by Mike Murphy
For years now, most Republican senators have chosen to answer tough questions about President Trump with essay-style answers. They usually begin by praising his conservative judicial appointments, then zig into tsk-tsking his worst tweets, zag to marveling at the strong economy and then finish up by expressing a sincere hope for a less toxic “tone” to start coming out of the Oval Office. It’s exhausting for all involved. When the essay question tactic is too risky, which is becoming more common these days, they often chose silence.
But now, it’s pencils down for the GOP. The easy-to-dodge days for Senate Republicans are coming to an end. Voters deserve stark clarity in the wake of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, and there is one certain way to get it. The Democratic House must impeach the president and force the question on the Senate: yea or nay on Donald Trump?
The president’s actions are highly likely to buffalo House Democrats into voting on impeachment. The argument heard earlier this year about impeachment being a political gift to the GOP no longer holds. The new sins are too big and too obvious. Our entire national political debate is now centered squarely upon Trump and his fitness for office. It is a time for clarity, no matter what the cost.
A House impeachment vote would, in short order, put every GOP senator and representative on the spot. Republican senators in particular would no longer have the shelter of silence, as they would make the final determination on guilt. It’s comparatively easy for the House Democrats to punish Trump with charges; the vital question is whether Senate Republicans would be brave enough to clean their own house, or brave enough to defend the president’s actions without equivocation. Then let the voters judge.
Articles of impeachment from the House would create extremely tough political calculations for Republican officeholders and candidates to grind through. Endangered Republican senators such as Cory Gardner of Colorado, Susan Collins of Maine and Martha McSally of Arizona would weigh two painful election-year options: one in which they struggle in their purple states to explain their vote to defend the president for doing the indefensible; or another where Vice President Pence leads the ticket but — despite the funereal wails of the president’s most fervent cultists — they can at least pivot to talking about the future and the dangers of the Democratic nominee. Other GOP senators, now retiring, would have to consider their legacies as they cast the most important vote of their long careers. Still others, who found the courage to criticize the president in the past, may find their voices once more.
Financial wizards have a wonderful term for the cold, bloodless business of discovering a given asset’s true value at a given moment; they call it “marking to market.” It’s a hardheaded calculation, for it reduces all things, regardless of sentimentality or nuance, to a clear valuation. In the wake of the president’s actions on Ukraine, the Republican Party and the officials who lead it must be brutally marked to market on the issue of Trump’s fitness for office.
This test would create an existential question for every Republican senator and representative: Why am I here? To serve my future or my country?
My Democratic friends assume the worst, seeing most elected Republicans as little more than a corrupt cartel of Trump bitter-enders. I think they underestimate the character of many of the men and women I know well who serve the Republican Party. But now is the time the country must find out. Force the question with impeachment.
Mike Murphy is a Republican consultant and co-director the University of Southern California Center for the Political Future. He co-hosts the “Hacks on Tap” podcast with David Axelrod.