Democrats can lose Trump impeachment battle and still win electoral war

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Pelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act MORE’s impeachment by the House of Representatives now seems inevitable. Trump’s principal justification for asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in their July 25 telephone call to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Joe Biden should enact critical government reforms if he wins MORE and his son Hunter, is that he was only trying in good faith to stop corruption.

That argument looks a lot less credible now that evidence of corruption appears to be pointing, not at the Bidens, but at Trump’s own Ukraine point men, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiThe Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting CIA found Putin 'probably directing' campaign against Biden: report Democrats fear Russia interference could spoil bid to retake Senate MORE and two of his associates with Ukraine ties. The two Giuliani associates were indicted for campaign finance violations and, according to press reports, Giuliani himself is under investigation in connection with his Ukraine activities (he has not been charged).

It’s time to start looking ahead to a Senate trial of the president for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”  

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The Constitution provides that the Senate shall have the sole power to “try” all impeachments and that a vote of two-thirds of the Senate is required to convict Trump and remove him from office. Contrary to a widely-held misconception, the Senate is not a jury, but sits as a court of impeachment.

As such the Senate — or rather its Republican majority —would decide issues such as the length of the trial, admissibility of evidence, and the burden of proof. To boot, Trump would be acquitted unless 20 Republican senators vote to convict, which appears unlikely.

The deck is stacked against the Democrats. But there is a pathway for the Democrats to lose the impeachment battle and still win the electoral war. It’s a narrow one and a Senate trial could hurt Democrats unless Republicans give in to their worst instincts and the Democrats control theirs.

The Republican Senate majority could overreach and appear to American voters, who ultimately are the real jury, to be unfair by prejudging the outcome and then failing to give House Democrats a fair opportunity to put on their case.

Some Republican senators, without waiting for all the evidence to emerge or even for the articles of impeachment, have announced their support for Trump in a Senate trial. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHarris slams Trump's Supreme Court pick as an attempt to 'destroy the Affordable Care Act' Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election Confirmation hearing for Trump's Supreme Court pick to start Oct. 12 MORE (R-S.C.) is planning to send a letter to House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election Will Democrats attempt to pack the Supreme Court again? MORE (D- Calif.) advising that Republican senators will not vote to convict Trump.

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That could backfire because the likely articles of impeachment will be serious and deserve a prompt, full and fair hearing by open-minded senators. Trump may be accused of secretly seeking the assistance of a foreign country in his 2020 re-election campaign. It’s a far more serious charge than the impeachment articles against President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonHarris: Ginsburg 'absolutely' cleared the path for me Anxious Democrats amp up pressure for vote on COVID-19 aid Barr's Russia investigator has put some focus on Clinton Foundation: report MORE, regarding a married man who had an extramarital affair and then lied about it.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate GOP set to vote on Trump's Supreme Court pick before election Supreme Court fight pushes Senate toward brink Democratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' MORE (R-Alaska) wisely — especially in light of polls suggesting that a majority of Americans support an impeachment inquiry — warned her colleagues against a rush to judgment.

Democrats must avoid looking like partisans, which is a lot easier said than done. They will have to control their firebrands like Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibTrump attacks Omar for criticizing US: 'How did you do where you came from?' George Conway: 'Trump is like a practical joke that got out of hand' Pelosi endorses Kennedy in Massachusetts Senate primary challenge MORE (D-Mich.), who memorably said, “let’s impeach the motherf---er,” and present a serious, even sorrowful face to the country. Whether they can do that will heavily depend on the choice of the House “managers,” akin to prosecutors, who will present the case for conviction and removal in the Senate.

Democrats could do worse than appoint Pelosi as the lead manager backed by a team of newly-elected moderate Democrats with military or intelligence backgrounds. Pelosi can bring solemnity and dignity to a Senate trial. House managers who once put their lives on the line for their country can convince voters that Democrats are acting out of a sense of duty and not partisan malice toward Trump.

If Democrats are adroit in presenting their case and Republicans mishandle the Senate trial then, notwithstanding a Senate acquittal of Trump, an American electorate disturbed by his conduct could vote to remove him in 2020. 

Gregory J. Wallance was a federal prosecutor during the Carter and Reagan administrations. He is the author most recently of “The Woman Who Fought An Empire: Sarah Aaronsohn and Her Nili Spy Ring.” Follow him on Twitter at @gregorywallance.