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Donald Trump is unfit for office – but don't bet on him being impeached

With an 80 per cent approval rating with Republican voters, the President will be difficult to dislodge through any means other than the ballot box.

Less than 60 days into Donald Trump’s unpredicted – and unpredictable – presidency, impeachment is fast becoming the top topic of conversation here in Washington, DC. Wherever I go, whomever I talk to, the conversation ends with one question: can this unqualified, unhinged narcissist last the full four years?

From left-wingers such as the film-maker Michael Moore to right-wingers such as the conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks, the pundits are counting down the days until impeachment hearings begin. Professor Allan Lichtman of American University, who has correctly forecast every presidential election result since 1984, including Trump’s, is now predicting that the president will be removed from office over his alleged ties to Russia.

I’m not convinced. Talk of impeachment seems like a liberal fantasy of the highest order. No president of the United States has been charged, convicted and forced out of office. Andrew Johnson (1865-69) and Bill Clinton (1993-2001) were both impeached by the House of Representatives but then acquitted by trials in the Senate; Article II, Section 4 of the US constitution gives the House the sole power to impeach but the Senate the sole power to convict. It also lists impeachable offences as “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanours” – without defining what constitutes a “high crime” or “misdemeanour”. Speaking in 1970, Gerald Ford – who, ironically, went on to serve as president after Richard Nixon resigned from office to avoid near-certain impeachment – said: “An impeachable offence is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

This perhaps is the overarching reason why Trump can carry on golfing at Mar-a-Lago without a care in the world: there is no appetite for impeachment where it matters most. The president’s party controls the House of Representatives and, thanks to a combination of brazen gerrymandering and attempts at voter suppression, will probably still command a majority in the House even after the November 2018 midterms. As for the Senate, again the Republicans are in control, with a majority of four and with Senate Democrats, come 2018, having to defend seats in five “ruby-red” states where Trump won by double-digit margins.

If you think the radicalised Republicans on Capitol Hill, who at every stage of the campaign put party before country and who are now on the verge of taking control of the Supreme Court, rolling back abortion rights and passing tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, are going to impeach the man who made all this happen for them and did what their last two presidential candidates couldn’t, I have a Trump Tower to sell you.

Despite Trump’s manifest unfitness for the highest office in the land, his opponents on the right have proved to be few and far between. Take Jason Chaffetz. After the now-notorious recording of Trump bragging about sexual assault emerged last October, Chaffetz, the GOP chair of the House oversight committee, who had spent years hounding Hillary Clinton over her emails, withdrew his endorsement of his party’s candidate. He said he couldn’t look his teenage daughter “in the eye”. Yet the following month, he fell back into line and announced he’d be voting for . . . Trump. Is this the kind of Republican legislator you think has the backbone to vote for impeachment?

Then there are the Senate Republicans, supposedly the grown-ups of the party. Asked by the New York Times last month how long he and his colleagues would tolerate Trump’s crazy conspiracies and bizarre behaviour, Senator John Cornyn, the
Republican whip, replied bluntly: “As long as we’re able to get things done.” The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said there was “a high level of satisfaction” with Trump and that Republican senators weren’t bothered by “the daily tweets”.

You may be repulsed by their cynicism but you have to admire their chutzpah. Even mild critics within the GOP, such as John McCain, whom Trump publicly ridiculed for being captured by the Vietcong, told the Times that “we can get a lot done with the people around him”. Ted Cruz, whose wife Trump once mocked, tweeting that she was ugly, took his wife with him to a family dinner with the president at the White House early this month. Is there any Trumpian humiliation these people will not forgive, forget or brush under the Oval Office carpet?

“It’s hard for me to imagine President Trump committing any offence so egregious that Republicans in Congress would consider it impeachable in the current political climate,” McKay Coppins, the author of The Wilderness: Deep Inside the Republican Party’s Combative, Contentious, Chaotic Quest to Take Back the White House, tells me. “Any GOP lawmaker to break ranks with the rest of the party and call for impeachment would almost surely suffer the consequences at the ballot box.”

Remember: Trump may have entered office in January as the least popular president of the modern era but he still has an 80 per cent approval rating with Republican voters. This dynamic might change, Coppins says, “but it would take a pretty serious crime on Trump’s part, complete with some sort of undeniable smoking gun” and it would also require “influential elements of the conservative media to turn on the president”.

For now, obsessing over impeachment is a dangerous distraction from the biggest challenge of all: resisting not just Trump’s hard-right policy agenda but the normalisation of his politics of hate, bigotry and “alternative facts” over the next four years. The reality is that the only way to remove Trump from office is the old-fashioned way: to beat him at the ballot box – again.

Mehdi Hasan is a broadcaster and New Statesman contributing editor

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 16 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit and the break-up of Britain

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Not since the Thatcher years have so many Tory MPs been so motivated by self-interest

Assured of an election win, backbenchers are thinking either advancing up the greasy pole, or mounting it for the first time. 

One hears despair from Labour not just about probable defeat, but from MPs who felt they had three years to improve the party’s fortunes, or to prepare for personal oblivion. In the Conservative Party, matters seem quite the opposite. Veterans of the 1983 election recall something similar: a campaign fought in the absolute certainty of winning. Theresa May talked of putting the interests of the country first when she engineered the poll, and one must believe she was sincere. However, for those expecting to be Tory MPs after 8 June there are other priorities. Theirs is not a fight for the national interest, because that for them is a foregone conclusion. It is about their self-interest: either advancing up the greasy pole, or mounting it for the first time. They contemplate years ahead in which to consolidate their position and, eventually, to shape the tone and direction of the party.

The luxury of such thoughts during a campaign comes only when victory is assured. In 1983 I worked for a cabinet minister and toured marginal seats with him. Several candidates we met – most of whom won – made it clear privately that however important it was to serve their constituents, and however urgent to save the country from the threats within what the late Gerald Kaufman later called “the longest suicide note in history”, there was another issue: securing their place in the Thatcher revolution. Certain they and their party would be elected in the aftermath of the Falklands War, they wanted their snout in the trough.

These are early days, but some conver­sations with those heading for the next House of Commons echo the sentiments of 1983. The contemporary suicide note has not appeared, but is keenly awaited. Tories profess to take less notice of opinion polls than they once did – and with good reason, given the events of 2015 and 2016 – but ­imagine their party governing with a huge majority, giving them a golden opportunity to advance themselves.

Labour promises to change the country; the Liberal Democrats promise to force a reconsideration of Brexit; Ukip ­promises to ban the burqa; but the Tories believe power is theirs without the need for elaborate promises, or putting any case other than that they are none of the above. Thus each man and woman can think more about what the probability of four or five further years in the Commons means to them. This may seem in poor taste, but that is human nature for you, and it was last seen in the Labour Party in about 2001.

Even though this cabinet has been in place only since last July, some Tory MPs feel it was never more than an interim arrangement, and that some of its incumbents have underperformed. They expect vacancies and chances for ministers of state to move up. Theresa May strove to make her team more diverse, so it is unfortunate that the two ministers most frequently named by fellow Tories as underachievers represent that diversity – Liz Truss, the Lord Chancellor, who colleagues increasingly claim has lost the confidence of the judiciary and of the legal profession along with their own; and Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, whom a formerly sympathetic backbencher recently described to me as having been “a non-event” in his present job.

Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, was lucky to survive his own stint as lord chancellor – a post that must surely revert to a qualified lawyer, with Dominic Grieve spoken of in that context, even though, like all ardent Remainers in the government, he would be expected to follow the Brexit line – and the knives are out for him again, mainly over Southern Rail but also HS2. David Gauke, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and the little-known Ben Gummer, a Cabinet Office minister, are tipped for promotion with Grieve if vacancies arise: that all three are white men may, or may not, be a consideration.

Two other white men are also not held in high regard by colleagues but may be harder to move: Boris Johnson, whose conduct of the Foreign Office is living down to expectations, and Michael Fallon, whose imitation of the Vicar of Bray over Brexit – first he was for it, then he was against it, and now he is for it again – has not impressed his peers, though Mrs May considers him useful as a media performer. There is also the minor point that Fallon, the Defence Secretary, is viewed as a poor advocate for the armed forces and their needs at a time when the world can hardly be called a safe place.

The critical indicator of how far personal ambition now shapes the parliamentary Tory party is how many have “done a Fallon” – ministers, or aspirant ministers, who fervently followed David Cameron in advising of the apocalyptic results of Brexit, but who now support Theresa May (who is also, of course, a reformed Remainer). Yet, paradoxically, the trouble Daniel Hannan, an arch-Brexiteer and MEP, has had in trying to win selection to stand in Aldershot – thanks to a Central Office intervention – is said to be because the party wants no one with a “profile” on Europe to be added to the mix, in an apparent attempt to prevent adding fuel to the fire of intra-party dissent. This may appease a small hard core of pro-Remain MPs – such as Anna Soubry, who has sufficient talent to sit in the cabinet – who stick to their principles; but others are all Brexiteers now.

So if you seek an early flavour of the next Conservative administration, it is right before you: one powering on to Brexit, not only because that is what the country voted for, but because that is the orthodoxy those who wish to be ministers must devotedly follow. And though dissent will grow, few of talent wish to emulate Soubry, sitting out the years ahead as backbenchers while their intellectual and moral inferiors prosper.

Simon Heffer is a columnist for the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs

Simon Heffer is a journalist, author and political commentator, who has worked for long stretches at the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. He has written biographies of Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Enoch Powell, and reviews and writes on politics for the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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