The majority of House Democrats may believe that the outcome of the impeachment inquiry has been clear for a while: Trump will be impeached on a largely party-line vote in the House, and acquitted on a largely party-line vote in the Senate, and then everyone will focus their attention and energies to the 2020 election. If everything is preordained to end up in the same place, there’s not too much point in trying to alter the outcome, or worrying about appearances along the way. Nothing matters, so members of Congress should and do and vote what they want, because nothing they do will change much anyway.
Maybe they’re right. But if they’re not right, they’ve made a bunch of errors that have made impeachment look like a partisan political exercise rather than an effort to rebuke an abuse of power.
In ideal circumstances, the Speaker of the House wouldn’t choose to appear on Stephen Colbert right after the vote to start the inquiry, and joke that she’ll schedule the hearings to best fit the timing for the writers of Colbert’s nightly monologue. (You can actually see Pelosi start to get uncomfortable when Colbert asks if she’s confronting Kevin McCarthy with ‘do you feel lucky, punk?”) Ideally, Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t have asserted, “Nobody comes to Congress to impeach a president.” Er, Rashida Tlaib announced specifically that with profane clarity. Tlaib was selling T-shirts about it.
There was a time not so long ago when Pelosi and other Democrats talked about the need for a simple and direct message to justify the president’s impeachment: The president abused his power by threatening to withhold aid to Ukraine, in an attempt to strong-arm a foreign government to investigate the Bidens. Now other Democrats are thinking about adding “obstruction of Congress” to the counts of impeachment. It is almost certain that some House Democrats will want to bring up Trump’s actions during the Mueller probe. Bit by bit, the impeachment argument will become less about a particular presidential decision or action and more about Trump’s character and approach to the job of president, and it will increasingly resemble the same arguments from Democrats going back to the 2016 campaign: This guy doesn’t deserve to be president of the United States. Yes, we know. We’ve heard it before, a lot. If a considerable number of Americans who aren’t particular fans of Trump will recognize that if the Democrats weren’t impeaching him over the aid to Ukraine, they would find some other presidential action that they believed warranted impeachment. It is just one more step in an endless re-litigation of the outcome of the 2016 election.
The newest ABC News poll finds Trump and Pelosi with the same approval rating, a meager 38 percent. Impeachment isn’t likely to strengthen either one of them. The polling splits on impeachment are similar to the general overall divide in the electorate. Republicans still back him, Democrats still loathe him, and independents are still split.
Democrats probably aren’t going to change many minds about impeachment as this process wears on. But they don’t appear to be all that interested in trying, either.