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Is Trump trying to get impeached?

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The argument goes like this: Trump has a sort of feral instinct for constant self-promotion via grifting. His whole adult life is nothing but that, and through a series of bizarre twists and turns he’s managed to grift-promote himself to the presidency.

Now he wants to hold onto it, because leaving the office prematurely — either via failing to get re-elected or impeachment and conviction — is losing, and Trump is obsessed above all with winning and not being a “loser.”

That instinct is now telling him in some almost pre-cognitive way (this isn’t checkers, let alone 11th dimensional chess) that getting House Democrats to impeach him will be the best way to supercharge his already unhinged base even further, while convincing fence-sitters that the radical left is going too far.

Here’s some data from a new poll that provides potential support for this supposition:

Most voters believe the president committed a crime, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Thursday.


Americans said 57 to 28 percent that president Donald Trump committed crimes before he became president, the poll’s results revealed.


However, voters remain deadlocked at 46 percent when it comes to the question of whether or not Trump committed crimes while in office.

Regardless of voters’ stance on the president’s innocence, 66 percent believe Congress should not begin an impeachment process. That’s compared to 29 percent who do.

I think it’s fair to say that, at least at the moment, two things are both true: Donald Trump is very unpopular with a solid majority of Americans — the proportion of people saying they definitely will vote against him in 2020 to those saying they definitely will vote for him is almost exactly two to one — but a large majority of voters also hate the idea of impeachment in the abstract, and aren’t swayed sufficiently by Trump’s evident corruption, criminality, and general unfitness for the office to think that an exception ought to be made in his case.

Trump may be — again, largely instinctually, like a guy probing for psychological weaknesses while trying to sell you the Tru-Coat or the Ponzi scheme — trying to take advantage of this dynamic. So the House holds investigative hearings, and he stonewalls; the House then holds impeachment hearings, which he also stonewalls; the House votes out articles of impeachment on what would almost certainly be an almost straight party line vote (welcome to America 2019); and then the Senate holds a trial, largely controlled by Mitch McConnell, which means it will be a show trial in reverse to the extent possible, which is likely to be considerable.

Then we get an acquittal on another straight party line vote, which convinces the fence sitters that it’s all politics, and yeah he’s not a choir boy but at least he’s a fighter, and Americans love a fighter (cue the opening scene from Patton, where George C. Scott gives a stirring fascistic ode to America As The Land of Winners Who Will Not Tolerate Losers).

Frum is one of the very last conservative never-Trumpers, and he knows the psychological makeup of the contemporary Republican party from the inside. It’s grievance politics and narratives of unfair victimization all the way down, and an ultimately unsuccessful effort to remove Trump by the impeachment mechanism will play into that beautifully.

Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that impeachment is, even from a purely pragmatic perspective, the wrong move for House Democrats. While impeaching Trump will almost surely help his electoral prospects with his base and various fence sitters (while 28% of voters say they will definitely vote for Trump in 2020, a remarkable 14% say they’re still thinking it over), not impeaching him might hurt the Democrats with their base even more.

It’s a tough call, and here it’s important to note that neither Nixon nor Clinton were eligible for re-election when they were impeached, so we’re sailing in truly unchartered waters, from a game theoretical perspective.

But a lot of what’s happening now can certainly be explained via frame that assumes Trump is actively courting impeachment.

. . . a psychologist friend comments:

I’d add one more psychological feature: Trump is psychopathic, and I’m not just using the term loosely as a synonym for “asshole” and “selfish bastard” (as might women describing their ex-husbands). One common trait of psychopaths is a high need for stimulation. In Trump’s case, that often takes the form of craving chaos. Trump will rage and fume at a House impeachment, but he’ll also be energized by the spectacle. 

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