It's official: Donald J. Trump is only the third U.S. president to be impeached by the House of Representatives. It's big news, and yet you could be forgiven for thinking: "Big deal."
We've all seen this coming for a long time. The only suspense was in the question of whether swing-district Democrats would stay onside and vote for impeachment, despite the peril that places their reelection bids in. Almost all of them did. That doesn't mean that Trump is guilty as sin, of course. It means that those vulnerable Democrats are more afraid of a primary opponent picking them off from the left than they are of losing in the general election in November. For many of them, a vote for impeachment is therefore simply a vote for self-preservation – the prime directive of politics, if you will.
Besides the unity in the Democratic caucus, there were only three surprises in this whole impeachment farce.
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First, the Democratic Party is shrinking. New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, formerly a Democrat, is joining the GOP because of his opposition to the articles of impeachment, and because he knows that an opponent of impeachment is not welcome in today's Democratic Party. For Republicans and conservatives, this is splendid news. Party-switching is a rarity in American politics, especially in Congress. Historically, it's a dire warning sign for the party bleeding support, which is precisely why the mainstream media always trumpet the siren song of Never Trump Republicans: It conveys the impression of weakness and division in the GOP. We can only hope that more freethinkers and centrists in the Democratic Party will be similarly disgusted by the campaign of persecution and vilification that their side has unleashed against our President. If they know what's good for them, they'll follow Jeff Van Drew's lead.
Second, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii and a candidate for president herself, voted "present" on both articles of impeachment. Her reasoning was straightforward: She doesn't think a partisan impeachment is in the country's best interests. Naturally, she's right, but consider the courage it takes to buck the impeachment obsession among Democrats. Gabbard will be, and in fact already has been, viciously attacked by her fellow Democrats for her refusal to endorse impeachment.
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The question that will inevitably arise in the wake of Gabbard's unexpected votes (and her decision not to run for reelection in the House) is this: If the Democrats thoroughly alienate her, might she make the journey to the GOP, or might she run as an independent centrist in 2020? The latter move would be a game-changer – not because she'd have a prayer of winning, but because anything that splits the Democratic/left-leaning vote will almost certainly help Donald Trump win reelection.
Already, we know that Democrats will have the Green Party candidate for president as a Plan B, in case they can't stomach their party's nominee. It's a fair bet, moreover, that quite a few Democrats, either moderates or progressives, depending on the candidate, will be in precisely this predicament. Gabbard could add her own spice to this witches' brew, creating a path for Donald Trump to win in 2020 with a plurality of the popular vote and a solid majority in the electoral college. Tulsi's iconoclasm could therefore have world-historical consequences. Indeed, her "present" votes could end up being by far the most important story in the impeachment melodrama.
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Lastly, the big news from impeachment day itself was that Nancy Pelosi won't guarantee that she will forward the articles of impeachment to the Senate. In all likelihood, this is mere gamesmanship – in other words, a lame attempt to extort a "fair trial" out of Senate Republicans. There is a chance, though, that the House Democratic leadership is bright enough to have figured out that a Senate trial of President Trump has virtually no upside for Democrats. It would almost certainly lead to the president's acquittal (and thus formal vindication), and it would likely be an opportunity for Trump and Senate Republicans to air much of the Bidens' dirty laundry. From the liberal vantage point, why bother?
But, if there's to be no trial, and definitely no conviction, then what, pray tell, was the point of impeachment in the first place? That's a question many leftists will be asking themselves, from now to November 2020.
If Trump wins re-election, moreover, as seems increasingly likely, Democrats will have even more reason to reproach themselves. By overplaying their hand on the seminal issue of Trump-hatred, which does frankly animate much of the country, but not to the pathological degree that we see in most Beltway liberals and progressive activists, Democrats not only blew their chance to end the Trump presidency prematurely. They also guaranteed its survival into a second term.