When Ukrainegate exploded, I had a clear insight: Either Trump is finished, or the American republic is.
Well, barring some miracle, on Wednesday, Trump is going to be acquitted by the Senate — but not at all exonerated, as he is sure to claim: As Sen. Lamar Alexander admitted in explaining his vote against calling witnesses and examining documents: the House impeachment managers had proved their case. So no further evidence was necessary.
Trump did it. He put his personal gain above the US national interest by illegally withholding aid funds that had been appropriated by Congress to support a friendly country against Russian aggression, and even the symbolic support of a White House invitation for its president. He did so in order to extort that country into declaring that it would investigate bogus corruption charges against his leading rival for reelection — that is, he actively sought foreign intervention in a US election. Then he obstructed US investigations, judicial and congressional, into those offenses by lying brazenly and blocking any testimony by government officials (some of whom, to their everlasting credit, defied him) or exposure of any documents. As the chief House manager, Rep. Adam Schiff, eloquently put it: if all those aren’t impeachable, what is?
But Sen. Alexander still held that while “inappropriate,” Trump’s proven transgressions did not rise to the level of impeachment — though he at least felt need to justify his agonized decision not to cast a crucial GOP vote in favor of due process. Nearly all the other Republican senators did not bother, implicitly endorsing Alan Dershowitz’s mind-blowing argument that if the president believes his own reelection is good for the national interest, then anything he does to ensure it is ipso facto OK. The king can do no wrong, and who dares gainsay him?
Not only is Trump now free, and openly determined, to repeat the 2016 Russian exercise; the very constitutional foundation of the United States is facing (as we tend to say about our own troubles in Israel) an existential threat. Defeating Trump is not merely a matter of replacing a despicable and repulsive individual. It is literally essential to save the American system, which — however flawed — is still the vital mainstay of many others among the world’s “good guys,” ourselves included.
And the Democratic Party, the only possible vehicle to effect this rescue seems hell-bent on blowing it. This week’s Iowa caucuses look set to start a series of bruising, expensive and most likely indecisive donnybrooks that may drag out until and into the party convention this summer — while Trump carries on his uncontested and well-financed demagoguery.
There are real and important differences among the competing wings of the Democratic Party, though the number of candidates vying to represent them remains unrealistic even after it was somewhat winnowed down. Health care, tax reform, gun control, immigration and a range of other “kitchen table” issues definitely demand serious debate and treatment. But there’s little use arguing over details of a future remodeling while the house burns down.
Recent polls have indicated that the US public is not quite as oblivious of “Washington politics” as pundits often suggest. Three out of four Americans supported hearing witnesses in the impeachment trial. A clear plurality supported Trump’s removal. So that is not only an urgent necessity; it is now the unique issue on which Americans, and certainly independents as well as Democrats, are united.
Instead of endless and mind-numbing debates onstage about policy minutiae, the Democratic candidates must convene offstage, endorse a single, agreed standard bearer, cancel future debates and pool their resources and prodigious talents. Their choice can then be confirmed in primaries, just as Trump’s candidacy will be, without wasting six irreplaceable months on mutual strife. The present, outsize field of Democratic candidates includes a bevy of formidable advocates, who could turn their efforts jointly against the Trumpian menace (and those of his Senate lackeys who are up for reelection) instead of bloodying one another. Together, they might also form a great cabinet and fill other central positions after the election — but first it has to be won. The conventional wisdom whereby voters must be attracted to what you’re for, not what you’re against, may not hold this time — and in any case, there is enough common ground among the Democrats to run on and leave the disagreements for later.
Who should the chosen one be? I do have my favorite among the present candidates, but watching the impeachment proceedings persuaded me that the best prospect would be none of them. Rep. Schiff has become a household name and a highly respected leader; as chief manager of the quasi-prosecution before the Senate, he ran circles around Trump’s lawyers — as even opponents like Sen. Alexander acknowledged. His already admirable reputation is now focused where the party must focus: convincing an incontestable majority, even in “purple” and quite possibly “red” states too, that four years of Trump and his venal, scofflaw coterie would be an unmitigated and irreversible disaster.
Schiff’s 20 years of congressional experience in committees dealing with security and foreign policy have made him as conversant in these areas as his previous service as US attorney did for his administrative and constitutional qualifications. His policy positions are comfortably moderate, but what matters is that he personifies the uncompromising antithesis to Trump. Sorry I have to mention this, but he’s also young, personable. and charismatic — which may be one reason why Nancy Pelosi chose him to lead the impeachment charge, rather than the equally competent and upstanding Jerry Nadler. So far, the worst that Trump and his minions have come up with about Schiff is to misspell his surname into an obscenity. Yes, the latent anti-Semitism in many parts of Trump’s mob may emerge, and he may wink at it. But now is as good a time as any to call it out and beat it.
So Schiff should be drafted. What about a running mate? That can perhaps await the convention, in order to allow adjustment for unforeseeable developments till then. But I would seriously consider Bill Weld, the courageous but forlorn Republican anti-Trump challenger. He was, after all, elected governor of deep-“blue” Massachusetts, like Mitt Romney — who was one of the two lone Republican senators to vote for witnesses in the impeachment trial.
So, democrats (small d) of America, unite! You have nothing to lose but your republic and Constitution! I know all this is a fantasy, and the Democrats will keep up their circular firing squad until, too late, one is left standing. But a man can find some solace in daydreaming, can’t he?