I want to revisit my earlier post on impeachment. I am more inclined to support impeachment today than I was 6 days ago, although it is still far from clear that impeachment makes sense.
Trump has done great damage to this country by making clear that congressional Republicans will allow a lawless, authoritarian president who is popular with Republican primary voters to get away with almost anything. Many of them would have let Trump subvert the 2020 election. Our goal should be to prevent another Republican from using the Trump playbook.
Given the current alignment of forces in U.S. politics, to prevent another Trump from attacking our democracy our priorities should be 1) to help Democrats win elections by discrediting the Republican party, especially its Trumpiest members, and 2) to discredit the right-wing conspiracy mongers and especially the terrorist groups that have thrived with Trump’s encouragement. These are the factors that should drive our thinking about impeachment. (If you think that impeachment should be judged without taking these broader political consequences into account, here’s a question for you: would you really prefer impeaching Trump and having Democrats lose the House and Senate in 2022 to letting Trump scamper away unimpeached but having Democrats keep control of Congress?)
It is far from clear that impeachment will help safeguard our democracy.
Will impeaching Trump prevent another Republican authoritarian from using Trump’s playbook? This seems unlikely. Impeaching Trump does little to prevent another Republican from using Trump’s playbook. Punishing Trump because he attempted to overthrow an election in a violent but inept and buffoonish way at the end of his term when many in his party consider him a liability and are ready to be done with him will not deter future authoritarians. Future authoritarians may have better opportunities to undermine democracy (a closer election, more popular support). Or they may be better able to exploit opportunities to undermine democracy. (Think President Cruz or Hawley, both of whom undoubtedly think of themselves – probably rightly – as much more strategic and operationally capable than Trump. What makes them less likely than Trump to successfully subvert an election is lack of charisma and populist appeal.)