Impeachment Is a Christmas Gift for Trump

By Jack Shafer

Christmas arrived a week early for President Donald Trump this year when the House of Representatives voted along party lines to impeach him on twin charges of obstruction of Congress and abuse of power.

Trump has yet to fully accept this gift. He made some it-doesn’t-bother me gestures at his Wednesday night rally in Battle Creek, Mich., but you could tell his heart wasn’t in it. He has reportedly been stewing in his own glandular juices about being impeached for months, calling it “a bad thing to have on your resume.” But give him time. By the weekend, Trump will surely be happier than Ralphie in A Christmas Story after he got the official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range-model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time. Wrapped in fragrant garland and delivered over television during prime time, the articles of impeachment will be repurposed by Trump in the coming weeks as weapons in his battle for a second White House term.

Impeachment was the absolutely worst thing the Democrats could throw at Trump—and having thrown it, they have nothing left in their quiver to threaten him with. The articles of impeachment lifted the spirits of center-left Twitter, but the articles are destined to disappear into the mist when and if they arrive at the Senate. It will be almost as egregious as if Trump got indicted for shooting somebody in the head on Fifth Avenue and the judge decided to dismiss the charges.

You don't need a Ph.D. in political science to see Trump gaming this out to his immediate advantage. When special counsel Robert Mueller released his two-years in the making, critical and reproving report in April, Trump had the political brilliance and audacity to describe it as a personal exoneration. He’ll likely do the same thing with his Senate trial and acquittal, clutching the proceedings to his chest as proof that his phone call with Ukraine Volodymyr President Zelensky really was “perfect.” Then, look for him to campaign hard on the Mueller report and the Senate acquittal as legal evidence that he did nothing wrong in his first term and deserves another. Already, he’s vilifying the Democrats over impeachment, calling them “the Party of Hate.” Trump will soon go on the hustings to bellow, Innocent, innocent, innocent. And his base will cheer him on, doing their best to making him the first impeached president to win reelection.

Not only have the Democrats in the House of Representatives emptied their quiver, they've inadvertently reset the threshold for what constitutes presidential misbehavior to astronomical levels. After the Senate hands Trump his inevitable acquittal, he’ll be free to invite the network TV cameras into the Oval Office to listen in as he phones Zelensky and re-ups his July request that Ukraine investigate Joe and Hunter Biden as a “favor.” From there, who knows where Trump's transgressive impulses might take him? He’s already allowed himself to be enriched by lobbyists and foreign delegations who stay in the Trump Hotel in Washington. His government has awarded contracts to his supporters and denied them to perceived foes like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Trump even tried to award one to himself when he proposed hosting the G-7 summit at his hotel in Miami.

Might Trump use a 2020 re-election victory to move additional monies from other projects into building the wall? Invite Vladimir Putin to the next G-7 summit? Recognize the Russian occupation of Crimea? Pull the plug on NATO and invite the Russians to retake the Baltic states? Unilaterally withdraw from South Korea? Buy or invade Greenland?

Instead of punishing Trump for his bad behavior, the well-intended impeachment vote might free him to go forth and pillage, making his wildest impulses become tomorrow's headlines. Because there can be nothing more unfettered in politics than an impeached, acquitted, and reelected president. The next time Trump uses the Constitution to clean himself and the Democrats squawk, he’ll squint his Clint Eastwood eyes at them to taunt, “Yeah, whaddya gonna do about it, punks? Impeach me?”

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Send your nightmare scenario via email to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts asked Zelensky to investigate my Twitter feed as a favor. My RSS feed was cremated and its ashes spread in a puffin rookery in Nuuk, Greenland.