Their rhetoric notwithstanding, congressional Democrats understand that their chances of ousting President Trump from office are infinitesimal. There are a few, like AOC and “the Squad,” who still cling to the pipe dream that Trump will be impeached, convicted, and perp-walked out of the White House for multifarious yet oddly ill-defined crimes. More realistic Democrats understand that this is never going to happen, but they also know that mere censorship of the president is not an option if they wish to avoid a revolt by the left wing of their congressional caucus and voter apathy that could manifest itself in low turnout next November.
Even to suggest such a course is to incur the wrath of the Democratic leadership, as evidenced by the double backflip executed by Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) last week. Rep. Lawrence, who was elected to her Detroit district in 2014, was foolish enough to utter the following words on No BS News Hour: “We are so close to an election. I will tell you, sitting here knowing how divided this country is, I don’t see the value of taking him out of office.… I want him censured.” Within 24 hours of the interview during which she committed this heresy, she had obviously been shown the error of her ways and issued this “clarification”:
I was an early supporter for impeachment in 2017. The House Intelligence Committee followed a very thorough process in holding hearings these past two weeks. The information they revealed confirmed that this President has abused the power of his office, therefore I continue to support impeachment. However, I am very concerned about Senate Republicans and the fact that they would find this behavior by the President acceptable.
That Lawrence was immediately forced to perform such humiliating rhetorical acrobatics renders it abundantly clear that House Democrats have already passed the point of no return. The only real question is when they will pass articles of impeachment — a resolution on which they must have a genuine floor vote if they want the Senate to hold a trial. They know Trump won’t be removed based on the meager pickings gleaned by the Schiff hearings, and it’s unlikely that the upcoming deliberations by the House Judiciary Committee will produce the “smoking gun” that the House Democrats have so eagerly sought for so long.
But from their perspective, a Senate acquittal of the president is far preferable to the fallout of merely censuring him. If the Democrats impeach Trump and the Republicans fail to convict him in the Senate — the all-but-inevitable outcome — the Democrats will claim they tried to rein in Trump’s “lawless administration,” but justice was flouted by an irretrievably corrupt GOP. This will make for a succinct talking point that will be parroted by the legacy news media in the hope that it will affect Trump’s approval ratings in the way such coverage affected Nixon’s numbers. CNN’s Ron Brownstein fondly recalls those halcyon days:
During the long gestation of the Watergate scandal, from early 1973 through Nixon’s resignation, support for his impeachment slowly grew and his job approval rating steadily eroded. In Gallup polling, a majority of Americans supported Nixon’s removal from office only in the final survey before his resignation; by then his approval rating had fallen to about 24%, though it remained around 50% among Republicans.
Like a lot of journalists of his generation, Brownstein clearly nurses a certain amount of nostalgia for the Watergate era. He is rather like the generation born a little too late to participate in WWII and regrets that he played no role in what he probably sees as journalism’s finest hour. Moreover, it’s obvious that the major universities have inculcated subsequent generations in the same mythology. Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, writing at FiveThirtyEight, attempts to explain why Trump’s numbers haven’t collapsed beneath the weight of media scorn as they should have according to the approved model:
When the House of Representatives voted in February 1974 to give the House Judiciary Committee subpoena power to investigate Nixon, it did not have the weight of public opinion behind it. According to a poll conducted by Gallup just days before the vote, only 38 percent of Americans were in favor of impeachment. And although a solid majority of Americans did eventually come to support impeachment, that moment didn’t arrive until quite late in the game.
Thomson-DeVeaux and most other journalists, regardless of their age, clearly believe that it took the hoi polloi a long time to catch up with their betters in Washington concerning the true nature of Nixon’s dark doings. She further points out that most Republican voters never did catch on: “Days before he resigned, a Gallup poll found that only 31 percent of Republicans thought Nixon should no longer be president.” Presumably the takeaway from her article is that the voters need guidance from on high and that most of the slow-witted Republicans who remain solidly behind Trump never will grasp that he must be banished to outer darkness.
In reality, there are few genuine parallels between Nixon’s situation and Trump’s. Indeed, the primary similarity is the overwhelming hostility of the media coverage received by both presidents. In 1974, there were three major television news outlets that filtered everything that most Americans knew about Nixon and Watergate. All three were transparently biased against Nixon. Indeed, if Nixon wished to address the voters directly, it had to be done through those very networks. Trump is far more fortunate. Public trust in the media is a fraction of what it was in 1974, and he routinely bypasses them to talk directly to the voters.
This, by the way, is the real reason the political class hates the president’s tweets. It isn’t because they are, as Nancy Pelosi would have it, “beneath the dignity” of the presidency. It is because they are read by 67.7 million followers who can read what the man actually says rather than a fictitious version concocted by the legacy media. It is how he and his supporters are able to reveal publications like Newsweek as Democratic propaganda rags. It is why, when Democrats like Joe Biden demand that social media companies take down Trump ads, the voters can see exactly who constitutes the real threat to free speech.
If the Democrats possessed Trump’s media savvy, their impeachment effort would perhaps be more successful. But they put America to sleep with boring bureaucrats whining on C-Span. Nonetheless, they will soldier on this week with the photogenic Jerrold Nadler leading an arcane discussion with various academics about what the framers meant by “bribery” and “treason.” Why? They must reassure the far-left members of their own caucus, and the TDS victims who support them, that they are serious about impeachment. But these people aren’t serious about anything beyond power and money. This is why censure is a nonstarter.