Despite all of the hyperventilating in Democratic and liberal circles, it is not at all clear that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has had a “road to Damascus” conversion on the subject of impeachment.
It was no secret that Pelosi, certainly no fan of President Trump, felt that the timing, circumstances, and politics of impeachment made little sense. She has seen this play before. Disclosure of Trump’s highly inappropriate, if not downright illegal, telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky turned the heat much higher, prompting and in fact forcing Pelosi to announce an impeachment inquiry. She notably didn’t start impeachment hearings or even empower the House Judiciary Committee, the normal genesis of actual impeachment efforts.
That was the next step, one Pelosi really couldn’t avoid. But how does this inquiry differ from the considerable inquiring that was already underway? Let’s just stipulate that Trump is guilty of conduct unbecoming a president—few could argue with that—and put aside the moral, ethical, and legal considerations of whether Trump has committed impeachable and, more importantly, convictable high crimes and misdemeanors.
There are still both practical and political reasons why this is either dangerous, foolish, or both for Democrats.
Let’s also put aside the reality that given the hyper-partisan and tribal nature of American politics today, the chances of securing 67 votes to convict and remove Trump from office are precisely zero. It isn’t clear that there will be three Republican votes to convict, forget the 17 more GOP senators needed. There is no tolerance for dissent in the Republican Party today; just ask former Sens. Bob Corker and Jeff Flake and former Rep. Mark Sanford. The Republican members who are not afraid of Trump himself are still terrified of his supporters.
According to the newly released NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted Oct. 4-6 among 800 adults, when Republicans and independents who lean Republican were asked if they considered themselves more of a supporter of Trump or of the Republican Party, 48 percent said Trump and 39 percent chose the Republican Party—very similar to the 48-to-40-percent result on that question in their last poll, among registered voters. So for those who would seek to remove Trump from office by way of the impeachment process, success is off the table.
And let’s even put aside consideration that if by some miracle Democrats were successful, do any of them think that a President Mike Pence would be easier to beat than Donald Trump? He’d be able to run on all of Trump's conservative policies but without the bad table manners, without the increasingly erratic behavior.
In a country that is already deeply divided, as we learned with the experiences of impeachment proceedings against Presidents Nixon and Clinton, the act of impeachment is the most serious and divisive action possible, to be used sparingly and when there is no alternative. Impeachment sucks all of the oxygen out of a room.
When Democrats are trying to win a presidential election on Nov. 3—that’s 390 days from now, while early voting begins less than a year from now and candidate filing deadlines begin in less than two months—is this trip necessary? The distraction of impeachment politics erodes the abilities of the Democratic presidential candidates to get their messages across, to bond with voters in a meaningful way. For Democrats, if there is any chance of this distracting from or undercutting the messaging of their candidates, can they really justify this?
Then there is the lack of a decisive majority of the public favoring impeachment and removal from office. A Fox News poll released Wednesday found "record support" for it, at 51 percent. Forget the “impeachment inquiry” poll questions—that’s a cheap date. Does the public like being countermanded on a divisive issue like this? If there is any chance of this backlashing, if there is any possibility that this shifts the election from a referendum on Trump, his policies, actions, and behavior to more of a referendum on impeachment, do Democrats think that is worth the risk?
With less than a year before the next election, Democrats will need to justify the entirely undemocratic act of depriving voters the chance to pass judgment on Trump. In the cases of Presidents Nixon and Clinton, both were in the first halves of their second terms, most likely never to face the voters again. A case can be made that no first-term president should ever be impeached, particularly in the latter half of a first term, and that an election is the appropriate remedy to remove an errant president.
Twenty years ago, many Republicans and conservatives so despised President Clinton that the blind hatred impaired their judgement, regardless of the merits their case may or may not have had. It was a bad decision. This looks to be a bad decision driven by that same kind of blind hate for Trump and, given the proximity of the next election, an even worse decision.
Democrats should just sit back and enjoy watching Republicans in competitive and potentially competitive House districts and Senate races simmer with a president at the top of their ticket doing everything he possibly can to drive away swing voters.
Keep in mind, Americans are less consumed with what is going on in Washington than nearly anyone inside the Beltway thinks. Indeed, back in America, the big news in Iowa is that an Elton John concert has been scheduled for Des Moines in June. Tickets go on sale next Friday.