Matthew Riley is a sophomore journalism major at MU. He is an opinion columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.
By now you know the story: On May 9, President Donald J. Trump fired James Comey, the director of the FBI, ostensibly on the recommendation of his Justice Department. In the letter written by Mr. Trump notifying Comey of his termination, the president made mention of the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. Since then, the Justice Department has appointed a special counsel to handle the matter as the public has grown increasingly wary and suspicious of the investigation. There are now talks of impeaching the president for obstruction of justice.
Impeaching President Trump would be a huge blow to the Republican Party that has supported him, as well as the populist wave sweeping the political landscape around the world. But this blow would be largely symbolic. It might bring an end to the imminent plutocratic oligarchy the Trump family threatens to install, and it might mean some of his staunchest supporters in Congress lose either in primaries or general elections in 2018, but it likely wouldn’t mean the end for Jeff Sessions, Neil Gorsuch, Rick Perry, Betsy DeVos, etc. Impeaching the president doesn’t necessarily get rid of his cabinet. It’s entirely possible, if not likely, that Trump’s successor would keep members of the current cabinet in place.
Mike Pence, former governor of Indiana, self-described “evangelical Catholic” and enemy of the LGBTQ community would succeed Trump should he be impeached. He is an ideological zealot whose agenda would almost certainly mirror Trump’s. But he has more stable footing in the Republican party as his feet are on the ground, not in his mouth. Simply put, he is a politician. Trump has trouble getting things done because so many congressmen are afraid to work with him, and he doesn’t know the system. Pence, on the other hand, does. Pence would be a more effective Trump. It is worth mentioning that the 2020 election is still three and a half years out. Impeaching Trump this early in his tenure would leave Pence ample time to establish his own image, independent of Trump.
Let’s say Trump is impeached and Democrats win big in 2018 races. Pence would still have veto power, and the cyclical nature of American politics could mean Republicans take Congress back in 2020. This matters at the state level, too, perhaps more than ever. In 2020, states will redraw congressional district maps. In 43 states, representatives from whichever party controls the legislatures get to redraw the maps such that their party has a hold on winning federal elections for the foreseeable future. This is known as gerrymandering. Republicans held much of this power in 2010, winning big after the Democrats dominated 2008 elections. Impeaching Trump would likely give a huge bump to Democrats in the elections immediately following.
Do Trump’s actions warrant impeachment? Many experts think so. But does his base? It seems that a sizeable portion of the population will defend the president no matter what he does, and it can be argued that many of his supporters don’t believe the reports of Russian interference at all. Impeaching Trump this early and for something many of his voters don’t believe could further alienate a large part of the population that already feels ignored.
So far, impeachment talks have been limited to a handful of democratic congressmen, while most Republicans continue to stand by their man, at least publicly. Whatever private reserves any may have, they’ve largely been saving face, keeping a united front to try and ride the political wave that got Trump into office in the first place. Perhaps their tone will change once they’ve passed a replacement for Obamacare and cut taxes for the wealthiest chunk of the population, but for now it seems that, with few exceptions, the Republican party isn’t through with Trump.