Editor’s Note: Scott Jennings, a CNN contributor, is a former special assistant to President George W. Bush and a former campaign adviser to Sen. Mitch McConnell. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations in Louisville, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
On the floor of the US Senate, in full view of the American people, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff finished what Russian President Vladimir Putin started.
“The President’s misconduct cannot be decided at the ballot box, for we cannot be assured that the vote will be fairly won,” Schiff thundered this week, arguing for President Donald Trump’s removal.
That comment stopped me in my tracks (and rankled many in the Senate GOP conference) because the conclusion of the US intelligence community was that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was designed “to undermine public faith in the US democratic process,” an assessment backed up by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
What could possibly be more fulfilling of Putin’s desire to sow discord and mistrust than for a senior member of Congress to stand in the well of the Senate and declare the 2020 election is already illegitimate before a single ballot has been cast?
Putin himself couldn’t have scripted a better finale for his operation.
There is something revealing – and chilling – in Schiff’s views on Trump’s retrospective and prospective illegitimacy vis-à-vis the Republicans he routinely pillories for supporting the President. Schiff argues that Trump undermines our political institutions, but what could be more undermining to the Office of the Presidency than for his opposition to seemingly never accept the legitimacy of the person who occupies it?
Despite Schiff’s promises, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report flatly stated that the investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” But that has never stopped Schiff from indulging the Democratic myth that the 2016 election was stolen by the Trump campaign conspiring with a foreign government.
A majority of Republicans did not support Trump in the 2016 primary. In fact, GOP leaders raged and schemed to resist him until the end, but Trump overcame the establishment to win the nomination. Respecting the will of the voters, Republicans, unlike Democrats, ultimately accepted Trump’s nomination and then his ascension to the White House.
To them, Trump won fair and square. They may not have liked it, but the system produced a result, and they respected it.
Schiff’s reckless statements in the runup to the Mueller report and now this week’s impeachment arguments were a continuation of the Democratic emotion to never concede the 2016 election – and to never acknowledge the legitimacy of a man they detest. Schiff is, in effect, arguing that America’s political institutions have already failed and will fail again unless a singular individual is no longer allowed to exist in the system.
As Republican Sen. Josh Hawley told Tucker Carlson, if Schiff’s argument is that Trump’s 2016 election isn’t valid – and 2020 is likely to be no different – “and therefore you have to protect democracy by overturning elections… it’s no wonder that they [Schiff and fellow Democrats] don’t actually want to have this trial.”
Schiff exudes the faithlessness of Democrats who are sure that the basic pillars of American democracy, which have stood like immovable rocks in a stormy world for nearly 250 years, crumbled on the night that Trump was elected and cannot be rebuilt unless he is banished from the public square.
One man, they seem to say, is enough to destroy all of the faith in democracy that sprang from the genius of James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams.
Schiff’s passionate floor speeches essentially suggest that Democrats don’t want to toss Trump over the Ukrainian matter, but rather over the larger question of his whether he was or could ever be legitimately elected.
If Schiff is right, and this Democrat-only impeachment is overwhelming and righteous, shouldn’t he be supremely confident that Trump will lose in a landslide, no matter what levers the President pulls?
Americans are being told by a major political party that, effectively, our democracy no longer works. We are on the cusp of an election in which most experts agree that voter turnout will reach historic levels, and yet Democrats would have us believe that, because Trump is a candidate in that election, we may as well cancel it.
“Can you have the least bit of confidence he’ll stand up and protect our national interest over his own? You know you can’t, which makes him dangerous to this country,” Schiff argued.
But what’s more dangerous? Predicting what Trump may or may not do, or fulfilling Putin’s wish to project a belief that American democracy failed four years ago and is guaranteed to fail again? Putin won’t need a pittance of Facebook ads this time around; he’s got Schiff.
If I were a vicious commentator, I’d now take the leap of labeling Schiff a Russian operative. But that’s not true, and we ought to take more care not to label our fellow Americans as such.
He is, however, a “useful idiot” in this case, unwittingly doing Putin’s bidding.
Protecting the legitimacy of American democracy means actors in both parties must not reflexively label illegitimate the duly elected leaders of the opposite party when they clearly are not. This is what made Trump’s prior obsession with former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate so wrong.
Trump eventually admitted that Obama was born in the United States and was, therefore, the legitimately qualified president. Let’s hope Schiff comes around to the same view of Trump’s legitimacy before people start voting this fall.