With the impeachment of Donald Trump by the U.S. House of Representatives, we are headed toward a trial in the U.S. Senate. Thus far, this entire process has been markedly partisan: Only a few Democrats voted against impeachment in the House, and no House Republicans voted for it. Now, it shouldn’t be a huge shock that any issue ends up being partisan in Washington, D.C. Nearly everything that happens down there these days is. About the only thing the two parties seem to agree on regularly is spending this country into oblivion.

Yet when it comes to impeachment, both parties are acting as if they’re astonished at how partisan and political the process has become. Each side has its own reasons for making this argument, but the general public should keep in mind that it’s an absurd act on the part of both parties. While the impeachment of lower-level federal officials has often been bipartisan, the impeachment of the president never has been. If this impeachment is the most partisan one yet, it wouldn’t be by a wide margin: The impeachments of both Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were largely partisan votes.

The very first impeachment of a president, that of Johnson, a Democrat, was a partisan mess from the outset. Republicans passed a law – the Tenure of Office Act – that restrained his powers by barring him from simply firing anyone who’d been confirmed by the Senate. Johnson went ahead and did so anyway, removing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and so the House proceeded to impeach him. Republicans decided to entrap Johnson and impeach him mainly because they opposed his Reconstruction policies, not because he’d committed any real crimes. The trial in the Senate was a partisan circus, too: Johnson’s would-be successor was allowed to vote in the Senate trial. After the initial article failed by one vote when 10 Republicans (including William P. Fessenden of Maine) voted against conviction, the trial was adjourned for 10 days. In the interim, congressional leadership tried to bribe and cajole the defectors into changing their votes, to no avail.

The impeachment of Clinton was relatively staid by comparison, but equally partisan. In that case, at least Congress accused Clinton of real crimes – they didn’t have to invent them out of thin air, as they had with Johnson. Still, the votes were mostly along party lines in both the House and the Senate. Only a few Republicans broke rank to vote against conviction on both articles, and only one of them is still in office – Maine’s Susan Collins.

It might be nice to think that, when considering the impeachment and removal from office of a president, members of the House and Senate would lay aside their partisanship and vote their conscience. History has shown us, however, that not only do few of them actually end up doing that, but that impeachment votes and the subsequent trials are some of the most partisan votes taken in Congress. In that respect, the impeachment of Donald Trump is following the historical pattern, rather than establishing a new model.

Why, then, are so many commentators and politicians on both the left and the right seemingly in hysterics about the supposedly unprecedented partisanship of this impeachment? Well, it serves their own side’s narrative. For Republicans, portraying the entire process as intensely partisan allows them to paint the Democrats as politically driven malcontents who hate Trump and want to overturn the results of the last election.

For Democrats, claiming that the Republicans are being blindly loyal in their defense of Trump paints a politically convenient picture. They can portray the Republican Party as a principle-free gang taken over by a cult of personality, when in fact it should come as no surprise to anyone that Republicans continue to largely stand by Trump. He’s retained the support of most Republicans outside of Congress, so Republicans on Capitol Hill are unlikely to abandon him.

Republicans and Democrats alike are using impeachment to appeal to their base ahead of the upcoming elections. Neither side is truly putting much effort into convincing the other that they’re right. Rather than being a bipartisan pursuit of justice, the impeachment of Trump is a partisan charade perpetrated by both parties. That means that the real issue at hand in impeachment is not the outcome – or even whether or not Trump is guilty – but what effect it has politically. While that’s unfortunate, none of us should pretend it’s unusual or surprising.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: jimfossel


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