San Francisco-based hedge fund honcho Tom Steyer has emerged as the single largest political donor in the last two election cycles. Making environmental and climate change issues paramount, he has heavily invested in Congressional and gubernatorial races through direct donations and PACs, and has often been portrayed by the media as a liberal counter-weight to the billionaire Koch brothers who heavily fund the Republican party and candidates.
Now, in a recent letter, he has upped the stakes for potential beneficiaries of his largesse: mandating that they officially support the impeachment of Donald Trump as a “litmus test” for his support. Of course, Republicans currently control both chambers of Congress, and the Democrats’ potential to take back both the House and the Senate in 2018 are unclear at best.
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What will be the long-term implications of a push to impeach Trump, and who will emerge triumphant in Democratic Party messaging? The Steyer-backed activist wing of the party, or the more moderate faction, led by such figures as Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, who has called for calm, and suggested that the independent investigation should run its course.
The Democrats would be well-advised to remember that the past two impeachment efforts (one of Republican Andrew Johnson and one of Democrat Bill Clinton) were ultimately seen as politically-motivated witch hunts, and the vast majority of historians and political scientists agree that they backfired spectacularly.
Ultimately, there is still no “smoking gun,” and if Democrats have a realistic expectation of impeaching Trump, (and convicting him in the Senate), they need irrefutable evidence of direct collusion with Russia. Currently, the best case that Democrats can make involves allegations of obstruction of justice over Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey.
These charges, again, are hardly ironclad: for the vast majority of the evidence cobbled together, it involves hearsay: Donald Trump’s word against James Comey. Other components of an impeachment push involve legal arguments of dubious merit. Case and point: the “foreign emoluments” clause of the Constitution which prevents American officials from receiving payments from anyone working in the service of a foreign government: the fact that Trump’s hotels are patronized by foreign governments (according to the Democratic left) constitutes an impeachable offense.
Absent said smoking gun, impeachment appears unlikely. In the meantime, political pundits and prognosticators will be paying close attention to the Mueller investigation. Ultimately, the American people will demand solid evidence that Trump has committed an offense that rises to the level of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” specified by the Constitution; not merely an opportunity by Democrats to remove a controversial and unpopular president because they disagree with his politics.