STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
People inside and outside Congress face a big question about President Trump. Even if you think the president was wrong to spend months trying to have a political rival investigated in Ukraine, an effort involving his personal lawyer and numerous U.S. diplomats and a phone call to Ukraine's president and, finally, a public call for the investigation on live TV - even if you think all of that was wrong, should he be impeached?
Jonah Goldberg thinks not. He is a columnist for The LA Times and a regular guest here. He's in our studios. Welcome back.
JONAH GOLDBERG: Hey. It's great to be here.
INSKEEP: So first I guess we should be clear on this. A lot of Republican defenders of the president have said the president's conduct was not so bad at all. Do you agree with that?
GOLDBERG: No. I think it was terrible. And I - and to be fair, it's not so much that I don't think he should be impeached. I think it is a prudential question about whether or not it is worth putting the country through this when an election is so close. The impeachment clause was first created primarily as a check on runaway tyranny before they had term limits. And we've never had an elected president in his first term in this situation.
And so I think it's eminently impeachable. There's plenty of stuff Donald Trump has done that it's impeachable. The question is whether it's worth doing, particularly if you don't think he's going to be removed by the Senate.
INSKEEP: Just to be clear in what you're saying, you're not only saying that the House can impeach, but that this is a serious enough abuse of power in your view that it would merit impeachment, were the circumstances a little different.
GOLDBERG: Yes. Although, I'm kind of quirky on this stuff. I think lots of presidents have committed impeachable offenses. I think we've too legalized and criminal procedure-ized (ph) the impeachment thing. It's a political question about whether or not our president has breached the public trust. And I think a rational, fair-minded person can come down on the side of thinking that Donald Trump has breached the public trust and that his actions merit impeachment. But just as a grand jury can indict anybody, it doesn't mean it has to charge anybody or actually has to go to conviction or trial.
INSKEEP: So your feeling is that, you know, maybe we should just have an election about these things and, what do you know, there's one coming right up? And so that could be the proper forum for adjudicating this, since it is a political question. Is that right?
GOLDBERG: Yeah. Well, look. I mean, think about it this way. I'm not a Democrat. Never been a Democrat. But if I were a Democrat and I knew that you weren't going to flip at least 20 Senate Republicans, do you want to impeach the president and then have him not convicted in the Senate, removed in the Senate, and him take away from that vindication and exoneration? And then if it makes his chances of getting reelected stronger, is that worth doing for your own political priorities? And that's an interesting question.
INSKEEP: Couple of follow ups on this. One comes from history. Jon Meacham, the historian, has written about the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. He was impeached. He was cleared by the Senate. He barely survived the trial in the Senate and went on as president. But you can argue that that was still a successful process because it constrained President Andrew Johnson, and he did a lot less in the final months that he was in office than he had done before.
GOLDBERG: Yes. I'm actually in favor of more impeachment.
GOLDBERG: I'm kind of serious about this. I'm not saying that Donald Trump should be impeached for his crazy tweeting. But I wouldn't mind living in a country where the president thought for a nanosecond, hey, maybe I shouldn't talk about treason and executing members of Congress 'cause that sounds like something someone might want to impeach me for. I mean, there should be more prices exacted on presidents straying outside the lines.
INSKEEP: OK. So you're - so you think there might be something to that argument that impeachment could potentially restrain the president even if he's not removed?
GOLDBERG: In the abstract, yes. In the case of Donald Trump, I'm a little more skeptical.
INSKEEP: Hard to say. But then there's the other question. You would like this to be left to the people, left to the election that's coming right up. But the president is accused of interfering in that election or inviting more than one foreign power, at this point, to interfere in that election. Is that not something that House members need to act against even if they fail?
GOLDBERG: I think that's a perfectly legitimate question to ask a lot of House members. And of both parties. Look, I don't think - I think the Democrats have behaved very badly. They burnt a lot of trust in capital by talking about wanting to impeach him from Day 1. So they've lost - they have a cry wolf problem. At the same time, I think the Republicans have not colored themselves with any glory, and a lot of Senate Republicans, particularly ones up for reelection, have embarrassed themselves.
INSKEEP: Nancy Pelosi was where you are, up until a couple of weeks ago, saying that this is a terrible president, but impeachment is not wise.
GOLDBERG: Yeah because again, it's a prudential question. If you don't think you can pull it off, it's like killing the king. If you're going to kill the king, kill the king. Or as Napoleon said, if you're going to take Vienna, take Vienna.
INSKEEP: Jonah, thanks very much. Really appreciate it.
GOLDBERG: Great to be here. Thank you.
INSKEEP: Jonah Goldberg is a columnist for The LA Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.