The Necessary, Kabuki-Theater Impeachment

Partisanship has grown so powerful that Nixon would probably survive Watergate today. Impeach Trump anyway.

The president of the United States is likely to be impeached today (and may be impeached by the time you read this newsletter), and outside of America’s subculture of political hobbyists, nobody seems to care. It still matters, though, and it’s still important to lay down a marker—even if the nation is replaying 1998, but with the partisan roles reversed. But let’s not focus entirely on the president. Bernie Sanders is surprisingly resilient in the Democratic primary, so it’s time to ask him: Why are so many anti-Semites orbiting his campaign? 

Today’s French Press:

  1. If we hope to maintain any tattered shreds of political dignity, impeach this president.

  1. There are some bad, bad people in the Bernie Sanders camp.

Sometimes, lines must be drawn.

In my adult lifetime, I’ve supported impeaching two presidents—one Democrat and the other Republican. In both circumstances, I knew there was zero chance the president would be convicted. Yet, in both circumstances, the president was clearly guilty of serious misconduct. Partisanship saved Bill Clinton. Partisanship will save Donald Trump. Partisanship has grown so powerful that if Richard Nixon were president today, he’d easily survive Watergate. Can you imagine Republicans bailing on a president who won a 49-state landslide just two years before?

Impeach Trump anyway. 

Neither the Clinton nor Trump impeachment can be removed from the larger context of their respective characters and actions. The Clinton impeachment—though focused on his lies and obstruction of justice surrounding a sexual-harassment lawsuit and his (separate) Oval Office affair with an intern—took place against the larger context of a veritable avalanche of tawdry and troubling Clinton scandals that dated back to his and Hillary’s business dealings in Arkansas. In other words, when Matt Drudge broke the news of the Lewinsky affair, Americans didn’t respond with shock, “What? Bill Clinton behaved badly? Well, I never!”

Even in hindsight, the level of criminality, scandal, and corruption that hovered around the Clintons is astounding. You want foreign interference in our elections? Can you imagine dissecting the Chinese fundraising scandals in 1996 in the age of Twitter and a fully developed conservative media? The Whitewater scandal—centered around a failed land deal in Arkansas—was ultimately eclipsed by the Lewinsky investigation, but it sent close Clinton associates to prison, including the Arkansas governor and the associate attorney general of the United States. 

By 1998, Bill Clinton’s sexcapades were well-known, including not just admitted affairs but also darker allegations of groping and other forms of sexual harassment. Members of Congress were also aware by the impeachment vote of Juanita Broaddrick’s horrifying rape allegation—an allegation that was supported by substantial corroborating evidence. 

In context then, the impeachment of Bill Clinton wasn’t just an indictment of his conduct surrounding a single sexual harassment case—though that conduct was certainly impeachable—it represented the culmination of a long train of scandals and a declaration by one elected branch of government that this man did not belong in the Oval Office. 

Analysts who focus on the short-term political effects of the Clinton impeachment miss the forest for the trees. They miss the long-term effects on the Democratic party and (more precisely) the Clinton political machine. Impeachment cost the Democrats, dearly. For Democrats, the 2000 election should have been every bit as winnable as the 1988 presidential election had been for Republicans. The economy was rolling. The nation was at peace. But Al Gore had to run away from the incumbent. He had to counter the incumbent’s character and present himself as if he was the gentlemanly Pence compared with the scandalous Trump. He lost.

Then, Hillary lost—not once, but twice—in part because weary voters thought, “We don’t want to go through that again.” In fact, her own conduct reminded them of the drama. Her email scandal broadcast once again that the Clintons believed the rules didn’t apply to them. The Clinton Foundation’s immense foreign donations reminded America of a Lincoln Bedroom for sale. So, she lost. Then she lost again to the most disliked politician in the history of American favorability polling.

In fact, if you look back to the 1990s, you’re overcome with déjà vu. The Clintons drove some conservatives insane. In echoes of the fringes of the conspiracy-theory #Resistance, videotapes circulated around America accusing the Clintons of the most vile crimes, including murder, and the Clintons were able to parlay this extremism into Democratic sympathy. Remember the “vast right-wing conspiracy” that was “out to get” the Clintons? The Clintons could and did thus take any concern, no matter how valid, and lump it in with the extremists. And Democrats bought it.

Watching Trump today, I’m reminded of the movie Patton. Squinting through binoculars as he watches American forces defeat the Germans in North Africa, Patton memorably says, “Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!” 

There’s Trump, squinting back in political history, declaring “Bill, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!” Trump did read Bill’s book. So did Republicans. So the Trump presidency will survive, even if it shouldn’t, and Republicans may well regret their defense.

Not long ago I had dinner with a Clinton loyalist, someone who stood by his president back in the day. I was amazed when he frankly (and with some emotion) admitted his error. “We could have drawn a line,” he said. “Instead, we helped erase the lines.” That comment has stuck with me ever since. And that’s the choice today—and it’s the choice that Trump will keep giving Republicans. Draw the line? Or erase the lines? 

Republicans have erased the line against presidential campaigns attempting to seek help from hostile foreign powers. They’ve erased the line against presidential candidates directing an admitted criminal conspiracy to pay hush money to a porn star mistress. They’ve erased the line against supporting a man who has bragged about groping women and been subjected to multiple sexual misconduct claims that are supported by considerable corroborating evidence. They’ve erased lines upholding basic competence and fundamental human decency. They’ve erased lines against serial, intentional presidential lies. They’re unfazed when multiple close associates of the president have proven to be crooks and criminals. Now they’re set to erase one of the most serious lines of all—the line against hijacking American foreign policy in one of the most volatile and important regions of the world in service of a truly crazy conspiracy theory and to extort a foreign investigation of a domestic political opponent. 

But impeachment still matters. It will put a permanent, justified stain on this president’s historical record, and it will make the voters ask themselves, in 11 short months, “Do we really want to do this again?” 

Democrats, wake up about Bernie Sanders’s allies.

From the beginning of the Trump era, one of the most troubling things about the president was his constellation of cronies. There were bad people in his orbit. We don’t have to run through the exhaustive list (several are or have been in jail), but among the most troubling were the non-criminal hateful extremists. Men like Steve Bannon—to take one prominent example—a person who helped cultivate the white supremacist alt-right. 

There are Democrats who believe that hate doesn’t live on the left. There are Democrats who believe that their candidates are immune from such toxic influences. They look at the Labour Party’s rout in Great Britain and think, “That can never happen to us.” Or they think that the anti-Semitic rot that infected Labour could never infiltrate a Democratic presidential campaign. Surely not. 

But there’s a whiff of Corbyn about Bernie Sanders. No, I’m not saying that Sanders is an anti-Semite. I’m going to have to have concrete irrefutable proof before I’m going to declare a Jewish politician an anti-Semite—something along the lines of the evidence against the fictional Clayton Bigsby, the world’s only black white supremacist (link is to a very, very NSFW Dave Chappelle sketch). But there are toxic people in Sanders’s orbit, and he needs to clean house.

Commentary’s Noah Rothman and Christine Rosen have done invaluable work in spotlighting Bernie’s Corbyn problem, so let me shamelessly quote from their work. Let’s start with Sanders’s “national surrogate,” Linda Sarsour. Here’s Rosen:

Over the years, Sarsour has supported rabid anti-Semite and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, posting enthusiastic notes of support for the Nation on social media and speaking at Farrakhan’s 2015 Washington, D.C. rally celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Million Man March, as Tablet reported.

And:

She has also offered enthusiastic support for Palestinian terrorists like Rasmea Odeh and cop-killing fugitives like Assata Shakur. At the same time, she has argued that Jewish progressives who criticized Rep. Ilhan Omar for anti-Semitic remarks have divided loyalties. Such criticism of Omar, she claimed “is not only coming from the right-wing but some folks who masquerade as progressives but always choose their allegiance to Israel over their commitment to democracy and free speech.”

Sarsour stepped down from leadership of the Women’s March in large part because of the evidence of her anti-Semitism. She shouldn’t be anywhere near any major American political campaign. 

Is there any other evidence that Bernie might have a Corbyn problem? Well, Sanders of course endorsed Corbyn even while the evidence of Corbyn’s anti-Semitism became overwhelming. Sure, Sanders is sympathetic with Corbyn’s socialism, but socialist anti-Semites don’t merit any American endorsements. 

There’s also the matter of Sanders’s embrace of Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. Here’s Rothman:

Sanders is a contender, and it’s time for the press to act like it. But taking that job seriously would entail an examination of the senator’s conspicuously Corbyn-esque instincts, to say nothing of the bigots with whom he has surrounded himself.

Don’t take my word for it; take that of Sanders’s own surrogates. Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of Sanders’s most visible endorsers with whom the senator frequently shares the stage, has apologized for some of what she’s admitted were anti-Semitic remarks. Or, if that’s not good enough, take the Democratic Party’s verdict. Those anti-Jewish slights for which Omar declined to show remorse had been targeted by her fellow caucus members for censure before a revolt of the party’s progressives and Black Caucus Members scuttled the initiative.

And: 

Another Sanders endorser and surrogate on the stump, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, is similarly implicated in blurring the lines between opposition to Israel and anti-Semitism. The congresswoman has made absurd and callous claims about the Holocaust, shared anti-Semitic artwork online, approvingly compared the often anti-Semitic (according to the ADL) Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement to the Boston Tea Party, and blamed the massacre of Jews at a Jersey City kosher market on “white supremacy” (the alleged perpetrators killers in fact associated with the hate group Black Hebrew Israelites).

Yes, I know that Sanders’s defenders will argue that he doesn’t agree with everything Tlaib, Omar, and Sarsour have said and done. They’ll note that Bernie has consistently and steadfastly condemned anti-Semitism. But when the Jewish community is reeling from deadly and vicious anti-Semitic violence, why continue to associate with people with such plainly terrible views? 

Campaigning with anti-Semites sends the same message that a Republican would send if he campaigned with the racist Steve King. And it would be no excuse to justify the association by saying, “How dare you say I’m giving aid and comfort to racism! I’m just campaigning with King because we’re both pro-life and share the same economic policy.” 

Support for Medicare for All or free college doesn’t function like baptismal waters, cleansing socialists from the sin of anti-Semitism. The national media should impose the same standards on Bernie as it has tried to impose on Trump. It should go without saying, but anti-Semites should not be campaign surrogates.

One last thing ... 

This bit of utterly disrespectful nastiness occurred over the weekend, so I didn’t sully my Sunday newsletter with it, but this, friends, is the definition of a truly scornful dunk. And it’s from Brandon Clarke, a Grizzly, and the steal of the 2019 draft:

Photograph of Donald Trump by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.