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Will Whatley: On impeachment, watch the Republicans

By WILL WHATLEY, Alabama Daily News

It has officially hit the fan.

After a few years of bubbling tensions, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the House would begin an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump after reports surfaced that he’d used his presidential powers to try and force a foreign nation to dig up dirt on a political rival.

And with this move, the political fight of a generation is officially underway.

First let’s set the stage. Last week it was revealed Trump had talked with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky about investigating former VP Joe Biden’s son and then attempted to cover it up. Compounding the problem is the fact that the White House was also keeping calls with the leaders of Russia and Saudi Arabia on secret servers to try and mislead those monitoring such conversations. Then news broke Monday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took part in Trump’s phone call to Zelensky.

I’m honestly surprised things took as long as they did to develop. The threat of impeachment has loomed over Trump’s administration since it began. Democrats have preached ad nauseam about the dangers Trump presents to the country. Republicans have been quick and consistent to staunchly defend him at every turn. Where things go from here is anyone’s guess. It’s pretty clear the Democrat-controlled House will move the proceedings to the Senate in a expedient manner. One major factor is that the presidential election is 13 months away. That may seem like a long time, but consider that the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire primary election are in early February – a little more than four months away. That’s part of why Democrats are moving very fast to get the impeachment inquiry and eventual articles moving.

Assuming Democrats are successful in actually approving articles of impeachment in the House, will the Republican majority in the Senate be there to protect Trump? I’d be willing to bet it is.

One reason is principle. At this point, most elected Republicans and conservatives in the media say they simply haven’t seen evidence of behavior bad enough to warrant impeachment. Even so-called “Never Trumpers” like Kevin Williamson at National Review can’t bring himself to justify impeachment, despite his stinging criticisms. One thing working in the president’s favor in this regard is that we’ve come to expect brash, unseemly behavior from him. On the other hand, former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake estimated that somewhere between 30-35 Republican senators would likely vote in favor of removing Trump if the vote was held secretly. Who knows if that’s true. But they sure wouldn’t vote that way publicly, which brings me to the next point.

Another reason is political. Forget elected Republicans and the conservative talking heads on television. What really matters is the base, and there simply aren’t many supporters who have turned on the president. Isn’t this kind of stuff why so many voters flocked to him in the first place? They were attracted to his persona of being a tough talker who promised to ruffle feathers and shake up the status quo.  While recent polling shows there’s growing support for Trump’s removal among the general population, it’s still widely disapproved by Republicans. According to a new Quinnepac poll, the general population is about evenly split on the prospect of impeachment at 47%-47%. However, that same poll showed that 94% of Republicans are opposed to impeachment.  Additionally, a poll conducted last week by NPR-Marist found Trump’s approval rating among the GOP at 90%. While Trump’s support among the party isn’t as high as he claims it to be, it’s still significant, and those same Republican voters who are staunchly backing the president are the same ones who elect Republican senators.

A final reason is practical. Tell me this: who exactly would lead the Republican ticket in 2020 if President Trump is somehow removed from office? Vice President Mike Pence? He’s a nice guy who has mostly kept his nose clean, but could he even come close to inspiring the kind of turnout Trump gets from the base? How about Niki Haley? I think she’d be a popular choice, but she’s probably better suited for a post-Trump conservatism than what exists now. Maybe Mitt Romney? Once the great white hope, he’s now among the most despised figures in Trump world.

Make no mistake, if Republican senators went along with removing Trump, the party would be forced into a very tough situation for 2020. Despite the many headaches he’s likely caused for Republicans, the GOP has hitched its wagon to his star. There’s no stuffing the genie back in the bottle and there doesn’t seem to be a sufficient enough appetite to make a change. If you want Trump gone, well, don’t hold your breath.

Of course, things could all change very quickly. The allegations against him are serious, and you never know what else can be uncovered once the Congressional investigations and depositions begin. But until that “smoking gun” of irrefutable evidence of irredeemable behavior is revealed, expect Republicans to stand by their man.

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