Here's a reality check: this Trump Jr storm will not lead to impeachment
Republicans make excuses for Trump’s behavior, but continue to back him. All this anti-Trump energy would be better spent organizing for the coming election
Trevor Timm is a Guardian US columnist
The latest New York Times blockbuster revealing the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr, knowingly accepting a meeting in 2016 with a Russian lawyer in the hope of getting damaging information on Hillary Clinton is making waves across Washington DC. But if people think that this latest story is definitely going to lead to criminal charges againstTrump Jr, or force the president from office, it’s time for a reality check.
The journalism displayed by the Times and the Washington Post pushing the Trump-Russia story forward has unquestionably been laudable, but the real question is where does this leave the Trump administration.
While pro-impeachment advocates scream “treason!” on Twitter every time a new story is published, the truth is much more complicated. Some legal experts wonder whether the Trump clan actually did break any laws in their interactions with Russian nationals, even if their behavior pre-election was incredibly shady, unethical and nefarious.
Look no further than Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes, two prominent national security figures and Trump critics, who explained in Foreign Policy last week that “collusion”, in and of itself may not be a criminal problem for Trump so much as a political one. (Hennessy and Witte’s article came before the latest Trump Jr story, but there’s also reason to be skeptical about assertionsthat Trump Jr broke the law by taking a meeting with the Russian lawyer as well.)
The Robert Mueller special counsel investigation into Trump and Russia could take years to complete. And it probably won’t directly lead to Trump himself being indicted. Mueller is likely to submit his findings on Trump himself to Congress for action rather than bringing an indictment. And if people really think Republicans are going to impeach Trump, they are kidding themselves.
At almost every turn, Republicans have made countless excuses for Trump’s behavior and demurred on aggressively pursuing any action against him that would irreparably handicap his presidency.
Republican lawmakers have made their living by appearing as if they don’t support everything that Trump says, while backing his presidency and its policies in every possible way.
John McCain is perhaps the best at this: he will lightly criticize Trump in the media after one of Trump’s outbursts or another, attract fawning coverage and then support virtually every one of Trump’s actual policies. This “McCain Doctrine” was on full display with multiple Republican senators just a couple weeks ago, when many again mildly criticized Trump for his vile tweet about MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski, yet not a single one changed their broader view on the Trump presidency one iota.
If you want the latest evidence of this, key Republican senator Orrin Hatch is a great example. Shortly after the New York Times story on Trump Jr broke, Hatch remarked: “I don’t think this is relevant to the Trump administration.”
Republican lawmakers will cover for Trump no matter what he does because they rely on his voters. In retrospect, the truest statement Trump has ever uttered was when he declared during the campaign: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
While many pundits constantly point to the fact that Trump is unpopular – he has only a 40% approval rating right now – they neglect to factor in that he also just won a national election with similar or worse unpopularity numbers.
Those 40% who still (somehow) think Trump is doing a good job are also the Republican base who vote Congressional lawmakers back into office year after year. Republican members of Congress risk a full on mutiny from those voters if they were ever to impeach Trump and are likely terrified of it.
If Democrats and independents want to push Trump from power, there is a lot they can do. For one, they can start registering voters in states that have Senate elections coming up in 2018.
No one wants to admit it, but chances are more likely than not that after the 2018 election, Republicans will have a larger hold on the Senate than they already do now, due to the fact that Democrats have to defend 25 seats, and Republicans only have to defend nine. Gerrymandering has given Republicans a huge edge in the House and voter suppression laws in swing states are less likely to be struck down by courts since Jeff Sessions is the attorney general.
That’s why all of the anti-Trump energy would be much better spent organizing for the coming election than living in a fantasy world that sees Republicans growing a conscience and getting rid of Trump themselves. ■