I begin this post with apologies to the regular readership for my prolonged absence from the blog. For the past several weeks, I’ve been away receiving and recovering from a surgery that has knocked me sideways a bit. My invaluable research assistant and blog co-editor, Sam Crosby, has been filling in, doing yeoman service posting articles and developments of interest, for which I can’t thank him enough. But I’m back at the old stand and ready to pick up where I left off.
For the politically attuned, among the biggest stories of the last few weeks has been the open break between Mr. Trump and Senators Jeff Flake (R. Ariz.) and Bob Corker (R. Tenn.). In the endless, bewildering swirl of abnormality our national life has become since Inauguration Day, it is easy to underestimate the utter uniqueness of what Flake and Corker have done. It is not merely that they have criticized a president of their own party. Sharp, even bitter, senatorial criticism is hardly unheard of. Senator Ted Kennedy’s feud with President Jimmy Carter was acrimonious and personal.
But Flake and Corker have gone far beyond even the most heated disagreement on policy or political strategy. Both of them have said, about as plainly as it is possible to say, that Donald Trump is unfit for the presidency and represents an immediate danger to American national security. Neither man is either a hothead or politically estranged from mainstream conservative Republicanism. Neither has so far voted against any legislative priority of the Trump Administration. Indeed, at any point in the previous thirty years, either might have been held up as the very beau ideal of the solidly conservative Republican lawmaker. And yet both have said that the Republican president is an active danger to the Republic. If there is a historical parallel, I don’t know of it.
A number of commentators have taken the two apostate senators to task for failing to take any concrete action in opposition to Mr. Trump, noting that they have been and largely continue to be reliable supporters of Mr. Trump’s legislative priorities. Other commentators have suggested that the two should be pressing for legal constraints on Trump’s impulsivity, such as requiring congressional approval of a nuclear first strike. In the end, I think such criticisms miss the mark.
Senators Corker and Flake can hardly be criticized for failing to oppose a legislative agenda with which they largely agree. And perhaps they should be actively exploring legislative means of fencing in Mr. Trump’s wilder urges. But the real shortcoming of their admirably forthright denunciations of Mr. Trump is that they fail to follow their own premises to the only logical conclusion — if, as they passionately claim, the White House is occupied by a man who presents a clear and present danger to the country, then the only effective remedy is removal of that man from office. In short, impeachment.
It is hardly surprising that neither senator has been willing to go so far. But it may be worth considering why they have not. The most obvious, and most likely, reasons are that neither man feels that so seemingly radical a step would have any chance of success and both doubtless believe that calling for it would make them pariahs in their own party. That said, I suspect that they are also forestalled by the conventional wisdom that “merely” being unfit and behaving in ways that are dangerously unsuitable for the office of the presidency is not an impeachable offense. Absent concrete proof of a discrete “crime” intuitively recognizable as a “high Crime or Misdemeanor,” the senators may see no constitutional path forward.
I’ve been giving a good deal of thought to this problem in recent weeks. I have concluded that the conventional wisdom is wrong. I believe that it would be perfectly appropriate, and consistent with both originalist and more progressive approaches to constitutional interpretation, to impeach and remove a president if, by temperament and conduct, he proves himself unfit for office. Sometime over the next few days, I hope to lay out the case for this view.