Let the American people decide Donald Trump's fate

If Republicans retain control of the Senate after this November, then it’s difficult to conceive of a scenario in which a two-thirds majority of the chamber votes to remove Trump. Even narrow Democratic control of the Senate would probably not be sufficient. For most Republican senators it would be political suicide to support Trump’s removal, so long as Republican voters remain supportive of the president. Try to imagine campaign-finance law being the issue that turns those voters against their man in the White House! A good many grassroots Republicans don’t believe there should be any campaign-finance laws in the first place. And the law in this case is of dubious application and about a trivial sexual subject-matter.

Needless to say, it would be embarrassing for both parties to have to reverse their oh-so-principled stands on sex, crime, and impeachment from two decades ago—or at least it would be embarrassing, if either party felt a need to be consistent. The political damage to “domestic tranquility” from a futile impeachment effort would be much more serious: Republican voters would feel personally attacked, as if Democrats were trying to reverse the outcome of the 2016 election; Democratic activists would feel as if they were righteously defending the rule of law in the face of Republican contempt for the Constitution. In 1998, the politics of impeachment worked out to the Republicans’ detriment: voters looking ahead to impeachment dealt the GOP a historic reubke in that year’s midterm elections. This year, Democrats will make great gains in the House of Representatives no matter what, one can predict with some confidence. But that does not mean that impeachment would be without its electoral hazards: a certain failure to remove Trump would only whip Trump’s base into a frenzy, while possibly alienating common-sense voters for whom impeachment over sex-related infractions seems petty. Painful and pointless impeachment proceedings could work to Trump’s advantage in 2020—and they could poison American politics far into the future even if the Democrats prevailed in the near term.