Democrats in the House of Representatives will eventually get around to filing impeachment charges against President Donald Trump. Ukraine envoy Bill Taylor has laid out the quid pro quo that Trump and Rudolph Giuliani orchestrated to pressure Ukraine into investigating Trump’s political rivals. We’re now in an episode of Columbo (Google it, kids). In the first scene we’ve been shown the crime and the culprit; now we’re just watching to see when everybody else figures it out.
Conventional wisdom says Republican senators will never get it. They’re the ones who will determine what happens during the “trial stage” of the impeachment process should the House vote to impeach him. (Note: This is where Trump will get the “due process” Republicans never gave to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.) It is taken as an article of faith in Washington, on television, and among ubiquitous “insiders” that Republicans will never abandon their bigoted president. You need 67 votes in the Senate to convict and remove a president, and there are only 47 Democrats or independents, meaning that you need 20 Republicans to break ranks and vote for removal. That is, allegedly, an impossible number to reach.
But has anybody tried? Has anybody rattled the cages of these elected officials? Do the American people even know which cages to rattle?
I doubt I’m alone in thinking the Democrats in the Senate are woefully incapable of producing a coherent strategy to hold the president accountable for his apparent crimes. Based on their actions, it appears Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and Senate minority whip Dick Durbin sit around all day waiting for Mitch McConnell to tell them which unqualified judges he’s elevating to lifetime appointments. The Democratic “resistance” in the Senate has been ineffectual and defeatist. I don’t even know whether that leadership can keep Joe Manchin in line long enough to vote to convict Trump. Schumer resists McConnell like butter resists a knife; he gets carved in half and thinks, “At least I’m not margarine.”
Still, despite what fatalistic Democrats and pundits tell you, a conviction in the Senate is not hopeless. The Daily Caller, a conservative website I only check when I want to feel morally and intellectually superior to others, claims to have done a poll of all 53 Republican senators. They found that only seven of them dismissed impeachment outright—and many of those seven staked their dismissals on process concerns, which will be hard to stick to after all the evidence is laid bare during a televised Senate trial. All of this suggests that there is a lot of room to move the Republican caucus.
To turn these Republicans, it will take a massive display of collective action. We, the American people, will have to demand that senators hold Trump accountable. We have to call. We have to write. We have to fight.
Towards that end, I have divided the Republican Senate into four groups. I encourage everybody to pick a senator—“adopt” one, if you will—and make pressuring him or her to do the right thing your responsibility. Make it part of your daily routine to call or write this person. Get others to join. There are 53 of these people, and we only need 20 to uphold the Constitution.
If you live in a state with Democratic senators, volunteer to help pen letters for a friend who lives under Republican rule. If somebody living in South Carolina wants to talk to Tim Scott but sound like me while doing it, let me know.
Remember how regular Americans saved Obamacare from the rabid “Freedom Caucus” of Republicans in the House? Remember how Trump still doesn’t have his wall? Remember when a bunch of American refugees with minimal military training banded together with President Bill Pullman and defeated the aliens on the Fourth of July that one time? We can do this. We must do this. Here’s where to focus our efforts.
Group A: The Retiring or Up for Reelection
Dan Sullivan (AK), Martha McSally (AZ), Tom Cotton (AR), Cory Gardner (CO), David Perdue (GA), Johnny Isakson (GA), Jim Risch (ID), Joni Ernst (IA), Pat Roberts (KS), Mitch McConnell (KY), Bill Cassidy (LA), Susan Collins (ME), Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS), Steve Daines (MT), Ben Sasse (NE), Thom Tillis (NC), Jim Inhofe (OK), Lindsey Graham (SC), Mike Rounds (SD), Lamar Alexander (TN), John Cornyn (TX), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Mike Enzi (WY).
Here’s a thought: There are 23 Republican senators up for reelection in 2020, which means that there are 23 people who will have to vote on whether to convict an obviously corrupt president and then face the voters. From a certain perspective, you don’t even need to worry about the rest of the Republican caucus if you can just make life miserable enough for these 23 people.
Obviously, you’re not going to get them all. Lindsey Graham has sold his soul to Trump. Tom Cotton is going to run the Trump campaign for president in 2024. Moscow Mitch is appropriately nicknamed. In some of these states, Trump is more popular than the senator running for reelection.
But in others, Trump’s approval rating is actually underwater. There are polls showing Trump’s ratings slumping around the net-unpopular zone in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, and North Carolina. He’s barely hanging on in Alaska, Georgia, and Texas. If you add all the senators from those states, that’s 11. If you add Lamar Alexander and Pat Roberts, who are both retiring and ostensibly have no political interest in rubber-stamping a criminal president, you could swell the number to 13.
Republicans in those states might think that the only way to survive is to fully embrace Trump and his base. But if Trump’s numbers get worse as more evidence against him is made public, acquitting Trump might not look like a life raft but instead like political suicide.
I’m going to be conservative and say that 10 people from this group can be convinced to convict.
Group B: Republicans with an Alleged Conscience
Don’t get me wrong, I think all of these people, with the exception of Murkowski, are bald-faced hypocrites. They’ve debased themselves and their party for Trump, and they will all continue to do so. Trump viciously insulted Ted Cruz’s father and wife, yet Cruz still supports Trump. Tim Scott used his position as the nation’s only African American Republican senator to defend Trump’s lynching analogies. Rand Paul is a novel made flesh yet loosed from its original binding. Mitt Romney is a person who once asked to lead the free world but now makes fake Twitter accounts to speak to the people.
But all of these people have given an indication during the Trump era that they know better. They know what the president does is wrong.
There could be 10 votes for impeachment here. These 10 people damn well know that extorting a foreign government to investigate a political rival in exchange for weapons to fight Russia warrants removal from office. Whether even one of these 10 has the basic courage to vote their conscience is anyone’s guess. But if these people have a conscience, their constituents should be vocally demanding that those better angels step forward.
Let’s imagine a world where eight people from this group can find the courage to convict. That puts Trump two votes shy of removal.
Group C: The Ones Who Know the Voters Will Never Forget
These senators are not up for reelection in 2020. But there’s no reasonable universe where these people should be able to acquit Trump and then hang onto their jobs when their election cycle is up. Scott and Johnson already needed the strong voter-suppression efforts in their states to win their elections last time.
I am of the opinion that a vote to acquit Trump will look worse as time goes by, especially if Trump is actually acquitted. Remember, the Ukraine call happened the day after Robert Mueller testified in front of Congress, and Republicans declared victory. Ukraine is an example of an emboldened Trump. Can you imagine how emboldened he will be if he survives impeachment? The crimes Trump commits, and the havoc he wreaks on the international scene should he survive impeachment, will hang like a millstone around the necks of those who voted to acquit him.
Call these people and tell them that. These three people will not be the first on the Trump conviction scene. But can you imagine getting 18 Republicans to defect only to have Pat Toomey and Ron Johnson say, “No, no, I will be the vote to save the president”? Please. Pressure these guys, and they will fold.
If two of these three people can be turned, we’re at 20, and Trump gets impeached and removed from office.
Group D: At Least We Tried
Richard Shelby (AL), John Boozman (AR), Mike Crapo (ID), Todd Young (IN), Mike Braun (IN), Jerry Moran (KS), John Kennedy (LA), Roger Wicker (MS), Roy Blunt (MO), Josh Hawley (MO), Deb Fischer (NE), John Hoevan (ND), Kevin Cramer (ND), James Lankford (OK), John Thune (SD), Marsha Blackburn (TN), John Barrasso (WY).
These people are not going to vote to convict the president. I could make a case that the Indiana boys might see the merits of putting a Hoosier in the White House, or that since Josh Hawley wants the media to talk about him like he’s a Republican with a conscience, he might actually act like one for the first time in his public life. But none of these people are up for reelection, and none of them have shown that they were called to public service out of anything other than sheer opportunism.
But let’s do the math the other way. Instead of counting to 20 Republicans as I have been doing, let’s try to count to the 34 Republicans needed to acquit the president. This “at least we tried” group represents 17 votes, half the needed number. Scroll back up through the previous groups. Are you sure that Trump has 17 additional votes? Are you sure that he will still have 34 Republicans willing to free him after his public trial in the Senate?
It is very difficult to hold a president of the United States accountable for his criminal actions. But don’t let anybody tell you that it is impossible. Do the math. Then get on the phones. These senators can be pressured. They can be shamed. They can change their minds.
Trump’s entire defense rests on his belief that there aren’t 20 Republicans with the courage to cross him. What if he’s wrong?