Donald Trump’s gross, overt authoritarianism has both accelerated and dramatized a much deeper hostility to democratic principles on the right that predates him. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy illustrates that tendency with a tweet denouncing impeachment as illegitimate:
In this one arresting image, McCarthy layers together a series of popular anti-democratic (small-d, not large-D) arguments on the right that are dangerous on their own, and perfectly absurd in combination.
To begin with, any elected president who is being impeached by definition has won the support of a large number of voters. There’s no way to impeach losing candidates. If you don’t think a president who won a lot of votes should be impeached, you don’t think impeachment belongs in the Constitution at all.
Second, Trump of course finished second in the national vote. He did manage to eke out an Electoral College win owing to the peculiarities of that mechanism (which was designed to create independent electors who would choose a candidate, on the assumption voters had no way of familiarizing themselves with candidates from distant areas) and the randomness of its all-or-nothing blocs (move the Upper Peninsula to Wisconsin and the Florida Panhandle to Alabama, and Hillary Clinton wins the Electoral College.)
Trump and his supporters have relentlessly revised out of existence his national popular vote defeat (in part by fabricating claims of mass voter fraud) and to inflate his narrow Electoral College win into a metaphysical expression of the national will. Their favorite propaganda device is to take advantage of the lower population density of Republican areas to create a visual image of red implying this majority. McCarthy’s map takes that method to the next level by literally erasing Democratic-voting areas, and citing Trump’s vote total without also citing his opponent’s larger total.
That doesn’t make Trump’s win illegitimate. The rules are the rules. But of course those same rules say that Congress has the right to initiate impeachment hearings if it believes the president has committed high crimes and misdemeanors, leaving it to them to define those terms. What’s more, the House was elected by a fairly commanding national majority.
Third, the House is not “reversing” the 2016 election results. If the House impeaches Trump, the Senate will hold a trial, and only if 20 Republican Senators join every Democrat could Trump be removed from office. Even that result would not “reverse” the election, since reversing it would make Hillary Clinton president. It would merely install in office the person Donald Trump entrusted to take over the job.
Any argument that rationalizes Trump winning the presidency while finishing second would also rationalize the House impeaching him. There’s no internally coherent argument for elevating the Electoral College mechanism over the impeachment mechanism. Save one: that the Republican Party is entitled to permanent unchallenged rule.