Guest Notes

American notes

29 June 2019

9:00 AM

29 June 2019

9:00 AM

Impeach Trump! (yawn)

I suppose it is necessary to say – again – that it is not necessary to like or admire President Trump to conclude that the endless series of Congressional and other investigations into his past conduct are a pointless distraction from the real functions of government in America.

In a little over a year there will be a presidential election in the US and the president’s many opponents will have ample opportunity to complain about his conduct and to ask the electorate to reject his attempt for re-election. These opponents may think that the various investigations on foot will produce damaging material for use in the coming campaign. On past evidence, however, those who intend voting for the president are unlikely to be deflected from this course by conventionally unfavourable revelations. In any event, the various investigations have so far not produced any knock-out discoveries.

The chief inquiry – conducted by Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, into ‘collusion’ between the president’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government – turned out to be an enormous waste of time and money. For several years a huge team of lawyers pored over every aspect of that campaign and found no evidence of collusion, whatever that term might mean when all foreign governments would presumably want to maintain contact with the campaign teams of both parties contesting the election. It is now suggested that Trump engaged in criminal conduct, by way of obstruction of justice, in not co-operating with an inquiry that was established to find evidence that never existed in the first place. Hardly a case for co-operation, it might be thought.

The Democrat majority in the House of Representatives has spent a great deal of time trying to obtain the president’s past tax returns. Originally it seemed to be suggested that these would show that Trump was hugely rich and using the tax laws, albeit legally, to increase his wealth. Now, however, there seems to be a contrary suggestion that he is not as rich as he claims and the tax returns will show that he has mismanaged his financial affairs over the years. Whatever the reality, this can scarcely be a constructive use of the time and resources of one of the two national legislative bodies.

If all this investigative activity is directed towards impeachment, it would appear to be seriously misconceived.  Even assuming that the House of Representatives voted to impeach the president, this would result in a trial in the Senate where the Republicans have a majority.  Even if the Republicans did not, there would be no possibility of a conviction at such a trial because this requires a two-thirds majority of senators and each of the parties is almost certain at any given time to have at least a third of the members of that chamber. Moreover, there is probably not enough time for those processes to take place before the election in November 2020.

It is true that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to impeach President Bill Clinton in 1998 and that a trial was conducted in the Senate where he was not convicted. It is also true that Clinton was probably guilty of perjury in relation to some of his private conduct. But, in the same way that a verdict on the presidency should really be given by the electorate, there was no justification for those impeachment proceedings and there is no justification now for such a process.

Instead of spending time and effort on these kinds of exercises, the Democrats would be better advised to focus on finding a viable candidate for 2020. In normal circumstances the Democrat candidate for the presidency should start as well-placed in the contest for the required 270 votes – out of 538 – in the Electoral College.

This is because California and New York State have a combined vote of 84 and are always now won comfortably by the Democrats so that the Republicans have to get almost 60 per cent of the remaining votes. This is certainly possible, as evidenced by a number of recent elections, although it might be noted that the Republican victories of 2000, 2004 and 2016 had a very narrow margin in comparison with the much more comfortable Obama wins of 2008 and 2012.

The problem for the Democrats, however, is finding a viable candidate.  So far 24 contenders have announced their intention in entering the primaries, although some of these would seem to have little appeal to middle-of-the-road voters. This would not be a problem for former vice-president, Joe Biden, but he may not appear as a very exciting candidate. Biden has been in politics for 45 years and, prior to the vice-presidency, spent 36 years as a senator from Delaware, the second smallest state, which has only one member of the House of Representatives but the two senators to which every state is entitled. Supposedly Biden is the front runner at this stage but Democrat primary voters may prefer a fresh face when this process gets underway.

There is a question, of course, why anyone from either side would want to get involved in the primary process, given its relentless criss-crossing of the country, its endless requirements of fund-raising and the intense spotlight on the personal lives of the candidates. In addition, election to the presidency may only result, as it has in Trump’s case, in continual investigations and legal proceedings that might continue well after the presidency has been vacated. These are some of the reasons why good potential candidates on both sides have decided not to run for the presidency in recent times.

In any event, as already noted, in a little over a year the president’s many detractors will be able to assail him in the course of an election campaign. Until then they might be better employed in allowing the current administration to get on with the government of the country.

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