Inside the mind of the vulnerable Senator. How do they respond to impeachment?
There will be a vote in the Senate to remove Trump from office. It’s the biggest moment of a Senator’s career.
As we go into the second week of public impeachment hearings, don’t let anyone tell you they don’t matter. Despite some Senators remaining adamant that this is nothing but a Washington circus story there is already evidence to suggest more voters support impeachment than don’t, a ‘plurality of battleground states support [it]’, and a majority support Trump’s removal from office as well.
I have written before about the political case Democrats had for bringing forward impeachment in the first place, but these findings could make it even more problematic.
Essentially, the argument goes, there are a small number of vulnerable Senators up for re-election in November 2020, all of whom could lose their seat should they vote the ‘wrong’ way on impeachment. As such, the Democrats should make sure there is a vote in the Senate at a politically advantageous time that forces Senators to make a definitive decision on Donald Trump’s suitability for office. Regardless of how likely it is the upper chamber will vote to acquit, it will mean Senators have to go to their constituents with a career defining asterisk next to their name.
Now that impeachment is well underway, and a vote in the Senate is almost certain, I will split the ‘vulnerables’ into two camps. The first of which — I suspect — will stick with Trump regardless, toeing the party line while using people like Lindsey Graham, who have already surrendered their sanity, as political cover.
For the second group, things are about to get very uncomfortable. They will require a compromise position that satisfies enough voters on both side of the debate for their political survival, while convincing such voters their decision is credible, thought through, authentic, and not just an act of political gymnastics designed to sustain their own careers.
In the first group I would put Thom Tillis, Joni Ernst, and John Cornyn. While there is an ongoing debate about whether you could qualify these three as ‘vulnerable’ or not, they are united in their support for Trump and are overwhelmingly likely to vote against any articles of impeachment. Probably without any political consequences, either.
A unique case is Martha McSally of Arizona. Unique not just because of the way she was appointed — not elected — to Senate, but unique in the line she is seeking to tread. McSally was keen to distance herself from Trump in 2016, not unlike many of her colleagues. Not only did she not endorse Trump, but she also went further, stating the then-nominee’s comments on sexual assault are ‘disgusting’ and ‘unacceptable’.
However, Trump has since publicly endorsed McSally in Arizona and voting behaviour also shows McSally has shifted more pro-Trump during this Congress than the last, I therefore estimate that she is also highly likely to vote against removal from office.
In the second group, Cory Gardner, the perennial vulnerable Senator has trod very careful with regards to his closeness to Trump this year, but according to FiveThirtyEight, he has a ‘Trump Score’ of 89.6%, the second highest of any Republican from a 2016 Democrat voting state.
Gardner’s vulnerability is perhaps only matched by Maine Senator, Susan Collins. Collins’ history of bipartisanship and moderation was all but forgotten when she voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh. If she votes against impeachment, then she risks handing the state to the Democrats and dirtying her reputation as a moderate, bipartisan, and general opposer of the Trump administration. If she votes for impeachment, then the Democrats are one step closer to removing the President from office.
Gardner and Collins are in a way protected by their more dogged partisan colleagues. If — as expected — all other Republican Senators vote against impeachment, then they are given a freedom which effectively renders their vote redundant.
But that will mean little to the voters of Colorado and Maine; both states Democrats will want to win in their entirety. Should either vote to acquit the President, expect a bombardment of ads reminding voters that their Republican Senators condone Trump’s behaviour. Collins has already seen easily a reputation can be damaged if you are seen to vote unfavourably.
However, for both Senators, there is (at this stage, at least), a fairly palatable explanation for them voting against impeachment. It would go a little bit like this:
“I have been watching this process closely since its inception. I thank those who have given testimony for their service and I thank the Committee for their diligence, professionalism, and rigour throughout the hearings.
The power to impeach is the most grave power given to Congress, but with that, we must act with the utmost responsibility also.
This is a trial which has sought to understand whether the President of the United States committed impeachable offences of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours. While the process has been thorough and comprehensive, the absence of any investigation from Ukraine and the eventual fulfilment of military aid means that there was no offence committed worthy of removal from office, regardless of whether the administration ever had the intend to conduct such offences.
I have personal reservations about this administration’s foreign policy, but my opinion on that is not for these hearings to expose. Donald Trump was elected to serve all of America and the upcoming election is the opportunity for Americans to decide whether they want that to continue.”
In short, insubordination from within Trump’s own government saved him from committing the offence. It is far from the perfect situation from Gardner or Collins, but this text highlights three crucial things:
- It is heart-felt and sincere. It acknowledges the work done by the Committee and those who have testified, thus verifying the process as free and fair. It also implies there has been deliberation and that this decision was not easy
- It acknowledges the Senator’s personal grievances towards the administration while showing that it is not that which matters, rather it is what is in the Constitution which matters and recognises the import role Congress has in this
- Finally, it states the supremacy of the American people and rewards them with the power to either re-elect Trump or elect someone else in November 2020
Susan Collins and Cory Gardner are the only people who full understand how they are feeling. In a way it is wrong of people to even speak of them in unison; they will both be fighting their own demons. But they also both represent states that Democrats will target relentlessly next year, and consequently both have some reason to vote for impeachment.
As hearings advance, it is possible — even likely — that a piece of evidence emerges that is so damaging that either it forces Trump to resign or forces Republicans to convict. At the same time, Trump’s ‘kiss of death’ seems to be gaining in potency as yet another Trump endorsed candidate lost this weekend.
However, when Gardner and Collins are forced to vote sometime in the new year, the best way to handle that is with a sincere statement that addresses the seriousness of what is happening, that acknowledges the process as free and fair, and that demonstrates to voters that while the Senators may well have policy disagreements with Trump, that is not an impeachable offence.