Dershowitz Is Opening a Door to the Unthinkable | Opinion

With one astonishing statement, President Donald Trump's lawyer made it clearer than ever that a Senate vote to acquit Trump is a vote to end our electoral democracy. Alan Dershowitz made the breathtaking claim that the president can't be impeached for anything he does to get re-elected because the president thinks his re-election is in the public interest.

That should sound familiar to anyone who remembers the Watergate era and President Richard Nixon's infamous CREEP (Committee to Re-Elect the President). Congressional Democrats and Republicans alike recognized that Nixon's misdeeds to get himself re-elected threatened the Constitution that they all took an oath to protect. When his fellow Republicans made clear that they would put our democracy first, Nixon knew he would be impeached, and he resigned in disgrace. Nixon later made his theory of governing explicit: If the president does it, it's legal.

Half a century later, and we have a very different Republican Party. It has become a cult of personality for Donald Trump. For most elected Republicans, loyalty to Trump is more important than loyalty to our nation or to the principles that undergird a democracy.

Trump's lawyer has now made explicit that which Democrats have long been saying: This trial is about exercising constitutional checks and balances. It's about holding a president accountable. Trump's lawyer says Congress is not permitted to do that.

As bad as the past three years have been, imagine the havoc that Trump believes he can wreak with impunity under this new "Trump Doctrine," as expounded by his lawyer.

Alan Dershowitz
Attorney Alan Dershowitz, a member of President Donald Trump's legal team, leaves the U.S. Capitol following continuation of the impeachment trial in the Senate January 29 in Washington, D.C. Sarah Silbiger/Getty

Imagine the deals he could make. Perhaps he could agree to make Florida's Republican governor his running mate and Ohio's Republican governor the attorney general. In exchange, the Republican-controlled legislatures of both Florida and Ohio would exercise their constitutional authority to name their 2020 Electoral College electors directly instead of having an election.Trump wouldn't have to spend a dime to win Florida or Ohio because they would no longer be swing states. Under the Trump Doctrine, he could not be held accountable by Congress for this abuse of power and effort to steal the 2020 election.

What if he directed the FBI and Department of Homeland Security not to follow up certain terrorist tips, in the hopes that an attack right in September or October would help him in the election? Allocating scarce resources for the purposes of re-election is perfectly legitimate under the Trump Doctrine, and Congress can do nothing.

Perhaps in the spring Trump could express his intention to exercise his constitutional pardon power for any "overzealous" Republican who might be "falsely and unfairly accused" of violating federal laws in the course of working for his re-election. Under the Trump Doctrine, Congress cannot remove the president for this blatant abuse of power.

The senators who vote to acquit Trump will be voting to eliminate the most important component of checks and balances against dictatorial executive power.

And then, they will have to go back home and look their constituents—and their constituents' children—in the eye and tell them why they cast this vote. Everyone will be watching as senators make that choice.

Paul Gordon is senior legislative counsel at People for the American Way.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.