CAS professor reflects on impeachment, upcoming elections

Allan Lichtman says 2020 presidential race is too close to call

CAS professor reflects on impeachment, upcoming elections

Distinguished Professor of History Allan Lichtman teaches in the School of Public Affairs.

This article has been updated with a correction. Lichtman is a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, not the School of Public Affairs.

Even before Donald Trump was elected as president, Distinguished Professor of History Allan Lichtman from the College of Arts and Sciences predicted arguments for his victory and the impeachment that would soon follow. Now, he is witnessing his predictions play out in the Senate chamber.

“Everyone thought, ‘How could you possibly say that? This is outlandish,’” Lichtman said. “And of course what I predicted has absolutely come to pass.”

In his 2017 book “The Case for Impeachment,” Lichtman laid out arguments for the impeachment of President Trump, which included complicity with foreign governments. President Trump is being impeached for withholding military aid from Ukraine in order to pressure the country to investigate the son of his possible Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.

Lichtman has been studying American society and politics for more than 50 years, but he said he’s never seen a trial like this one before. He said President Trump and the Republicans are treating it more as a coverup.

“Articles of impeachment are like an indictment in a regular criminal trial and they don’t have the same standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Lichtman said. “You need a full set of documents and witnesses in the trial as you routinely have in this country.”

In a new poll conducted by CNN, 51 percent of Americans support a Senate conviction and removal of President Trump from office. Lichtman said this is “extraordinary,” considering a majority of Americans did not believe Richard Nixon should be convicted until the end of the process.

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Peter Starr said the impeachment trial should be considered a turning point in our country’s history, and encouraged students to engage with the process.

Lichtman agreed, saying that students should feel motivated to call and email their senators to tell them that they want a fair trial. 

“If, in fact, we establish a precedent that a president can coerce foreign nations into undermining our democracy, then America as we know it is going to be grievously harmed and the students—the young people—will be the most affected,” Lichtman said.

Besides predicting impeachment as early as anyone else publicly did, Lichtman is most well-known for creating a model that has predicted the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections since 1984—with the exception of the 2000 election. The model focuses on whether the incumbent party will be able to retain their spot in the White House.

Lichtman has yet to officially predict the winner of the 2020 presidential election. He said it is too close to call because, according to his model, it takes six out of thirteen keys—factors determined by the performance of the party controlling the White House—against the president to predict his defeat. Currently he sees only five.

To defeat President Trump, Lichtman said the Democratic nominee needs to use his or her energy to engage young voters like they did in the 2018 midterm elections.

“Things change overnight in the age of Trump and a lot can happen [between] now and November,” Lichtman said. 

Starr said stories on Lichtman and his predictions often have the highest hits on AU web pages. He said the AU community pays close attention to him when the election cycle heats up.

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