House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said no every imaginable way to the legions of Democrats who call for impeaching Trump. Pelosi said no first when a slew of progressive Democrats demanded it immediately after they took back the House. She said it again after the release of the hacked-up Mueller Report. She said it in a letter to a colleague. She said no again as subpoenas flew from House committees to Trump officials. She said no again after the House Judiciary Committee voted to cite Attorney General William Barr for contempt.
Pelosi says no every time to shouts for impeachment for a good reason. In fact, she says no for several good reasons. Special Counsel Robert Mueller made a credible case that Trump did obstruct the Russia probe at just about every turn, but he failed to recommend prosecution. However, even before this there were strong markers that Trump did everything he could to sabotage the investigation. This was all well-known.
Yet, polls repeatedly showed that Trump's duplicity didn't budge millions of Americans to scream for his ouster. Trump cynically and calculatedly turned the widespread public indifference into defiance. He saw this as yet another way to depict himself as a tortured martyr being relentlessly hounded, hectored, and persecuted by vengeful Democrats. This further endeared him to his fervent base. Pelosi saw where this was going and warned that Trump was practically "goading" Democrats to try and impeach him. If that happened, he'd scream even louder "persecution." He'd have a ready-made reelection campaign pitch that might even top his facile "Make America Great" slogan for the 2020 campaign.
Giving Trump a made in political heaven, haircloth garment to wrap himself in is not the only danger in pushing impeachment. It would be the worst possible distraction, coming at the worst possible time for Democrats. It would bog the ever widening pack of Democratic presidential candidates down in endless talk about the alleged merits of impeachment at a time when the candidates need to focus solely on the issues that resonate with most voters such as affordable health care, college debt, affordable housing, climate change measures, and so on. It would also bog congressional Democrats down the same way at a time when they need to stay focused on initiatives and legislation to deal with these issues.
A huge fight over impeachment would also potentially wreak havoc within the Democratic party itself, starting with Pelosi. She, and other centrist Democrats, have been cool if not outright opposed to impeachment. While progressive Democrats have been screaming for nothing less. This is a tough and fragile balancing act that both factions of the party are trying to pull off. There's a practical reason that this balancing act holds peril. More than a handful of the newly minted House Democrats come from districts that are not in coastal California or New York City. There are a lot of Republicans, independents, and centrist Democrats in those districts who want nothing to do with an impeachment move, let alone fight, by their representatives. Such a battle would cause undue strain and give the GOP an opening to take back some of those seats lost in 2018.
Then there's the article in the Constitution, the so-called "impeachment clause," on the surface seems clear enough. A president can be impeached for committing treason, bribery, or the vague, hazy and thoroughly ambiguous, "high crimes and misdemeanors." The House would initiate the action and then the Senate would have to convict him. That's never happened.
Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and the GOP controlled Senate would make sure that it didn't happen with Trump too. McConnell and GOP senators would stand the issue on its head and scream even louder than Trump that this is nothing but a politically mean-spirited hit by the Democrats not just on Trump but the GOP. They'd hit the campaign trail and milk that for all its worth. And given the fact that the GOP must defend a lot more seats this time around than the Democrats it would give them a tailor-made issue to portray the party, like Trump, as being under unfair attack by vengeful Democrats.
Pelosi and other Democrats have repeatedly said that the Democrats major, if not sole, focus must be on getting Trump out of the White House in 2020. This will not be easy. Trump will have a united GOP behind him, a king's ransom in campaign cash to play with, the fawning attention of much of mainstream media, his tweet bully pulpit, and the appearance of a bustling economy to crow about. Meanwhile, the Democrats have to find a candidate who can match Trump's strengths on their side and have a compelling message that can fire up Democratic voters, appeal to independents, and hopefully nudge enough voters who backed Trump in the must win states back to the Democrat vote column. Impeachment is simply not the issue to do that.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Biden Versus Trump: Who Would Win? (Middle Passage Press/Amazon Kindle). He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.
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