The Slatest

Today’s Impeach-O-Meter: What if Donald Trump Isn’t a Political Genius?

Trump, seated in front of an American flag and a Japanese flag, looks into the middle distance.
Donald Trump in New York City on Wednesday.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The original Impeach-O-Meter was a wildly subjective and speculative estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump would be removed before his term ended. Republicans have since established that there’s nothing that Trump could do to lose their support, making a conviction in the GOP-held Senate inconceivable. But as evidence of the president’s criminal unfitness for office continues to accumulate, an increasing number of Democrats are willing to say that he should be held accountable, at the least, via impeachment proceedings in the House. So we’ve relaunched the Impeach-O-Meter as a (still wildly subjective and speculative) estimate of the likelihood that the House votes to impeach Trump before the end of his first term.

There is a fear, evident in both conversations with regular nonfamous Democrats and in the Democratic Party’s behavior at a national level, that Donald Trump is a political sorcerer. This manifests itself most often when it appears that he’s doing something dumb or illegal and Democrats start to worry that he’s actually setting a political trap for them. It’s not an entirely irrational fear: Trump won a primary he wasn’t expected to win while acting crudely and erratically, then won a general election he wasn’t expected to win while acting crudely and erratically. Maybe, you start to think, he’s crazy like a fox.

The fear of walking into a Trump trap was, explicitly, Nancy Pelosi’s reasoning for not impeaching him. Trump actually wanted to be impeached, she said, so that he could be acquitted by Republicans in the Senate and use that momentum to win a 2020 landslide powered by voters who felt Democrats had overreached and wasted the country’s time by trying to force him out office. When Pelosi announced her support for impeachment proceedings on Tuesday, she did so by—convincingly!—stating that she considered it a measure of last resort.

Trump’s response since that point has not bolstered the political-sorcerer-who-secretly-wanted-to-be-impeached theory.

• After a solid nine months of completely ignoring, even belittling, nearly every Democratic oversight request, he folded and released an internal White House summary of his July 25 phone call with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky within hours of Pelosi’s announcement that she supported formal impeachment.

• The document confirms that Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden on dubious charges of corruption—and that he did so after complaining that Ukraine wasn’t being “reciprocal” enough about the support that the U.S. had given it.

• It also brings to light the previously unreported fact that Trump asked Zelensky to investigate something—it’s not entirely clear what, because Trump’s side of the conversation is not coherent—related to a theory that someone in Ukraine, rather than Russia, was responsible for hacking Democratic email accounts in 2016. This, again, would be a personal favor for Trump—an attempt to undermine the U.S. Department of Justice’s conclusion that Russia hacked the emails to help Trump to win the election, a conclusion that he has long contested.

• The best defense that the White House could come up with in its talking points about the call summary—talking points, which, by the way, it accidentally emailed to the House Democratic Caucus—was that there was “no quid pro quo” discussed involving military aid, despite the fact that Trump complains that the U.S.’s support for Ukraine hasn’t been reciprocated and responds to Zelensky’s request for Javelin missiles by saying “I would like you to do us a favor, though,” and then bringing up the subject of the email hack.

The Washington Post reports that even some Senate Republicans, who would be responsible for acquitting Trump in an impeachment trial, believe the release has been a debacle: “Three Senate GOP aides said Wednesday that their bosses were grousing and frustrated by the White House’s decision and the sense that Republican lawmakers were being forced into the difficult position of defending Trump while contending with what many see as an alarming or at least problematic transcript.” The Post quotes one anonymous senator as calling the release a “huge mistake”; Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey put out a statement that describes Trump’s request to Zelensky as “inappropriate.” (Toomey’s statement does, however, assert that Trump’s conduct “does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.”)

Raise the Meter!

The Impeach-O-Meter is set to 75 percent.
Illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo and Lisa Larson-Walker/Slate. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.