House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems to be of two minds on impeachment. She has repeatedly said no to any immediate impeachment of Trump. She gravely warned that Trump is goading and taunting her and the Democrats to go ahead and try to impeach him. Trump sees this as his ticket back to the White House in 2020. This will fire up his base by allowing him to go into full blown victim mode. He can wail that he's being hectored, harassed and tormented by vindictive, sour grape Democrats still fuming that he won the presidency, and determined to wreak their revenge on him.
Polls show that there a lot of people that buy that notion. There are as many Americans who think that impeachment is a bad idea as those who back it. Polls also show that independents who will be a big factor in the presidential election for the most part don't like the idea even though a lot of them don't like Trump either.
Then there's the memory of what happened with Bill Clinton. He was impeached by the House. Then it was the GOP controlled House that went after him. The Senate didn't convict, and Clinton's public popularity numbers went through the roof. If he could have run for a third term in 2000, he would almost certainly have been reelected in a landslide.
Even with that memory and the peril of handing Trump an invaluable election issue, Pelosi pivots in the next breath and says that Trump must be held accountable. That seems to imply that impeachment is still on her table as an option.
The question that Pelosi correctly zeroes in on as legions of Democrats relentlessly hound her to get the impeachment show on the road is will a House impeachment gambit help or hurt Trump more than it helps or hurts the Democrats? It must be put that way for two practical reasons. One impeachment will be almost exclusively a Democratic show in the House since almost no GOP House Republican would ever back the effort. The other is that the GOP controlled Senate would never, ever vote to convict. These are immovable facts. So, if it's a strictly hard-nosed political partisan effort, it comes off as nothing more than a stunt, or at best an empty gesture done purely to satisfy hopped up progressive Democrats. But what about the Democrats who hail from districts that are anything but loaded with progressives? More than a handful of the newly minted House Democrats come from those districts. They 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.
However, here's the other reason Pelosi is walking the tightrope on impeachment. A compelling case can be made that going after Trump with impeachment will energize Democrats. This is not a small concern given that the Democratic presidential candidate field is way overloaded with all of them struggling to find a unifying message that will stir enough Democrats to storm the polls in November 2020. Whether impeachment is that message or not could be less important than in showing that Democrats aren't afraid to fight for a political principle despite the political risks and the saber rattle from Trump and the GOP.
The gung-ho impeachment Democrats got a big boost when Special Counsel Robert Mueller again implied that Trump had committed crimes and that if it wasn't for the legal constraints of going after a sitting president, he could have been indicted. He punted on it, but the punt was aimed at Democrats by practically inviting Congress to go after Trump through the only means at its disposal, and that's impeachment. At least, that's the way a lot of Democrats are reading Mueller. Pelosi among them. This is what's behind her saying that he must be held accountable. But does accountable mean impeachment?
The brutal reality is that it's either that or nothing beyond trying to oust him at the ballot box in 2020. But that's an eternity for many Democrats who say that in that time span Trump can and will continue to wreak even more damage on everything from continuing to pack the federal judiciary with hard-line reactionary judges to obstructionist department heads to horrific policies on trade and all else.
The Democrats best bet is still booting Trump out of the White House in 2020 at the polls. It won't be easy. He 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. The worst thing is to give him yet another weapon in his arsenal. Trump sees impeachment as that weapon. Many Democrats don't. They see it as their weapon. If they're wrong, it will help re-elect him.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of The Impeachment of President Trump? (Amazon Kindle). https://www.amazon.com/dp/B075XSXJM8 Free Amazon Reading Friday June 7 and Saturday June 8
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.