Impeachment is an ineradicable shadow on a presidency. Donald Trump knew that in 2014.
"Do you think Obama seriously wants to be impeached and go through what Bill Clinton did? He would be a mess. He would be thinking about nothing but. It would be a horror show for him,” said Trump, speculating on how President Obama would react if impeached, during a call-in to his favorite TV show, “Fox & Friends.”
“It would be an absolute embarrassment,” he said. “It would go down on his record permanently."
Now President Trump, the third chief executive in American history to be impeached, knows it firsthand.
Don’t believe his rally-curated defiance, or the disgusting insults flung at those who, with their vote Wednesday night, decided that they’d seen and heard enough. (What was once said of early 20th century British prime minister David Lloyd George always applies to Trump: “He couldn’t see a belt without hitting below it.”)
Trump’s impeachment is a fire in his bones. He is not just decrying a process and vote he falsely brands a “sham” and has compared to the Salem Witch Trials. From his daft six-page letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to his marathon tweet spew, this is the infernal howl of a man bearing the weight of consequences for the first time.
It’s a world-shaking moment for someone who has lived his 73 years accountable to no one. Not until he moved into the White House did Trump fear a crack in his responsibility-free world. When Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel early in Trump’s presidency to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the Trump campaign’s possible ties to it, the president feared it would end his presidency. With profanity and self-pity, he reportedly said, “This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
And it probably was — until he emerged from that investigation relatively unscathed, though certainly not exonerated. He had the bluster of a man who felt omnipotent, as untouchable as his dictatorial buddies in Russia and Turkey. His fateful conversation with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky came one day after Mueller’s Congressional testimony.
This time, he can’t make his troubles disappear with out-of-court settlements or hush money. He can’t mask his misdeeds behind non-disclosure agreements. His bravado and intimidation tactics have failed him. History will record his presidency as one marred by his abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, indelibly marked with a scarlet letter “I.”
If the American presidency is an ultra-exclusive club, those impeached are relegated to its shabbiest room. Since Trump is the only one who was impeached in his first term, he deserves a miserable little corner all to himself. The Teflon Don is no more. His no-stick coating peeled off, all that remains is the toxicity.
Senate Majority Leader and Trump’s main co-conspirator Mitch McConnell will likely prevent Trump’s removal from office, but he can’t save the president’s tarnished legacy. It doesn’t matter who supports him. It doesn’t matter what his base thinks, or how he’s trying to foment and weaponize their anger with ominous tweets implying they — not he — are the real targets of Democrats. That he has been impeached will, to use Trump’s own words, “go down on his record permanently.” This is his legacy.
Accustomed to getting away with everything — from multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and assault to violations of the emoluments clause — Trump has believed that he can do no wrong. As president, he has used the rule of law as a punching bag; with two solemn historic votes the Constitution, and those who actually uphold their oath to defend it, swung back.
Trump will pretend he is unaffected, but he’s imploding. He is a mess. He’s thinking about nothing but impeachment. This is a horror show for him, an absolute embarrassment.
Still, for a man who loves to tout his primacy over his popular predecessor, the president may find some solace in this one unshakable fact: by being impeached, Trump has finally done something Obama never did.