In Faithless Execution (2014), I argued that our system needs a credible impeachment threat because the Constitution’s other means of reining in executive excess (particularly, the power of the purse) are no longer effective. My point was that impeachment needed to be credible, not routine.
My contention was, and remains, that a political case has to be built for impeachment because the question of whether power should be stripped is a political determination. But there’s a critical caveat: Unless misconduct is so egregious that a public consensus forms that would induce two-thirds of the Senate to oust the president, the House should not impeach. Not only are the governmental and societal downsides of impeachment deleterious; an unsuccessful impeachment effort is likely to incentivize more, rather than less, presidential misconduct.
Trivializing impeachment gives us the worst of all worlds: Impeachment will become a less credible check on presidential misconduct, but it will still poison our politics and compromise our government’s effectiveness.
Is that our new normal? I think it may be. If President Trump is reelected, impeachment will be proven trivial. If he is defeated, his supporters and many other Republicans will blame a politicized impeachment and demand that the next Democratic president be impeached. Most importantly, if the House remains in Democratic control, it will signal that a significant plurality of the population, maybe even a majority, is comfortable with politicized impeachment.