Assessing Trump's impeachment odds through a historic lens

Assessing Trump's impeachment odds through a historic lens
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Around Presidents’ Day, people usually start comparing the current president with past holders of the office. This year, perhaps they will compare Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE to Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonHypocrisy in Kavanaugh case enough to set off alarms in DC Getting politics out of the pit Kavanaugh and the 'boys will be boys' sentiment is a poor excuse for bad behavior MORE — presidents who were impeached or certainly would have been if they hadn’t resigned (Nixon).

In each of these cases, however, the president in question faced a Congress controlled by the opposition party. After all, even though presidents can be impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” impeachment is ultimately a political process, not a legal one.

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Yet, Donald Trump’s Republican Party controls both houses of Congress. Because historically, Trump has not shown much loyalty to that party — changing to the Democratic Party and a third party and then back to the Republican Party — and doesn’t have that much philosophically in common with it, party leaders in his time of need may not exhibit much reciprocal fidelity to him.

 

Trump already has made many enemies not only within the party but in the Democratic Party and in intelligence and law enforcement agencies. In Washington, eventual payback from these “swamp” creatures may be hell.

Trump would not be the first president whose party eventually tired of him. In a long-forgotten case, a little-known president named John Tyler, who served only one term from 1841 to 1845, had impeachment proceedings begun against him by his own Whig Party.

Tyler, actually one of the best presidents ever to serve, did not agree with his party’s program of enacting high tariffs (taxes) on imported goods and using the money to pay for unconstitutional items such as federal public works projects and restoration of a national bank. Tyler began vetoing bills trying to enact the Whig program, and his party began the impeachment process.

Although Trump has compared himself to Abraham Lincoln, he sure is no John Tyler (at least not after a year in office). Although his nomination of Neil Gorsuch couldn’t get much better and his mild deregulation deserves some praise, his large tax cut and simultaneous spending spree will add at least $14 trillion over 10 years to an already whopping national debt of almost $21 trillion.

The tax cut and spending splurge could, in the short term, overheat an already growing economy — such inflation fears have already caused volatility in the stock market. In the long term, the drag of huge interest payments on a massive and growing debt, which may eventually approach or even exceed the nation’s annual GDP, may cause American economic decline and severely burden future generations.

Given the existing $21 trillion debt, Trump should have cut spending — not increased it — and delayed any tax cut until federal spending as a percentage of GDP had begun to come down. However, bad fiscal policy is not grounds for impeachment.

But don’t despair Democrats and Independents, plenty of grounds exist on which to impeach Trump, should Democrats win the House of Representatives and maybe even the Senate. First, whether it meets the legal standard or not, Trump, as demonstrated by:

Trump’s threat to take away NBC’s broadcast “license,” threats to jail opponents and use of irresponsible nuclear threats against North Korea could qualify as abuse of power.

Trump has likely violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits taking fees or gaining profits from foreign governments, by his hotels taking money from those governments and his hotel project in the Dominican Republic.

By refusing to impose more sanctions against Russia for its meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Trump has failed his constitutional duty to execute laws passed by Congress.

In failing to take action to the defend the nation against future Russian election hacking and continuing to say that the Russian cyberattack on the 2016 election was a “hoax,” Trump is failing to defend the Constitution by safeguarding U.S. elections and thus failing in his self-defense responsibilities as commander in chief.

Only a majority of votes is needed to impeach in the House, but even if Democrats with the House and Senate in the 2018 elections, Republican votes likely still will be needed in the Senate to win the two-thirds vote needed to convict Trump.

Because politics will intervene, getting those GOP votes will only be possible if Trump’s popularity erodes significantly within the Republican Party. Otherwise, Republican Senators would remain scared that Trump could support a candidate against them in a future Republican primary, the kiss of death for re-election.

Any indictment of Trump or his top associates by Special Counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE, or even a report that crimes were likely committed by Trump, might be enough to finally the shatter the Teflon that has so far protected an impulsive, incompetent, unfit and dangerous president.

Ivan Eland is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, a libertarian think tank. He's the author of, "Eleven Presidents: Promises vs. Results in Achieving Limited Government."