Capitol Riots: Impeachment was a Bad Move


Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.

After the storming of the capital, House Democrats (and a few Republicans) rushed to impeach Trump—to punish the president as severely as possible for inflaming the riots with false claims of a fraudulent election. Although they, for the most part, received great support from their constituencies who wish to stop Trump from running again in 2024, going for a conviction in the Senate is reckless and wrong. Not only is it far from certain that Trump intentionally encouraged violence, it is also almost impossible to get a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict him. Instead of punishing him, trying to convict Trump will ensure that his political influence lives on.

Although Trump most certainly incited violence, it’s difficult to say that he did so on purpose, which is an important distinction. After all, many politicians make inflammatory statements that end up causing radical groups to do dangerous things. No one would claim, for example, that civil rights activists should be held responsible for unwittingly driving people to loot stores and burn buildings. In the same way, while Trump’s speech—arguing that the election was fraudulent and telling his supporters to “fight much harder”—was disingenuous, irresponsible, and incendiary, he never actually urged his supporters to use violence. In fact, he even stressed that the protests should be non-violent, saying “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully … make your voices heard.” It seems much more likely that he simply wanted to rile people up to demonstrate the power and support he has—as many politicians do—and not in a seditious attempt to take the Capitol. This idea makes more sense especially when we consider that Trump really had nothing to gain from a riot.

But even if you believe that Trump deliberately encouraged his supporters to storm the Capitol, it still doesn’t make sense to impeach him because there is almost no chance that he gets convicted by the Senate. The requirements for convicting someone for incitement are pretty high: for one, they need to have explicitly called for violence, and since Trump never did, it is nearly impossible to reach that standard. Moreover, in the District of Columbia, it doesn’t even count as incitement if you advocate for violence as long as you aren’t directing people towards a particular criminal event. Moreover, not only is the case legally tenuous, most Republican senators would never even consider convicting Trump. Although lower than before, Trump still has an approval rating of 79% among Republicans and much of his base remains very loyal. All this means that voting against him is still a substantial threat to most Republicans who have to fear a backlash from their constituencies. And since convicting Donald Trump would take 16 Republicans, the odds of succeeding are infinitesimal. 

Finally, and most importantly for those who dislike Trump, impeaching him has established him as a long-lasting, major political figure at a time when his political power was dwindling. After the riots, Trump was on the verge of becoming irrelevant forever. Many of his close allies, like Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell, turned against him or at least shifted away from his platform. A platform which itself was vanishing as Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube permanently banned his accounts. Even Amazon Web Services and Stripe, an online transaction platform, are against him, making it difficult for him to reach followers or take their donations. Furthermore, since Democrats control the House, Senate, and Presidency, they have an opportunity to effectively push out legislation and show the American people that their policies actually work. All of this means that Trump’s support would likely have diminished further, and Republican leaders would be given the option of quietly shifting away from him without fearing the backlash from Trump supporters. By forcing Republicans to choose between supporting and opposing conviction, however, we’ve forced them into the spotlight. Now, if they choose to back Trump, they will have locked in their alliance for much longer, and if they choose to go against Trump, they may end up losing their next primary to a more Trumpy politician. In both cases, Trump would continue to dominate the Republican party.

Impeaching Donald Trump was a mistake, but now we have to live with it. The house has, in vain, committed to a misguided attempt at justice that will ensure that a divisive figure remains a powerful force in politics for years to come.