As Democrats dither about whether or not to start impeachment proceedings for President Donald Trump, amid worry about public or political reaction on the facts or the process, ask yourself: If it was Barack Obama who had committed the same acts that Donald Trump has, what would the Republicans be doing?
Based on statistics, the election of a Republican president should be rare. More people in this country lean Democrat than lean Republican. And the middle tends to lean Democrat as well. But that has made Republicans far more disciplined and strategic in their actions than Democrats. As the Republican lawyer representing George W.Bush in the Gore V. Bush recount said, Democrats “always bring a knife to a gun fight,” then wonder why Republicans win. Twice in recent memory the Democratic candidate for president has won the popular vote and still watched a Republican take the oath of office. As played at the national level, politics is a blood sport not intended for the faint of heart.
The Republicans put a special counsel in place over White Water with no intention of actually forcing President Bill Clinton to leave office, but to create a muddled distraction for the public, and make it difficult for him to focus on policy and governing. He wasn’t impeached for White Water, but for perjury and obstruction of justice regarding a relationship with an intern. Because many Republicans thought Hillary Clinton would try and follow Bill as president, she was also tarnished in the White Water process. When she did run, she was perceived as unlikeable because of how she had been portrayed for the previous 10 years, even though she won the popular vote. Whoever plotted Trump’s mid-west strategy, whether it was Paul Manafort or the Russians, knew what they were doing and knew the electoral college decides presidential elections, not the popular vote.
When the Republicans impeached Bill Clinton, they were thinking several steps ahead of the Democrats on the political chess board. Their goal was winning the presidency after Clinton was term-limited out, and hampering any run by Hillary. If they had impeached Clinton and forced him from office, that would have led to Al Gore running as the incumbent president and likely winning two terms as a pushback from the public.
The Republicans almost overplayed their hand and cost themselves some seats when Clinton was re-elected. But the bigger goal was still theirs when George W. Bush lost the popular vote but still claimed the presidency.
The background on how and why the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the Florida recount and handed the Oval Office to Bush was simple: stop the recount so our enemies, such as the Russians (my how times have changed), wouldn’t try and take advantage of our uncertainty over who was in charge. A Democratic leaning Supreme Court would have counted the votes for months, as their goal would have been to ensure the process was fair and defendable.
Remember the Republican investigations of Bengasi? That was all aimed at weakening both Obama and Hillary Clinton and again it worked. Enough independents had grown wary of Hillary to vote for change or vote for a third candidate and allow the electoral college to again dictate the winner.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may be one of the great political masterminds of the era, as many think she is. But her Senate counterpart Mitch McConnell has played a better long game by delaying Obama’s court choice for a year, and then McConnell put two more Republicans on the Supreme Court. Any impeachment trial of Trump would not be passed by the Senate, and if another recount is needed in Ohio, Pennsylvania or Florida it would be decided by a friendly Supreme Court.
In his defiance of Congressional authority to turn over records and allow staff to testify, Trump showed his plan to cover his back had worked by saying he would take everything to the Supreme Court.
Think about the importance of the issues confronting us if we maintain a national division: civil rights, Roe vs. Wade, gun control or guns in schools, public education and private schools, how well gays are treated, blurring of the lines between the separation of church and state, income inequality, who gets taxed and who doesn’t – and what may be the most important issue – who gets to vote, which has been an issue in several states.
And what would the Republicans be doing if it was Obama in Trump’s shoes? They would have already started impeachment hearings with the goal of causing him so much trouble that he would be easier to beat next year, allowing them to focus on retaining the Senate and recapturing the House.
If Hillary had actually been elected, the impeachment process would have started five minutes after her oath of office. Republicans have control of the court, where any recounts would be heard, and have figured out the electoral college. If Democrats really want to have a chance next year, their only hope is to copy the Republicans’ strategy and keep the pressure on Trump through hearings, register more Democrats, particularly women and people of color, and ensure they vote.
But it should not come to that if both parties actually care about the future of our democracy.
The public is growing disillusioned with both parties, and if they want to survive, the longterm answer is a return to open, civil, good government, where there is respect for difference of opinion, where common ground is sought and statesmanship admired. Where compromise is considered a win not a dirty word. Where ethics, honesty and the rule of law actually matter. Where the media is respected as impartial and neither party has their own television channel.
Sadly, that is not how the game is played nowadays. And though the Democrats are being cautious about discussing impeachment, Trump will give them no choice. He will see being stubborn and defiant as a political tool to fire up his base, knowing he has the Supreme Court and the Senate on his side.
Let’s hope we can return to normal sometime soon, and think about the principles that this country was founded on: equality, respect and country first.
But that may not be for a few more years.
If the Democrats do win the presidency and the Senate, maybe they should borrow a page from the Republican playbook and expand the Supreme Court by three Democrats and turn a 5-4 loss into a 7-5 win. Bad government, but it changes the chess board until reason returns.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.