America is going through its third presidential impeachment drama. Hence it is a good time to examine the two past presidential impeachments.
The first presidential impeachment was that of Andrew Johnson (D-Tennessee) in 1868. Johnson; a pro-slavery Democrat, was a popular war hero who became President Abraham Lincoln’s (R-Illinois) Vice President in an attempt at national reconciliation.
Specifically, Johnson was one of the few Southern political leaders who fought for the Union during the Civil War. Nobody planned for Johnson to become president until John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln in 1865.
Johnson’s politics; however, differed greatly from the views of the Radical Republicans who dominated Congress. For instance, Johnson favored white supremacy and treating former Confederates leniently. In contrast, the Radical Republicans wanted equal rights for blacks and severe punishments for former Rebels.
Eventually, the Radical Republicans tried to remove Johnson because the President opposed their Reconstruction program. Reconstruction was an effort to force racial equality on the South.
The second presidential impeachment targeted William Jefferson Clinton (D-Arkansas) in 1999. Congressional Republicans tried to remove Bill Clinton because of a tawdry affair with a staffer named Monica Lewinsky.
What we can Learn from Past Presidential Impeachments
Both presidential impeachment efforts failed, but there is a lot we can learn from those historical interludes.
President impeachment lessons from history include:
1. Election results show impeachment helps parties at the polls
Popular wisdom is that the Democrats are sabotaging their future electoral chances by trying to impeachment President Donald J. Trump (R-New York).
History; however, shows the impeaching party benefits at the ballot box. The Republicans; for example, won the four presidential elections that followed 1868. For the record, those elections were 1868, 1872, 1876, and 1880.
Furthermore, the Republicans won the two presidential elections that followed the 1999 Clinton impeachment; 2000 and 2008. In addition, the Grand Old Party controlled Congress for most of the next 20 years.
Tellingly the Democrats won big in the 5 November off-year elections held during the present impeachment circus. For instance, the Democrats took control of both house of Virginia’s state legislature, The Guardian notes.
In addition, Democrat Andy Beshear won a narrow victory in the Kentucky governor’s race on 5 November 2019. On the other hand, Republicans won four other statewide offices in Kentucky.
Dramatically, Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards won reelection on 16 November 2019 despite extensive help from Trump, Politico reports. Edwards won in a conservative “red” Southern state during the week the House was holding impeachment hearings.
In fact, Allan J. Lichtman; the American University Professor of History who correctly predicted the outcome of nine presidential elections, thinks impeachment is the key to Democratic success next year. “Without impeachment, however, Democratic prospects are grim,” Lichtman tells CNN.
Election results show impeachment helps parties at the polls. Therefore, U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) is a shrewder politician than her critics realize. Pelosi could help her party win in 2020; and beyond, by allowing impeachment to go forward.
2. Impeachment is all about the politics
Ultimately, impeachment is all about the politics and little else.
Republicans tried to impeach Andrew Johnson because the president removed GOP officeholders. Specifically, Johnson exercised his constitutional authority by firing Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. Stanton was a Radical Republican and a popular Lincoln appointee.
Widespread hatred of Bill and Hillary Clinton among the Republican base was the main motivation for the 1999 impeachment. In fact, there is no evidence Clinton violated any law by having sex with Lewinsky.
Today, a similar wave of hatred for Donald J. Trump in the Democratic base is one motivation for the impeachment effort. Rank and file Democrats hate Trump and want to hurt him. Pelosi is bowing to her voters’ wishes with the impeachment.
Next year’s election is also driving impeachment. I think many Democratic leaders have read Professor Licthman’s Thirteen Keys to the Presidency and believe his thesis. Additionally, some of those Democrats have seen or read Licthman’s theory that impeachment is the key to their victory.
Consequently, those Democrats think impeaching Trump will help them win elections next year. Thus, House Democrats do not care about removing Trump. They are impeaching Trump because it is good politics.
3. America will quickly forgive and forget impeachment
Tennessee eventually sent Andrew Johnson back to the U.S. Senate in 1875 where the men who tried to impeach him welcomed his return.
Since leaving office in 2001, Bill Clinton has become a popular celebrity and respected elder statesman. Tellingly, Clinton was a prominent guest at Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.
Hence, Donald J. Trump is likely to become a respected national figure and get respect from his former impeachers after he leaves office. I think America will forgive Trump and forget his crimes real or imagined.
4. Impeachment will not have much effect upon next year’s presidential election.
Recent impeachment efforts did not hurt Republicans’ efforts in 1868 or 2000. Therefore, the Trump impeachment is unlikely to hurt Democrats; or help Republicans, in 2020.
I predict many voters will forget about impeachment by November 2020. Thus, next year’s presidential election will be about other issues.
In the final analysis, the most interesting lesson history teaches about impeachment is how little effect impeachment has on our politics.