After a two weeks of damning testimony and a collapsing defense the Trump Administration has tacitly accepted defeat in the House Impeachment inquiry. Trump seems wary of keeping the House process going too long, and for once Nancy Pelosi agrees. However for Trump he sees opportunity in moving the process into the Senate where the Republicans control the process and Lindsey Graham has already said he intends to use the Senate trial to prosecute Democrats, Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Moving impeachment to the Senate with all speed is a risk that Nancy Pelosi seems to want to take. Its helpful to enumerate the reasons Democratic leadership might want to move forward with impeachment which are different from why Democrats want impeachment. (credit to senior Vox reporter Andrew Prokop)
The Democratic Leadership wants a speedy inquiry:
- To bring the facts of the case to light. Unlike the drawn out Mueller process where damn evidence after damning evidence was drip fed through years of investigation, Democrats want all the salient facts of the case on the table in as short a window as possible. They seem to mostly have been successful in this. The inquiry was sharp, despite Republican attempts to muddy it. Each witness was friendly, compliant and told a compelling story of their version of the facts.
- To defend the rule of law. Breaking the law must have consequences. The President clearly used his powers to extract a bogus investigation to help him win in 2020. Even if the President is not removed, the inquiry itself is a signal about where the lines he can and cannot cross. This has not been successful because it seems in all likelihood Trump will get to shape the news story to his liking in the Republican controlled trial and use the Senate acquittal as justification to break even more laws. When the Mueller Report came out, it was a stinging rebuke of all the obstructive and criminal activities of the President but because of the way Barr and the President got ahead of the report, Trump was within the week breaking the same laws all over again.
- To actually attempt to remove the President. All reports from the Senate, and my previous blog goes into this, indicate the Republicans will hold the line and the biggest risk is in how many Trump state Democrats will buck party leadership. It is likely the only two blue state Republicans Susan Collins and Cory Gardner do not feel any pressure to break ranks. However even a small chance might be worth taking.
- To damage Trump politically ahead of the 2020 election. There is some indication that the inquiry has slightly hurt Trump; polls show his approval numbers slipping a point or two since impeachment started and support for impeachment topped out at slightly over 50% according to fivethirtyeight’s impeachment tracker and has stayed plateau’d there within 3–4 points. There is also evidence of a swing state backlash against Democrats with double digit margin of disapproval in Wisconsin. Trump seems to be banking on the latter as a campaign strategy. Because of the electoral college, impeachment seems to be a political loser for Democrats.
- To wash their hands of the progressive base’s demands for impeachment.
Unlike the Republicans, Democrats love nothing more than to criticize other Democrats. Moderate Democrats are constantly afraid of the seen and unseen backlash, while the base keeps pushing farther left, popular or not. The left has been calling for impeachment since day one, but Nancy Pelosi in particular has shown little appetite for the process even as it continues (she has left the prosecution of the President to other Dem leaders).
A piece of the puzzle still missing is popular uprisings. There have been impeachment protests but they have been muted by cold weather and holiday plans. If Nancy Pelosi wanted to buck the liberal base, she could read off the articles of impeachment and refuse to vote on them. If, given all the evidence of malfeasance, liberals stay home, then there was no popular case for impeachment to begin with. But if liberals take to the streets and demand impeachment, even if the media will cover it as Democrats are divided, they will be covering leftist protest signs and leftist chants as well.
There is value for the red state Democrats too. They get to tell their constituents that they respected the process but they didn’t pull the trigger on impeachment. There is risk too. If there is too much backlash to leftists on the streets, it could hurt moderates in their districts. The protests since Trump has been in office have largely been peaceful, but it is still a risk.
However, the risk of an emboldened Trump after the “good news” of acquittal to be greater. The only thing that keeps Trump from breaking the law while in office is the threat that Republicans will break ranks on impeachment. Trump was bold enough to solicit election help from a foreign power on the week the Mueller Report. He considers the lack of consequences a green light to more corruption. Pulling the trigger on articles of impeachment nullifies the greatest check on this President. If Trump does get reelected, what are they going to do, impeach him again?
As significant as the Trump presidency has been, his first term has been constrained mostly by incompetence. He has not had the blessing of the courts for most of his agenda, but he continues to remake the federal judiciary in his image every day. His cabinet has been reshuffled more than any other administration at this point of the presidency and his own federal agencies chafe at taking orders from him. If he gets reelected, most of those kinks will have finally worked themselves out and the only branch left to oppose him (assuming Democrats win the House again) is the legislative branch.
Impeachment is the test of that branch, the way Trump pushes on his limits. If he can do obviously impeachable things and the Republicans not only give their approval but vigorously defend him, Trump will have bested the system. If Trump gets reelected under these circumstances, he will be empowered to go farther in remaking the American system than any President since World War II. No law, investigation, or political embarrassment will stop him. The only constraint left will be protests in the streets.
A vote for impeachment is a vote of confidence for the system. It says that American democracy is strong enough to weather a rogue President. The way impeachment has played out, that cannot be farther from the truth. Not only has Trump flaunted the system, he’s gotten Republicans to endorse crazed disinformation campaigns. He’s made a mockery of investigations, hijacked the media to espouse lies about his political opponent. He’s turned well-meaning partisans into conspiracists. The system is broken. The only option left is revolution.