America’s Democrats have made a serious mistake by launching impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. They are replaying the Republican impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998, a futile exercise that damaged Republicans, enhanced Clinton’s power, and caused institutional damage as well.
The common factor of the two impeachments is that it was clear from the start that the US Senate would never convict, which requires a two-thirds majority. The 45 Senate Democrats were not happy that Clinton perjured himself before a grand jury, obstructed justice, and conducted an extramarital sexual affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. But they did not believe that this behavior was grounds for removal from office. The behavior was not sufficiently egregious to overcome their political loyalty to a president who remained popular with voters.
Republicans leading the impeachment knew that few if any Senate Democrats would vote to convict (in fact, none did). But Republicans hoped to embarrass the Democrats and damage Clinton, believing that they would pick up some seats in the November 1998 election by launching impeachment proceedings before then. They were wrong. Clinton’s popularity rose after the impeachment proceedings ended. Most Americans believed that impeachment was a mistake.
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