The calls for President Trump to be impeached have grown in recent days. But the difference between this being a liberal fantasy and a potential reality could depend, improbably, on who wins the US Senate race in Alabama later this year.
So far, the race to elect a replacement for the seat held for decades by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been a quirky, mostly sleepy affair. But by the time the December general election rolls around, the contest could drive national news. Why? Because its consequences could extend well beyond Alabama. The winner of that race might determine which party controls the Senate after the 2018 elections.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a similar dynamic to the one in Massachusetts seven years ago when Republican Scott Brown pulled off a surprise win in this deep blue state, forcing the Senate to change its rules in order to pass Obamacare. But in Alabama, a Democratic win won’t just jeopardize a Republican agenda, it could mean Democrats have enough votes to push for an impeachment of the president.
For Democrats to win in Alabama, a lot of things would need to go right for them in a state Trump won by 28 points. But they have a few factors on their side.
The Republican primary is already nasty and is expected to get even worse. One candidate, Judge Roy Moore, is a lightning rod best known for resisting attempts to remove the 10 Commandments from his courtroom. The other candidate, Luther Strange, was investigating impeachment charges against Alabama’s governor until that governor appointed him to the US Senate. (That governor has since resigned.) Either way, that means the GOP nominee will emerge from the primary bruised.
Meanwhile, the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones, is a former US attorney best known for prosecuting two former Ku Klux Klan members for their role in bombing a church 35 years earlier. That could help mobilize the Democratic base angered by the events of the last week.
In a low-turnout election (and given that this will be held in mid-December, it’s likely to have a low turnout), it will matter if African-American voters go the poll in large numbers to vote for the Democrat, as a means of reacting to Trump’s comments bolstering white supremacists. Granted, by December the way Trump responded to the Charlottesville protests might have faded from view.
What does this have to do with impeachment? It’s the only Senate race this year and thus the only chance the Democrats will have to pick off a seat this year. To tip the balance of power in the Senate, they must flip three seats currently in Republican hands. That means they’ll need the win the Alabama seat this year. Then next year, Democratic challengers will need to defeat Republican incumbents Nevada and Arizona — the only states where they’ll have a fighting chance.
Impeachment of a president is a two-step process. First, the US House must vote to impeach a president. Right now, all signs point towards the Democrats regaining a majority in the House. Second, the US Senate must vote to remove the president. A simple majority is all that is required for both votes to succeed, so a win in Alabama is a critical first step.
It is not often that the nation closely follows an election in Alabama. But given the circumstances — and the stakes — it is hard to imagine that this one won’t be fascinating to watch this fall.