By Steven Thomma
WASHINGTON – It takes two things to impeach a president. A smoking gun proving a crime and the will to get rid of the perpetrator.
So far, there’s some smoke but no gun. And so far, there’s a lot of will among Democrats to throw out Donald Trump but not enough to sway Republicans who control the Congress and the impeachment machinery.
Let’s look at the will.
For Democrats, the sudden death of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign on Election Night has led to a series of reactions akin to the way people respond emotionally to a real death. In her groundbreaking book, “On Death and Dying,” the late psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outlined five stages of grief. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
The day after the 2016 election, Democrats first went into shock and anger.
Within days, they went into denial. They argued — perhaps to themselves — that Trump did not really win because he did not win the nationwide popular vote. They hung onto hopes that a recount would flip a few states. Then, they hung onto hopes that members of the Electoral College would change the result and deny Trump the White House.
Now, they’re into bargaining, with voices on the left saying that Trump will be impeached.
To Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, Trump could be impeached for accusing former President Barack Obama without evidence of wiretapping Trump Tower.
“If you do not have any proof and you have been saying this for three weeks,” Jackson Lee said, “then you are clearly on the edge of the question of public trust and those actions can be associated with high crimes and misdemeanors for which articles of impeachment can be drawn.”
To Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., a top voice of his party, it is the fact that Trump is profiting from foreign businesses staying at his hotels. His reasons include Russian influence in the election, as well as profits from foreign interests.
“Donald Trump has already done a number of things which legitimately raise the question of impeachment,” he said while running to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee last month.
“On day one, he was in violation of the emoluments clause. This is a part of the Constitution that says as a president, you can’t get payments from a foreign power. The day people checked into his hotel and started paying him, who were foreign dignitaries, he was in violation of that law.”
And former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has tweeted several times about the cause.
“By my count, there are now four grounds to impeach Trump,” he wrote in one. “The question is no longer whether there are grounds to impeach Trump. The practical question is whether there is the political will. As long as Republicans remain in the majority in the House (where a bill of Impeachment originates), it’s unlikely.”
The idea is gaining support.
On Twitter, “Impeach Donald Trump” has 143,000 followers. “Impeach Trump Now” urges local governments to pass a resolution urging impeachment based on the foreign emoluments clause.
On Facebook, the page “Impeach Trump ASAP” has been liked by nearly 800,000 people.
And on Google, type in “Impeach Trump,” and it returns 16.9 million results.
However, all that does not add up to popular, or political, will. At least not now.
Americans are evenly divided, 46-46, about whether to impeach the president, according to a February poll by Public Policy Polling*.
That is a very high level of support for impeaching a new president.
In 1973 and 1974, it took a long time for the American people to come around to the idea of impeaching Richard Nixon. After Senate hearings on the Watergate scandals started in summer 1973, Americans supported impeachment by just 26-61, according to a Gallup Poll. It wasn’t until June 1974, after nearly a year of revelations, that the country was about evenly divided, 44-41 in favor of impeachment.
This landscape starts out differently.
It’s immediately partisan, with Democrats favoring impeachment 80-11 and Republicans opposing it 90-6. Independents are the swing, opposing it 45-41 with 14 percent unsure. Unless that Republican number starts to change, Republicans in Congress won’t either.
And, there’s one more check on impeachment.
Americans don’t yet want the alternative. When given a choice in the PPP survey, 38 percent said they wanted Trump as president, and 30 percent said they wanted Mike Pence to be president.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the contributor and do not reflect the views of The Marist Poll.
*See FiveThirtyEight for pollster rating.
Steve Thomma has written about Washington from Reagan to Trump, always aiming to explain politics and policy to an audience outside the Washington beltway. He won the Prize for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency in 2010 from the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, the Aldo Beckman Award from the White House Correspondents’ Association for distinguished his reporting on the 2000 presidential campaign, and the National Press Club’s award for best regional reporting in Washington in 1994. He’s a former president of the White House Correspondents’ Association and a trustee of Dominican University in River Forest, Il. On Twitter @stevethomma