Among the few sages that predicted Donald Trump’s historic betting upset in 2016 was Professor Allan Lichtman. He also predicted that the new president would be impeached and duly wrote a book laying out the case. He now predicts Trump will win again in 2020 unless the Democrats take his advice.
As with all matters Trump, impeachment has been a live betting heat for years. At one stage he was rated likelier to leave office before completing a full term than not. You can now get 7/1 about an early exit on the Betfair exchange, while Paddy Power‘s Sportsbook go 5/2 with that he is impeached and 6/1 about a resignation.
In my view, that represents an underestimate and misreading of either the rules of the bet or current trajectory of US politics. One can only guess but the former makes sense. Sure, US politics is newsworthy everywhere but not on such a technical level. Most know impeachment is the means by which a President can be removed. That it succeeded with Nixon but failed with Clinton. Not necessarily the process.
Those impeachment odds with Paddy Power are NOT about Trump being removed from office. It merely involves the first stage – that at least one article of impeachment will be passed by the House of Representatives. If that happens the bet wins, while Trump would then face a public trial in the Senate. Unless two-thirds of Senators subsequently vote for impeachment, he’s safe.
Democrats wary of an unpopular process
Therein lies the calculations that have underpinned Democrat strategy since winning a House majority last November. They have the numbers to pass in the House but literally nobody expects a Republican Senate to impeach Trump. Why expend all that time and political capital for no result?
Speaker Nancy Pelosi evidently shares those concerns. Impeaching Trump is not without risk. Opponents would portray it as an unrealistic stunt – a distraction from the issues voters care about. Trump would claim exoneration after being cleared by the Senate and spend 2020 claiming victim status from a witch-hunt. It may well hurt Democrat incumbents in swing districts.
Nor is there anything like clear evidence of public support. A recent Monmouth survey showed that, while voters were strongly dissatisfied with and ready to vote Trump out, 59% opposed impeachment. Only 39% of independents were in favour. Why take on public opinion when all other polling indicators are pointing to Trump’s demise at the ballot box?
Instead, various committees have been investigating Trump – whether that be in relation to Russian ties, bank records, tax returns or corruption in office. However rather than expose him with ‘killer facts’ in televised hearings, they’ve been largely frustrated by the administration’s delaying tactics. Ignore subpoenas. Make everything go through the courts.
Mueller already revealed multiple impeachable offenses
Meanwhile, Robert Mueller did his job but not necessarily the one Democrats wanted. In even his redacted report – there are numerous ongoing related criminal investigations, including Roger Stone’s trial in November – the Special Counsel laid out numerous examples of obstruction of justice.
He didn’t, however, go beyond his remit or say anything in Congress that would have tainted the investigation or risk prejudicing ongoing cases. Impeachment is a political matter – a choice for opposition investigators and decision for Congress. Mueller rightly passed it over to them.
The upshot is that 136 – a majority – of Democrat House members have now called for impeachment along with one Republican, Justin Amash. So has Elizabeth Warren – joint-favourite for the party’s nomination – ever since launching her presidential bid. Pressure is forcing the leadership’s hand and, by my reckoning, will ramp up this fall.
House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler has confirmed that formal impeachment proceedings are underway. He is obtaining documents from four separate committees to reinforce the investigation phase.
Arguably the most explosive evidence is not Mueller-related. Investigating the transfer of US nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, House Oversight Committee have exposed how corporate and foreign interests could be shaping policy. Chair Elijah Cummings asks whether Trump put the personal profits of his friends ahead of national security.
Democrat waiting game is smart strategy
Democrat leaders may well be playing a waiting game, gathering a stack of damning evidence. The Russia connection cannot be fully explained until Stone’s trial and the release of redacted information. The timing of any vote is within their control.
Why not accumulate the evidence, then file multiple articles of impeachment covering a range of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’? It could turn the 2020 election campaign into ‘Trump on trial’. Perhaps even ensure the Senate vote is delayed until after the election and make it the key dynamic of those races.
Failure to impeach might help Trump
In fact, besides avoiding some short-term electoral risk, Democrats have little to gain from not impeaching Trump. Without charges, accusations of a partisan witch-hunt gain credence. Trump will revive the debunked ‘Total Exoneration’ lines. They will be accused of failing their constitutional duty and of setting a terrible precedent. If these crimes don’t merit impeachment, what does?
We will have to wait a few months for any vote to be called but I reckon something like the above will happen. An official impeachment inquiry will be launched, focusing media attention on the specific charges. At least one article will pass, and that 5/2 bet landed.
What happens next?
I share the view that the Senate trial would fail but as Lichtman says, remember Nixon. Public opinion against him transformed once the official impeachment hearings began and he resigned before the Senate trial in expectation of defeat and fear of future charges. Consequently, the disgraced president duly received a pardon from his former VP.