And so 2016 finally draws to a close.
It’s been the longest election year in American history. It ran from Feb. 1, 2016, the date of the Iowa caucuses, to the Senate vote to acquit President Donald Trump in early February 2020.
It’s true that Nov. 6, 2016, was a signal event in this long election year, but it didn’t really conclude anything, even though the result wasn’t in doubt. Usually, contested elections are ties or near-ties. This is the first time an election has gone into overtime, with repeated attempts at what were in effect recounts, despite the winner comfortably prevailing (Donald Trump won handily in electoral votes, the measure that determines the outcome, 304-227).
Immediately Democrats concluded that they’d been robbed, and Hillary Clinton did indeed get some bad breaks during the campaign, most consequently at the hands of then-FBI director James Comey. First, he went outside of guidelines to publicly explain his decision not to recommend an indictment over Hillary’s emails and then he announced a reopening of the investigation near the end of the campaign.
Such is life in the arena. But no one on the left was in a mood to move on.
Rather taking stock and recalibrating as warranted, Democrats remained fixated on 2016. Rather than simply mobilizing opposition to Trump’s agenda and reelection, as any opposition always does, they mused about how to reverse the 2016 result. Rather than acknowledging the near-impossibility of removing a duly elected president, they indulged in fantasies about how to do exactly that.
Above all, they obsessed about Russia as the cause of their undoing in 2016. With enough investigation, all would be made plain, the Trump-Russia conspiracy would be unraveled, the walls would close in, and the world would be restored to its axis. The rightful winner of 2016 wouldn’t take office, but the wrongful winner would be vanquished. What voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin failed to do, the grinding machinery of investigation would achieve.
When the Mueller probe didn’t produce the impeachment that the Democrats had expected with such fervent certainty, it seemed briefly they’d finally have to accept the outcome of 2016, however grudgingly. Then, Ukraine emerged, and impeachment was, thankfully and gloriously, back on.
Russia was a proximate cause of the impeachment over Ukraine. The Democrats charged that Trump sought Ukrainian interference in our elections, just as he had sought Russian interference (for all their interest in the Mueller investigation, Democrats have never absorbed its conclusion that there is no evidence that Trump colluded with the Russians). They said the 2020 election result couldn’t be trusted with Trump on the ballot, just as they believed he had corrupted the 2016 result. Absent their conviction that Trump is an illegitimate president, Democrats would have been, understandably, outraged by Ukraine and determined to investigate it, but they wouldn’t have impeached over it.
In this sense, the Senate trial is the last act in the 2016 election. It establishes, once and for all, that he won’t leave office prior to the end of his first term. It makes it clear that another election, not some other mechanism, will be necessary to remove him. It represents the final failure of the investigatory apparatus around Trump’s alleged Russia collusion to deliver Democrats from the consequences of their 2016 defeat.
Trump, obviously, isn’t blameless in any of this. He is incapable of grace notes toward the opposition; has been resistant to consistently and frankly acknowledging Russian interference in 2016, stoking outrage and suspicion; and he recklessly undertook his Ukraine scheme, when anyone around him not named Rudy Giuliani could have told him it was going to end in tears.
But he is not a Russian agent. He won the presidency in a free and fair election, and despite his attempted removal, will have a chance to do so again. On to 2020.
Rich Lowry has been the editor of National Review since 1997. He’s a Fox News political analyst and writes for Politico and Time. He is on Twitter @RichLowry.