Comey: We must "use every breath we have" to oust Trump in 2020

Reading this, I thought, “Would it be asking too much to ask this guy to be a little less emo in his Trump criticism?”

But it would be asking too much. Think of who we’re talking about here.

The final “closing argument” rally for the Democratic nominee before Election Day 2020 is gonna end with Comey and Hillary putting aside their differences in the name of victory and embracing onstage.

“All of us should use every breath we have to make sure the lies stop on January 20, 2021,” Comey told an audience at the 92nd Street Y on New York City’s Upper East Side. He all but begged Democrats to set aside their ideological differences and nominate the person best suited to defeating Trump in an election.

“I understand the Democrats have important debates now over who their candidate should be,” Comey told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, “but they have to win. They have to win.”…

Still, Comey said he hoped that Trump would be swept out of office without being impeached. Framing the rise of Trumpism as a political ill the country needed to exorcise at the ballot, he expressed a hope that Americans would “in a landslide rid ourselves of this attack on our values.”

He’s made that argument before, that it’s important to cleanse America’s soul or whatever by having voters remove Trump rather than asking Congress to do it. If Congress does it, he went on to say elsewhere in this interview, then a third of the country will believe that a de facto coup had removed the president from office. But a third of the country will believe that if he loses the 2020 election too. Granted, the bigger the landslide the harder it’ll be to float a conspiracy theory to explain Trump’s loss, but Trump will try to explain any loss in terms of a conspiracy. He would never legitimize an opponent who’s humiliated him by allowing that his defeat had been fair and square. If he loses by 10 million votes, he’ll simply claim that 10 million illegals were the difference. Or that the ballot box was stuffed. Or that China intervened and manipulated the vote totals via hacking. Or (a bigger-picture argument) that the deep-state witch hunt had engineered his defeat by turning people against him. There’ll be no “honorable” defeat. But then, there rarely are honorable defeats in presidential elections anymore, by either side. God only knows what sort of conspiracy Democrats will entertain to explain a Trump reelection victory. Russian vote-rigging, in all likelihood.

And of course, it’s unlikely that Trump would lose in a landslide. It’s been nearly 40 years since a sitting president lost a majority of the popular vote. If Trump loses, he’s apt to lose in a close-ish election, which will make conspiracy theories about electoral shenanigans even easier. The irony of Comey insisting that Trump be removed by voters rather than Congress, though, is that that’s exactly the argument Republicans will make next year if (or, rather, when) Democrats move to impeach him. “Why should we usurp the will of the voters when the president will be on the ballot soon?” Senate Republicans will say. “We let them decide which party should fill the Scalia vacancy on the Court, we’ll let them decide what should become of Trump.” There’s nothing our modern Congress enjoys more than punting its responsibility to make decisions to other political actors. Punting the question of whether to remove Trump to 2020 voters will prove especially appealing since it’s the only way Senate GOPers can avoid alienating some segment of the electorate. If they go to bat for Trump, swing voters might be mad; if they turn on Trump, Trumpers will be incensed. They have to punt. Comey’s inadvertently offering them a way to do so.

He was also asked during this interview whether Trump is now an unindicted co-conspirator in Michael Cohen’s campaign-finance crimes. Maybe not formally, said Comey, but yes, on the merits he pretty clearly is. Which is true. Various lawyers from across the political spectrum made the point this weekend that it’d be strange for Cohen to be indicted for a crime but not the man who allegedly directed him to commit it. (And one who may, notes David French, have encouraged Cohen to lie under oath to Congress.) The reason Trump hasn’t been indicted already, in all likelihood, is not because they don’t have the goods on him but because it’s DOJ policy that a sitting president can’t be indicted. And what happens once Trump is no longer a sitting president? Gabe Malor looks ahead:

This doesn’t mean that Trump is safe; given the five-year statute of limitations on campaign finance crimes, it means only that Trump is safe for now

Keep in mind that federal prosecutors have Cohen’s recordings of conversations with Trump, and have granted immunity to the AMI executives who handled the McDougal payment. It is very likely that the SDNY’s prosecutors know more about this than has been revealed so far. Their candidness about Trump’s misconduct in the sentencing memo suggests they are relying on more than just Cohen’s say-so.

Surreally, a key Republican pitch to the base in the next election may be that they need to turn out and reelect the president so that he doesn’t go to prison. As Gabe notes, given the statute of limitations, he could be indicted in 2021 but not in 2025. To some degree the race may become a referendum on how badly each side does or doesn’t want to see Trump locked up. The chatterati has spent the past two years marveling at how completely the GOP has become the “party of Trump” but nothing would prove that quite as well as Trump’s personal freedom becoming an animating election issue for the right, whether or not there’s probable cause to believe that he committed federal crimes.

And the more prominent that issue becomes, paradoxically the less likely Democrats might be to impeach. Impeachment is risky politically under any circumstances but some Dems may calculate that an impeachment effort that’s likely to fail in the Senate may actually do harm to the DOJ’s case against Trump. If the Senate votes to acquit him, Trump defenders will point to that and say that he’s already had a “trial” and been found not guilty. That’s not true, but it’ll help make the case after he’s out of office that the DOJ is being vindictive by continuing to pursue him despite the Senate’s verdict. On the other hand, given the sky-high odds that this guy will try to pardon himself if it comes to that and the somewhat lesser (but nonzero) odds that the pardon will stick, Dems may figure that removal from office is the only penalty he’s ever likely to face, however unlikely the Senate is to actually follow through. Which means they have to try it. Fun times ahead!

Update: Readers are reminding me that Bush lost a majority of the popular vote in 1992. True, my mistake. I overlooked that race because Clinton famously didn’t win a majority; the vote split three ways with Ross Perot. I suppose we could have a situation like that again in 2020, although I think that’s unlikely in a highly polarized age. So, to amend my point above, it’s been nearly 40 years since a challenger won a majority of the popular vote from a sitting president.