The best outcome would be for him to resign to spare the U.S. another impeachment fight.
The Wall Street Journal has been one of the most objective mass media outlets in the United States during the Donald Trump administration. The Editorial Board has published an extremely harsh article regarding the President’s final days.
The lodestar of these columns is the U.S. Constitution. The document is the durable foundation protecting liberty, and this week it showed its virtue again. Despite being displaced for a time by a mob, Congress returned the same day to ratify the Electoral College vote and Joe Biden’s election. Congratulations to the President-elect, who will be inaugurated as the Constitution stipulates at noon on Jan. 20.
That still leaves Wednesday’s disgrace and what to do about the 13 days left in Donald Trump’s presidential term. Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are demanding that Mr. Trump be removed from office immediately—either by the Cabinet under the 25th Amendment or new articles of impeachment. There’s partisan animus at work here, but Mr. Trump’s actions on Wednesday do raise constitutional questions that aren’t casually dismissed.
In concise summary, on Wednesday the leader of the executive branch incited a crowd to march on the legislative branch. The express goal was to demand that Congress and Vice President Mike Pence reject electors from enough states to deny Mr. Biden an Electoral College victory. When some in the crowd turned violent and occupied the Capitol, the President caviled and declined for far too long to call them off. When he did speak, he hedged his plea with election complaint.
This was an assault on the constitutional process of transferring power after an election. It was also an assault on the legislature from an executive sworn to uphold the laws of the United States. This goes beyond merely refusing to concede defeat. In our view it crosses a constitutional line that Mr. Trump hasn’t previously crossed. It is impeachable.
Mr. Trump’s many opponents are crowing in satisfaction that their predictions have been proven right, that he was never fit to be President and should have been impeached long ago. But Mr. Trump’s character flaws were apparent for all to see when he ran for President.
Sixty-three million Americans voted to elect Mr. Trump in 2016, and that constitutional process shouldn’t be easily overruled as Democrats and the press have demanded from nearly his first day in office. You don’t impeach for anticipatory offenses or for those that don’t rise to the level of constitutional violations. This week’s actions are a far greater dereliction of duty than his ham-handed Ukrainian interventions in 2019.
The related but separate question is whether impeachment or forced removal under the 25th Amendment now is in the country’s best interests. The latter seems unwise unless Mr. Trump threatens some other reckless or unconstitutional act. After Wednesday he has promised to assist an “orderly transition” of power. A Cabinet cabal ousting him would smack of a Beltway coup and give Mr. Trump more cause to play the political victim.
Impeachment has the virtue of being transparent and politically accountable. If there were enough votes to convict in the Senate, it would also seem less partisan. The best case for impeachment is not to punish Mr. Trump. It is to send a message to future Presidents that Congress will protect itself from populists of all ideological stripes willing to stir up a mob and threaten the Capitol or its Members.
But impeachment so late in the term won’t be easy or without rancor. It would further enrage Mr. Trump’s supporters in a way that won’t help Mr. Biden govern, much less heal partisan divisions. It would pour political fuel on Wednesday’s dying embers.
All the more so because Democrats aren’t likely to behave responsibly or with restraint. They are already stumping for impeachment articles that include a litany of anti-Trump grievances over four years. Mrs. Pelosi’s ultimatum Thursday that Mr. Pence trigger the 25th Amendment or she’ll impeach also won’t attract GOP votes.
Democrats would have more impeachment credibility now if they hadn’t abused the process in 2019. A parade of impeachers that includes Russian-collusion promoters Reps. Adam Schiff and Jerrold Nadler would repel more Americans than it would persuade. The mission would look like political revenge, not constitutional enforcement—and Mr. Trump would play it as such until his last breath. Mr. Biden could gain much goodwill if he called off the impeachers in the name of stepping back from annihilationist politics.
If Mr. Trump wants to avoid a second impeachment, his best path would be to take personal responsibility and resign. This would be the cleanest solution since it would immediately turn presidential duties over to Mr. Pence. And it would give Mr. Trump agency, a la Richard Nixon, over his own fate.
This might also stem the flood of White House and Cabinet resignations that are understandable as acts of conscience but could leave the government dangerously unmanned. Robert O’Brien, the national security adviser, in particular should stay at his post.
We know an act of grace by Mr. Trump isn’t likely. In any case this week has probably finished him as a serious political figure. He has cost Republicans the House, the White House, and now the Senate. Worse, he has betrayed his loyal supporters by lying to them about the election and the ability of Congress and Mr. Pence to overturn it. He has refused to accept the basic bargain of democracy, which is to accept the result, win or lose.
It is best for everyone, himself included, if he goes away quietly.
WSJ Editorial Board.
Updated Jan. 7, 2021 7:15 pm ET