This article originally appeared in The Bulwark on December 2, 2019.
Even before formal articles of impeachment are drawn up, the proper result is clear: Donald Trump should be removed from office and disqualified from holding office again in the future. Mere impeachment is not enough.
Trump should be removed and disqualified from office for the precise set of reasons our Constitution’s Framers created this extraordinary process: As he has told us repeatedly, he will seek and use information from foreign governments and agents to pervert our next presidential election to his personal, political, and pecuniary benefit.
The facts—at least the broad outlines and necessary highlights—are already well known, so the question is not: What did the president say and when did he say it?
All but a handful of the president’s most fervent congressional cheerleaders know the answers. We also know that what he said and did is not okay. And, by the time of the Senate trial, the question will no longer be: Is what he did and said impeachable? That process will by then be done.
Unable to defend his inappropriate conduct or his imperfect conversations, the president’s defenders increasingly argue in the alternative about elections past and future. Trump cannot be removed, they say, as that would constitute a coup overturning the last election. Or Trump cannot be removed because it’s too close to the next election.
For those who assert that impeachment and removal constitute an invalidation of the last election:
- Donald Trump was elected 36 months ago, with pluralities in 30 states and 2.9 million fewer popular votes than his principal opponent;
- Richard Nixon left office 21 months after being elected with majorities in 49 states and 18 million more popular votes than his opponent.
Nixon’s then-recent electoral success did not dissuade leading Republicans from recognizing that the president’s high crimes and misdemeanors meant he had to be not only impeached, but also removed from office.
Two days after release of the infamous “smoking gun” tape, the party’s last presidential nominee (Senator Barry Goldwater), joined by the Republican leaders in the House (John Rhodes) and Senate (Hugh Scott), explained to President Nixon in the Oval Office that nearly two-thirds of the 42 Republicans in the Senate (and a similar percentage in the House) now supported impeachment and removal.
Nixon resigned the next day, less than two years after a resounding reelection in which he won the third-highest popular vote and Electoral College percentage victories in U.S. history. If that move didn’t invalidate the 1972 election to force Nixon to resign in 1974, it would not invalidate the 2016 election to proceed against Trump in 2019 and 2020.
Ironically for Trump’s defenders, their argument that this should be decided at the ballot box in the next election reveals precisely why he must be removed from office and disqualified from running again.
When it comes to foreign election interference: Fool America once, shame on Trump and his foreign supporters; fool America twice, shame on America. Russia helped Trump in the last election; he has already pressured Ukraine and asked China for help in the next one.
As so often, the wisdom of our Constitutional Framers is instructive. Spoiler alert: Alexander Hamilton (in Federalist No. 72) knew Trump was coming:
An avaricious man, who might happen to fill the office, looking forward to … yield[ing] up the emoluments he enjoyed … might not scruple to have recourse to the most corrupt expedients.
An ambitious man, too, when … seated on the summit of his country’s honors, … would be … violently tempted to embrace a favorable conjuncture for attempting the prolongation of his power, at every personal hazard.
Put another way, Donald Trump likes how he can line his and his family’s pockets with emoluments—at his D.C. hotel, his far-flung golf resorts, Mar-a-Lago. Now, with the potential of election loss next year, he makes “recourse to the most corrupt expedients.” He is indeed “violently tempted” to every effort to prolong his power.
Our Framers expected, our Constitution allows, and our national ideals demand that Donald Trump be prevented from cheating in the next election. Other than denying him the Republican party nomination, impeachment by the House and removal and disqualification by the Senate is the only remedy.
R.J. Lyman is senior fellow at the Niskanen Center and senior advisor to Governor Bill Weld, candidate for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination.