Dems' Challenge: Impeaching Trump Without Riling Up His Base

But even impeachment-skeptical Democrats are starting to believe Trump’s open lawlessness is making harder to justify not impeaching him.
President Donald Trump attends the UN Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23, 2019, at the United Nations Headquaters in New York City.
President Donald Trump attends the UN Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23, 2019, at the United Nations Headquaters in New York City.
SAUL LOEB via Getty Images

LAKE GENEVA, Wis. — Randy Jasper has a message for Democratic leaders in the nation’s capital as they respond to President Donald Trump’s latest transgression: If you want to give him another four years, go ahead and impeach him.

The 68-year-old soybean farmer from a town of 1,300 in western Wisconsin doesn’t like Trump, didn’t vote for him three years ago, and, with his son, has so far lost $60,000 because of Trump’s trade war.

“I’m not a Trump fan, obviously. But if they try to impeach him, he’ll get reelected,” he said at a welcome event for this weekend’s Farm Aid benefit concert. “If you want him out, vote him out. I’m afraid if you try to kick him out, it’s just going to piss a lot of people off, and they’re going to say, ‘Oh, we’ll fix them bastards, we’ll vote for him again.’”

As Democratic activists, primary voters and 2020 presidential candidates turn up the heat on House Democratic leaders to impeach Trump after he withheld military aid to Ukraine while simultaneously demanding the country investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, it is voters like Jasper and his neighbors in conservative regions of swing states that have worried mainstream Democratic consultants.

“The appetite for impeachment in the country is at best mixed,” said David Axelrod, a key strategist on former President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. “It will be portrayed as a political exercise, at best, and at worst a bloodless coup.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her allies have moved cautiously on impeachment, knowing that public opinion is not yet with them. What’s more, even a successful impeachment in the House is almost certain to go nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate, which Trump and his allies would likely call an “exoneration.”

“I think this is really tough,” Axelrod said. “I’m sure these Democrats are weighing whether they are increasing his chances of winning reelection.”

Yet even Axelrod, who has since some Democrats began calling for impeachment two years ago counseled against it, said Trump appears to getting ever bolder in his contempt for the law of late.

“You reach a tipping point where it looks like not impeaching him looks like a cynical act. And it seems like we’re reaching that point.”

- David Axelrod, key strategist on Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign

“The president is exacerbating that by blatantly flaunting those misdeeds. It seems like something has changed with this most recent episode,” he said. “You reach a tipping point where it looks like not impeaching him looks like a cynical act. And it seems like we’re reaching that point.”

For two of the three Republicans running against Trump for the 2020 nomination, that point actually came a long time ago, and the latest Ukraine episode is merely proof that Trump is only getting worse.

“Donald Trump needs to be impeached. Period,” said former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh on NBC News Monday. “He’s a would-be dictator. This isn’t complicated.”

Walsh appeared in a joint interview with the other two Republicans running, former South Carolina governor and congressman Mark Sanford and former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld.

Weld, in fact, went even further, arguing that Trump’s demanding help of a foreign government in return for congressionally approved U.S. aid constituted a capital offense.

“That is treason. It’s treason pure and simple. And the penalty for treason, under the U.S. Code, is death,” said Weld, who also once ran the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal division in the Reagan administration. “The penalty under the Constitution is removal from office, and that might look like a pretty good alternative for the president if he could work out a plea deal.”

Weld said Trump’s actions to cripple the candidate he assumed would be his general election opponent meets the first and most grave of the conditions spelled out for impeachment in the Constitution.

“We don’t have to worry about bribery anymore, although I think he’s committed that. We don’t have to worry about other high crimes and misdemeanors, although I think he’s committed many, he’s such a lawless man,” Weld said. “We’ve got treason, and we don’t have to dribble around the court. We can go right for the hoop.”

The Ukraine episode has already drawn escalating responses from top House Democrats. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) had spoken only cautiously about impeachment previously, but on Sunday told CNN: “We very well may have crossed the Rubicon here.”

And Pelosi, who has drawn criticism for not moving toward impeachment faster, said in a statement that the White House’s refusal to turn over a key whistleblower report, as is required by law, would: “take us into a whole new stage of investigation.”

Stuart Stevens, a GOP admaker and consultant who is now working for a pro-Weld super PAC, said Trump’s increasingly brazen behavior deserves an appropriately strong response.

“People rob banks. We don’t sit around and think about what are the political implications of prosecuting them for bank robbery. We prosecute them for robbing banks,” he said, adding that Trump will continue to behave corruptly and abuse his power. “He has no self-limiting sense of right or wrong ... If you don’t impeach that guy, who do you impeach?”

Stevens said Republicans in the Senate also need to think about the precedent they will set by protecting Trump’s actions ― if a future Democratic president starts funneling taxpayer money to himself and demanding investigations of his opponents, for example. “That’s the new norm,” he said. “Do we really want to live in that world?”

Axelrod said he understands that argument and largely agrees with it. “When you don’t act, you’re setting a new norm,” he said. “On the other hand, what are the real-world implications of that?”

He said that complicating Pelosi’s decision is the far more polarized Congress and electorate today than existed in 1974, when Tennessee Republican Sen. Howard Baker played a key role on the Senate Watergate Committee and Arizona Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater actually delivered the news to Richard Nixon that he had lost GOP support.

“Nixon was not nearly as brazen as Trump. Nor did he have Fox News and Breitbart,” Axelrod said, adding that Trump is leading a “reign of terror” in the Republican Party. “He has the ability to end political careers with a tweet in a Republican primary ... It’s a much, much different political environment.”

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