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Impeachment By Secret Ballot Is A Terrible Idea

It would only make the GOP leadership's legitimacy crisis worse.
Mitch McConnell

Impeachment mania took Washington by storm this week. Of all the frenzied commentary it unleashed, among the most dubious was a modest proposal to allow the Senate to vote to remove President Trump by secret ballot. (A House vote to impeach Trump seems like a foregone conclusion.)

Juleanna Glover, who has advised George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Rudy Giuliani, and the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Jeb Bush, suggested this in Politico earlier this week and the idea spread like wildfire on Resistance Twitter. “A secret impeachment ballot might sound crazy, but it’s actually quite possible,” Glover writes. “In fact, it would take only three senators to allow for that possibility.” Rogue Republicans like Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski, endangered incumbents such as Susan Collins or Cory Gardner, and some combination of retiring GOP senators could deny Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell the votes he needs to set the rules for a Trump trial without this innovation.

The animating idea is that the only thing stopping Republicans from turning on Trump and convicting him in a Senate trial is fear of the GOP base. A senior Republican Senate staffer told The Atlantic‘s McKay Coppins, “If it was just a matter of magically snapping their fingers … pretty much every Republican senator would switch out [Vice President Mike] Pence for Trump. That’s been true since day one.” A secret ballot would allow them to snap their fingers.

Even if no constitutional questions could be raised about this practice, it’s a bad and ultimately self-defeating idea. The secret ballot doesn’t abolish math. Two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote to remove Trump and Republicans have a 53-47 majority. A minimum of 20 Republicans would still have had to vote for Trump’s conviction. Their voters just won’t know which one (but will likely be able to guess). And that’s assuming Democrats Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Synema and Doug Jones aren’t votes for Trump’s acquittal.

What if fewer than two-thirds of the Senate is willing to admit publicly that they voted to convict Trump and he was removed anyway? In a climate of CrowdStrike, Pizzagate and Jeffrey Epstein, it’s not hard to predict the conspiracy theories about a “rigged” vote that could ensue and what the lack of transparency surrounding the first ever removal of a sitting president (Richard Nixon resigned on his own) would do to the legitimacy of the entire impeachment process.

Trump is himself the product of a legitimacy crisis in American politics, especially as concerns the Republican Party’s leadership in the eyes of its own voters. Mass Republican complicity in Trump’s removal by secret ballot would only make that crisis worse.