The base of the Democratic party may be hungering for the impeachment of Donald Trump, but should Democrats retake the House in November, they won’t oblige. It wouldn’t make political sense.
Some of my National Review colleagues (including the boss) think that impeachment is probable assuming the Democrats win the House in November. But, exciting as this week’s revelations have been, more bombshells have exploded on this administration than at Verdun, and they’ve been similarly ineffective. Even Nancy Pelosi is downplaying talk of impeachment, because her priority is retaking the House and impeachment talk would jeopardize that. She must have internal polling numbers that indicate impeachment is seriously unpopular.
The Democrats are likely to win back the House with a small-to-medium majority dependent on moderates’ taking seats in districts that Trump won. These incoming freshmen in purple or even red districts are going to want to avoid being painted as extreme partisans who obsess over political gamesmanship instead of moving the country forward. Even if the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wing of the party pushes mightily for impeachment, the moderates will be eager to distance themselves from the radicals. Pelosi, or whoever the next speaker of the House is, may not be enthusiastic about it anyway. It would inevitably be a meaningless symbolic gesture, because everyone knows there is as yet no prospect of getting two-thirds of the Senate to agree to remove the president from office. And it would likely wind up helping President Trump much as it helped Bill Clinton.
Come January, all of the political energy will turn to the 2020 election cycle. Democrats will (finally) realize that there is no point to relitigating the last election and that Trump was legitimately elected. There isn’t any way to reverse what happened in 2016, no matter how many Facebook memes and shady meetings Russia arranged. The Democrats are all but certain that anyone they nominate in 2020 will be able to beat Trump. The last thing they want is to put any wind in Trump’s sails, and impeachment would likely do that.
Besides, they have a much more enticing option than impeachment: They can use control of the House to launch an endless series of hearings and investigations. Armed with subpoena power, they will be able to create daily headlines making Trump and the Republican party look bad, with innumerable opportunities to get themselves on the news and grandstand. In response, Trump will surely go bonkers and say and do all kinds of erratic and inappropriate things that bump up the probability of his defeat in 2020. Impeachment, by contrast, would hand Trump fresh means with which to mock the Democrats for failing to oust him.
Not that the Democrats actually want to oust Trump in the first place. For all of their talk about how Trump is uniquely dangerous and erratic, they don’t actually believe it. They think Trump is racist, but they think the Republican party as a whole is racist. They think Trump is misogynist, but they think that of Republicans in general. They think Trump is heartless and cruel, but they thought the same of Mitt Romney. Trump to them is just a normal Republican who doesn’t bother to wear a mask of decency.
Spend a few minutes on Twitter playing up the possibility of a Pence administration, as I did this week, and you’ll see what I mean: No way will the Democrats concede that Pence is at least a normal, stable political figure and would be an improvement over Trump. Democrats find nothing good in any conservative, ever, until he is safely retired or dead. Every Republican president is the worst president ever, until the next one. Moreover, defeating a (normal) incumbent president in a time of peace and prosperity is almost impossible. If Pence became president and immediately restored a sense of normalcy, he’d be much harder to beat than Trump in 2020.
That Michael Cohen implicated the president in a violation of election law this week may be shocking, but it isn’t going to alter Trump’s future much. It isn’t going to lead to an indictment, due to longstanding Justice Department policy that sitting presidents can’t be indicted. And it isn’t going to lead to impeachment because that would be politically imprudent and pointless for Democrats. No doubt there are many more scandals yet to come, and maybe something so egregious will emerge that the Senate becomes open to removing Trump. But based on what has emerged so far, Trump’s not going anywhere until at least January 20, 2021.
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