The impeachment wars are heating up again — just in time, I’d guess, for them to come to an end.
In the battle over whether to impeach Donald Trump, the two central figures are, of course, Nancy Pelosi and Trump himself. And in the most counterintuitive piece of the entire counterintuitive Trump puzzle, Trump is the one forcing impeachment, and Nancy Pelosi is the one resisting.
I doubt if Trump actually wants to be impeached by the House and then, inevitably, win vindication at trial in the Senate, but maybe he does. He certainly baits the Democrats at every turn. Maybe he’s playing 37-dimensional checkers (I refuse to use the chess analogy for the stable genius). His ugly, racist, lying, un-American, crowd-inciting tweets and comments about the four women of color called the Squad — Reps. Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley — telling them to go back where they came from when, in fact, three were born in America and one was a child refugee was maybe his clearest provocation yet. The vote to call his tweets racist was, let’s say, a less-than-bold response.
For his part, Trump’s response was to go to North Carolina for a rally and listen to the “send her home” chants as he began bashing Omar. A day later, Trump tried to distance himself from the chants because everyone around him said it had been a terrible mistake. But close Trump observers — meaning, all of us — knew what would happen next. He would, of course, a la Charlottesville, immediately embrace the crowd again, calling them “patriots,” bash the media, spread various, vicious lies about various members of the Squad — let’s just say no one has actually married her brother — and, using anti-Semitism as cover, saying he would quash such dissent while he was president.
“You can’t talk that way about our country. Not when I’m president,” Trump said. “These women have said horrible things about our country and the people of our country.”
Omar responded, saying she loved America, but that Trump was a “fascist.” For Trump, criticizing Trump is criticizing America. It’s the essence of Trump, who may not have read the entire First Amendment. And so it’s not surprising that Trump’s reversal came as the House had voted on another impeachment resolution. The impeachment side drew a fairly significant 95 votes, including two from Coloradans, Diana DeGette and Joe Neguse. Would DeGette have gone there if she wasn’t being primaried? I don’t know, but it shows where she thinks Denver Democrats are.
And this all comes as a prelude to the big moment coming Wednesday in which Robert Mueller is scheduled to testify openly before two House committees.
If Mueller were, in fact, guilty of pushing a “Russia hoax,” he could, in his testimony, make it virtually impossible for the House not to impeach. He could make the case against Trump — it’s all in the text — in vivid language and color. In all likelihood, though, he won’t. The guess is he’ll stray as little as possible from the 448-page written text — which most people, even those in Congress, haven’t read — and almost certainly won’t produce any smoking guns other than the couple dozen or so that are already in the report but have somehow basically been ignored.
If Americans watch Mueller — and I’m guessing the ratings will be good — and don’t come away with a case of impeachment fever, it’s hard to see how they ever will. I don’t mean the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. I mean those few remaining Americans who don’t see politics as a blood match, but are so enraged that they believe something must be done. Something to send a message. Something, at minimum, cathartic.
Pelosi has made her objections clear. She says we need to be patient before voting for an impeachment inquiry, which means, given the electoral calendar, that the House should never go there. It would only help Trump, she says. She says that Trump is “self-impeaching,” making an actual impeachment redundant.
And to this point, the House has not only been faint of heart, it has all but rolled over. You can — and I have often – blame Republicans as Trump enablers. But Democrats have taken the House majority and done virtually nothing with it. As Adam Serwer writes in The Atlantic, how we react to this moment, when Trump basically declares that race and ethnonationalism and immigrant-bashing will be the central pieces of his re-election campaign, will define America, possibly for generations.
Trump tells the House that he is basically above investigation, and the House doesn’t fight back. It doesn’t rally the troops. It slow-walks any objection through the courts. Despite rumblings, the members have basically followed Pelosi’s lead, even when she openly feuded with the Squad. Trump ended the feud, at least for now. But what Pelosi knows is that an impeachment inquiry would inevitably lead to impeachment. It’s all there. Read the report. I have because, well, it’s my job, and I promise you it’s all in there.
Serwer writes: “The Democratic Party cannot fulfill its constitutional responsibilities because its leadership lives in abject terror of being ejected from office by alienating the voters to whom Trump’s nationalism appeals. In effect, the majority of the American electorate, which voted against Trump in 2016 and then gave the Democrats a House majority in 2018, has no representation.”
What to do? I’ve struggled with it myself. At first, I thought Pelosi was right — that it was a losing cause, so why bother? She can certainly point to polls showing that voters don’t favor impeachment. But then, even before the report, I came to believe that Democrats couldn’t honestly criticize Trump as the danger he is to the American democratic project without being brave enough to make the case during an impeachment process. And that if Democratic leaders grew bolder, so would voters. And then, when I read the Mueller report, I said the politics must be damned; what mattered was doing the right thing. And now?
If you missed the Nate Cohn story on the front page the other day of The New York Times, he wrote that Trump could lose the popular vote in 2020 by 5 percent and still somehow win the Electoral College, thereby rewarding Trump’s efforts to keep America divided. Dave Wasserman of the Cook Report wrote for NBC.com, coincidentally on the same day, that Trump could lose by 5 million votes and still win.
These are possibilities, not probabilities, and Nate Silver, the original Nate, argues that the discussion is premature, particularly since the Democrats are nowhere near nominating an opponent. But it makes you wonder whether it matters whom the Democrats nominate. Or whether it matters if an impeachment trial ever makes it to the Senate. The election, obviously, will be a referendum on Trump. And that election, above all, will define America to ourselves and to the world.