, impeachment on this matter to some extent relies on perverse constitutional priorities.
Trump is no innocent victim here. But it would be easier to credit Democratic concerns about his fitness for office if they hadn’t been scouring the landscape for charges to justify impeachment since before his inaugural.
It is difficult to avoid a couple of conclusions. Eli Manning will make it to Canton because he beat Tom Brady. Donald Trump is being impeached because he beat Hillary Clinton.
W. James Antle III is the editor of The American Conservative.