Impeaching and convicting a president — especially in the modern media age — is all about numbers. Popular opinion. Same thing.
Perhaps it has always been thus, but the immediacy today of the moving parts and how they move the numbers cannot be ignored.
Thursday’s floor vote to formalize the impeachment inquiry into allegations that President Trump pressured a foreign country to interfere in the 2020 election passed almost completely along party lines: 232-196. Not a single Republican defected.
Speaker Pelosi presided over the vote and also cast one herself. Neither action is customary for the Speaker of the House. Pelosi, who refused for two years to allow her caucus to move to impeach, sent an unmistakable message.
As I watched the vote, I wondered if the Speaker intentionally scheduled the vote to take place on Halloween — just to squeeze in a little extra color for the history books.
I pondered this question as I walked back to my office in the midst of what felt like a tornado of Chicago snow slamming Mag Mile. As if on cue, my eyes were drawn to a Wicked Witch of the West getting out of a cab. Best witch costume I’ve ever seen.
That damn witch scared the hell out of me when I was a little kid. So did her foot-soldiers, and that dark chant they robotically repeated over and over again: “Oh-Ee-Yah! Ee-Oh-Ah!”
They’re called Winkie Guards. I looked it up.
Right after Dorothy hydrates their boss to death, the leader of the Winkies says:
“She’s…she’s…she’s dead. You’ve killed her!”
Innocent Dorothy, now realizing she has more jerks to deal with, explains the accident:
“I, I didn’t mean to kill her… really I didn’t. It’s, it’s just that she was on fire!”
Dorothy had misunderstood, of course. Those Winkies hated WWW. The leader salutes their new hero:
“Hail, Dorothy!” The rest repeat in full chorus.
The Winkies were finally free. For so long they had feared WWW’s power and had no choice but to obey her every command.
The irony is that the overwhelming number of Republicans in the House and Senate who’ve been defending Donald Trump — can’t stand Donald Trump. They cannot understand how this man has commandeered the party of Lincoln and Reagan.
Nevertheless, none of these GOP’ers dare try to grab Wicked Don’s broom. They’re terrified of the backlash they’ll receive. But only because of the numbers.
In 2013, disgraced former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford came back from the political dead to win a special election to Congress. After Donald Trump was elected, Sanford publicly criticized him for not understanding the Constitution, called his tariff policy “stupid,” demanded that he release his tax returns and said that Trump’s remarks had “fanned the flames of intolerance.”
Trump ripped back on Twitter and enthusiastically endorsed Sanford’s primary challenger. On June 12, 2018, Mark Sanford lost the first election of his career. He’d resurrected himself from the humiliating “Appalachian Trail” scandal, but he couldn’t survive Donald Trump.
Members of Congress listen to their voters in order to achieve their chief political priority: getting reelected. This is how our system was set up.
Once impeachment gets to the US Senate, Republicans are likely to hold their noses and vote to acquit the president. Like Sanford, they need the loyalty of their bases to win primaries. Again, how they feel about the president does not matter. The numbers are what matter.
Yet the people who insist Trump will “never” get convicted and removed by the Senate are ignoring the fact that numbers have the capacity to change. And they already are.
In polling conducted by SSRS since March, Americans have been asked the following question five different times: Do you think the president should be impeached and removed from office? Here are the proportions who answered “yes” by month:
March: 36 percent
April: 37 percent
May: 41 percent
Sept: 47 percent
Oct.: 50 percent
The October number was taken two weeks prior to the Halloween House vote.
This might not seem like spooky stuff yet for Republicans, but the numbers are moving in one direction.
How high will the number have to get to change positions in the Senate? Without a witch’s crystal ball, there’s no hard and fast number we can pinpoint for sure.
For the sake of comparison, in June of 1974 — three months before Richard Nixon was forced to resign — 44 percent of Americans told Gallup that he should be removed from office. But Republicans stuck with him.
By August, after two months of televised Watergate hearings and his SCOTUS-ordered surrender of the tapes, the number had moved to 57 percent. On August 7th, Senate and House Republican leaders walked into the Oval Office. Barry Goldwater told Nixon he had 18 supporters left in the Senate — at most. Nixon resigned two days later.
To be clear, we are living in a different era, and I’ve written about how Trump has the protection of FOX News in a way that Nixon never did.
Still, the number of Americans who favor conviction and removal has been consistently climbing. Now that the narrative is going to play out officially in televised open hearings, 53 Dorothys may soon find themselves with brand new powers.