It’s unfortunate that the criminality of someone so pathologically flawed as Trump requires a simple plot line like Ukraine-Gate, but when compared using some simple criteria the urgency of impeachment becomes clearer.
This is a qualitative hot take and appropriate caveats apply (the list is not comprehensive and the categories are almost certainly not equally weighted). The characteristics include:
1. Is the president accused of maligning political opponents? Scholars of comparative politics tell us that a key feature of healthy democracy is that political elites treat their partisan opponents as legitimate actors.
2. When a president is involved in a scandal that involves the intelligence community, the stakes get higher. If the intelligence community is involved, it means that national security and foreign countries are somehow involved.
3. Anytime secret identities are involved, the intrigue factor is raised.
4. Lies. When presidents are caught in lies, the stakes get higher. But this alone is insufficient for impeachment.
5. Any case in which the president is accused of corruption or conspiracy raises the stakes for impeachment.
6. Finally, since impeachment is political, not legal, it can only really take hold if Americans understand why it’s important. To that end, impeachment isn’t a real possibility unless there is a simple narrative about why the president should be removed from office. If a president’s offenses are so complicated that the average news consumer cannot easily explain it to their neighbor, then the issue may just be too complicated to resonate. Unless the threat and purpose of removal is clear, it may not rise to the level of urgency that warrants an impeachment.
By this highly non-scientific standard, it’s clear why the news breaking on September 24, 2019 has now risen to the level of impeachable offenses, according to leaders of the House of Representatives: the Ukraine whistleblower case satisfies all the characteristics of intriguing politics that make a case impeachable. I should note that in all the cases examined here, the White House and the House were controlled by opposite parties. There are no examples of same party impeachments, so that should probably be another characteristic on the list. It’s just that in the cases I examined, there would be no variance across that characteristic.
If we want to understand why impeachment is happening now and not earlier in the Trump administration, and how the potential impeachment of Trump compares to prior impeachments, these characteristics may help us understand how we got here.