Time to talk about impeachment?

Until now, impeachment was off the table for three reasons. First, Republicans control the House and Senate and as long as they could put up with Trump, they would never start impeachment proceedings let alone convict. Second, in the immediate aftermath of the election, impeachment would have been seen as a repudiation of democracy, and hence as a kind of coup, even if the formalities of the procedure had been complied with. Third, there were no “crimes or misdemeanors” that could be pinned on Trump, at least none that were sufficiently clear to warrant the disruption of impeachment.

All this is changing before our eyes. Republicans in Congress are gradually distancing themselves from Trump. As long as he can’t deliver political victories like health care reform, they gain nothing from keeping him in office. And as Trump continually proves himself erratic, untrustworthy, and incompetent, the prospect of a long string of political defeats is becoming inescapable. We are a long way from this point of time (perhaps Kelly will delay it for a few days), but an inflexion point has been reached.

Moreover, as the election recedes farther into the past, impeachment can be based on Trump’s post-election failures rather than on disagreement with the people who voted for him. While the voters may have acquiesced in Trump’s conflicts of interest and lack of experience, the election cannot absolve him of his post-election conduct, including the continuing pattern of obstruction of justice, the chaotic administration of the White House, and the weird and possibly criminal involvement with Russia. If an economic downturn occurs or a crisis is mishandled, then the impeachment drumbeat will begin.

And finally, obstruction of justice provides the “crime or misdemeanor,” sanctified by the Nixon and Clinton precedents. The pattern of obstruction is by now so overwhelming that it can hardly be denied. That said, the House and Senate will need to decide whether obstruction alone warrants impeachment and removal, or some additional crime is necessary. The Clinton impeachment failed, in part, I think, because the cover-up was the only crime; the underlying behavior was never found to be illegal. Unless evidence of Russia collusion or other illegal or deeply immoral behavior is found and proven in a public way, I suspect that impeachment will not take place, even if Democrats obtain a majority in the House in 2018.

The probability of impeachment remains low, but not as low as it used to be.