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Seven Takeaways from the Impeachment Vote

December 19, 2019
Seven Takeaways from the Impeachment Vote
Welcome to the Impeachment. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

A few quick takeaways from last night’s vote:

1) Donald J. Trump is not going to like today’s headlines. They all include the “very ugly word,” IMPEACHMENT.

As David Graham notes in the Atlantic: “No president has ever understood the power and mystique of brand as keenly as Donald Trump, which means he is acutely able to grasp the blow to his reputation that the House is striking today.”

2) Yesterday’s marathon debate laid bare just how thoroughly Trumpified the GOP has become.

It wasn’t just the tortured rationalizations, bizarre analogies, and willingness to bend the space-time continuum—it was the way that rank and file GOP members seemed to be channeling Trump: all the tropes, insults, and brazen defiance of the rules of logic.

This goes beyond mere tribalization, writes John Harris. Yesterday we saw a political party where “ideas matter less than psychology”:

They like him because he somehow fits visceral notions of how purportedly strong leaders should act. As for moral relativism, it is the essence of Trump politics, as any questioning of his conduct is met with what-about-ism invoking the motives or alleged misdeeds of his opponents, or maintaining that he is simply acting with self-interest that any politician would and it is naïve to expect differently.

3) Impeachment may be futile. But it wasn’t stupid. 

John Podhoretz calls this the “Animal House impeachment” because it is “a futile and stupid gesture”:

This has been a mothballed straitjacket in search of a hanger for nearly three years now. Trump’s stupid and futile effort with Ukraine gave his enemies the chance to take it out of the mothballs. He’s angry about it, to be sure, but he has no one save himself to blame. If you know the cops are out with the speed gun, you don’t floor it.

And you know what? This will all seem like a dim memory by June. Stupid and futile.

But it didn’t feel that way last night. It felt meaningful, the condign punishment that Trump has so far avoided, but which he so richly has deserved. Even though this impeachment will not result in his removal from office, it served an important function: it drew a line.

Over at the Dispatch, David French reminds us of all the other lines that Republicans have already allowed Trump to obliterate:

They’ve erased lines upholding basic competence and fundamental human decency. They’ve erased lines against serial, intentional presidential lies. They’re unfazed when multiple close associates of the president have proven to be crooks and criminals.

Failing to impeach Trump, he writes would “erase one of the most serious lines of all—the line against hijacking American foreign policy in one of the most volatile and important regions of the world in service of a truly crazy conspiracy theory and to extort a foreign investigation of a domestic political opponent.”

So, he argues, “impeachment still matters. It will put a permanent, justified stain on this president’s historical record, and it will make the voters ask themselves, in 11 short months, “Do we really want to do this again?”

4) This isn’t lying about sex. It’s a BFD.

We’re not talking oral sex in the Oval Office. As Bret Stephens wrote in the New York Times, this is an impeachment about crucial matters: “The president is unambiguously proposing to employ his chief law-enforcement officer to investigate a debunked conspiracy theory that Trump hopes will burnish his political legitimacy.”

“And he also proposes to use the attorney general in an attempt to investigate a political opponent for undeniably political ends,” continues Stephens.

That he was prepared to endanger an ally and benefit an enemy is not treason, as the Constitution defines treason, but it is a travesty, as any American ought to understand travesty. That Republican leaders are cheering him only serves to define deviancy down and debase our political norms in ways that will surely haunt a future Republican Congress. That conservative pundits claim to be outraged at the F.B.I.’s investigation of the Trump campaign—or the smearing of Carter Page—while being indifferent to Trump’s attempt to investigate Joe Biden—and the smearing of Hunter Biden—marks a fresh low in rhetorical sophistry.

5) Impeachment will bring out Trump’s worst.

Okay, so we have already seen Trump’s worst. Over and over. Trump was unwell before last night’s vote. But we may be entering a new chapter of awfulness as Trump rages against this unwanted accountability. His attack on the late John Dingell at his rally last night in Michigan—suggesting that the iconic congressman might be in hell—may be a small taste of what’s coming.

6) More is coming.

The outcome of a Senate trial may be a foregone conclusion, but as A.B. Stoddard reminded us this week (and on today’s Bulwark podcast), time is not on Trump’s side here: “Republicans want to dispense with their Constitutional responsibility before the public realizes there is a second Russia-focused federal criminal investigation underway and that Trump, once again, is at the center of it.”

And then there is Rudy . . . and the fact that Trump seems to be doubling down on what has become an ongoing crime in progress.

7) Nancy Pelosi is now the one playing four-dimensional chess.

I made this modest suggestion last week without much expectation that Democrats would pay the slightest attention. Professor Laurence Tribe had the same idea. . . and seems to have gotten somebody’s attention. Via the WaPo:


Moments after a historic vote to impeach President Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House could at least temporarily withhold the articles from the Senate—a decision, she suggested, that could depend on how the other chamber chooses to conduct its trial on Trump’s removal.

“We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side,” she said, referring to the House “managers” who present the case for removal to the Senate. “So far we haven’t seen anything that looks fair to us. So hopefully it will be fair. And when we see what that is, we’ll send our managers.”

The comments came as a group of House Democrats pushed Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other leaders to withhold the articles — a notion that has gained traction among some on the political left as a way of potentially forcing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to conduct a trial on more favorable terms for Democrats. And if no agreement is reached, some have argued, the trial could be delayed indefinitely, denying Trump an expected acquittal.

She understands that the moment Democrats send Articles of Impeachment for Donald Trump to the Senate, they will have lost all of their leverage. So her moves are designed to put maximum pressure on the Senate to fulfill its oath and hold a full and fair trial.

The squeals of outrage and indignation from Trump World are evidence that she knows exactly what she is doing here.

Charlie Sykes

Charlie Sykes is a founder and editor-at-large of The Bulwark and the author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. He is also the host of The Bulwark Podcast and an MSNBC contributor.