The Morning Jolt

White House

Democrats Fear the Consequences of Impeachment Too Much to Actually Do Anything

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the introduction of the Climate Action Now Act on Capitol Hill, March 27, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Robert Mueller flops, the Democrats continue to dither on impeachment, and progressive grassroots have every reason to be furious with their leaders; why Republicans bet all their chips on Trump in 2020; and a warning that House Democrats unwisely did not heed.

The Democrats Wimp Out Against Trump

In the end, hours of testimony by special counsel Robert Mueller changed . . . nothing: “House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler pushed to launch impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump during a closed-door meeting Wednesday, only to be rebuffed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to four sources familiar with the discussions.”

Look, Democrats, either impeach the president or don’t. But whatever decision you make, be prepared to accept the consequences.

If you choose to impeach, recognize that you’re almost certain to fall well short of the two-thirds of the Senate you need to remove the president and you may very well end up improving Trump’s chances of reelection. As calculated yesterday, an impeachment process that started in August would wrap up right around the Iowa Caucuses. Maybe House Democrats believe that nothing of substance is going to get done in Congress for the rest of the year anyway. Maybe they think, with good reason, that 2020 is going to be a referendum on Trump, and so they might as well spend the next six months debating him and whether he is still fit to be president — or advancing their argument that he was never fit to be president.

The last Washington Post/ABC news poll found 63 percent of registered voters oppose impeachment. That’s higher than Trump’s approval rating, meaning there are a decent number of voters out there who don’t approve of the president but who don’t want to see him impeached, particularly when they’ll get to render their verdict on him in 15 months. Impeachment is a subtle declaration of the Democrats that they do not trust the electorate to come to the right conclusion about Trump. “This guy is a crook, but you people just don’t see it and might be dumb enough to give this guy a second term, so we have to make the decision for you.”

If and when impeachment fails in the Senate, the president is likely to come out of the experience believing he’s bullet-proof. You think the Trump White House ignores subpoenas and doesn’t cooperate with Congress now?

House Democrats may well believe that this is not a matter of right and left, but a matter of right and wrong. (Picture someone pointing his finger like Harrison Ford while emphasizing that point.) They may feel that this is for the sake of history: that while they knew the effort was doomed in the Senate, they voted to enact the severest consequences for Trump’s actions. When many other folks wanted to keep their heads down, they confronted with president with every tool they had.

If that’s how 217 House Democrats feel, they ought to go ahead and do that. But they should be ready to accept an increased chance of a second term for Trump as a consequence.

If Democrats choose not to impeach, they avoid all of the above risks. But the party’s base will absolutely loathe them for it. (Then again, the Democratic party’s base loathes a lot of things.) And while right-of-center writers aren’t usually supposed to publicly express sympathy to the progressive grassroots, let’s observe that the Democratic base will have a point.

If you genuinely believe, as Nancy Pelosi claimed, that Trump wants to “Make America white again,” then you have no choice but to impeach him. Otherwise, you’re acquiescing to having a racist president.

If you believe, as Representative Cheri Bustos contends, that Trump created a Constitutional crisis with his decisions regarding the Department of Justice, then you clearly must think he’s got to go. If you believe, as Representative Judy Chu said, that Trump thinks he is above the law, then you must want to ensure he faces consequences for breaking the law. If you believe, as Jim Clyburn argued, that “This man and his family are the greatest threats to democracy of my lifetime,” then it is inexplicable that you wouldn’t want him removed from office as quickly as possible.

Yet Bustos, Chu, and Clyburn voted to kill the most recent impeachment resolution; Pelosi did not vote but made her opposition clear. Just about every House Democrat who voted against impeachment can be found describing Trump as a lawless, racist, misogynist, hatemongering menace to American society, and a threat to the Americans’ constitutional rights. But no matter how bad Trump is in their description, he always seems just short of bad enough to impeach, at least for now.

The progressive grassroots are catching on to the con. A lot of Democratic lawmakers are perfectly willing to speak about Trump as if he’s history’s greatest monster in speeches and media interviews and fundraising emails. But they’re not willing to act like it, particularly if it involves voting in a way that might risk their seats. In this light, Democratic grassroots have every right to be livid with their leaders.

What was the point of Mueller’s testimony yesterday? On some level, House Democrats wanted Mueller to give them a psychological permission slip to impeach the president. They wanted Mueller to tell the country that Trump had indisputably obstructed justice and that impeachment would be justified. We don’t know what Mueller thinks about impeachment, but he’s got enough good sense to recognize that a former FBI director and special counsel should not be sounding like a member of #TheResistance. Mueller’s job was to find the facts, indict anyone who broke the law, and report it all to the Department of Justice. After that, it’s Congress’ decision, and Congress’ responsibility.

But responsibility means accepting consequences, and for now, far too many House Democrats fear the consequences of an unpopular impeachment effort to reach that threshold of a majority.

Republicans Have Placed Their Bets on Trump. It’s Too Late to Change Course Now.

Some Trump critics will ask, where are the Republicans? Why have so few if any even objected to the actions of Trump described in Mueller’s report?

Non-Trumpy Republicans found the 2016 primary traumatizing. The grassroots that once marched and protested over deficits and the debt didn’t care about that anymore. Trump’s past pro-choice and pro-gun-control stances were hand-waved away. Lawmakers who had actually enacted conservative policies at the state level generated yawns. A man whose personal life was a train wreck of debauchery and scandal was gradually fully embraced by evangelicals. GOP lawmakers found that a chunk of their voters — 44.95 percent of presidential primary voters, to be precise — did not really care about the things that they had always claimed to care about. Trump won the nomination, reassured some folks by picking Mike Pence, but then headed into the fall with his improvisational rallies, the fallout from the Access Hollywood comments, and almost no ground game . . .

. . . and somehow he won, and put Republicans in their best spot since Election Day 2006, with control of the White House, both House of Congress, the opportunity to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court — and he did something no other Republican had done since 1980: Beat a Clinton.

Winning smooths over a lot of differences. And since then, no matter how much the White House staff and cabinet turn into a revolving door, no matter how childish the Twitter tirades get, no matter how much his off-the-cuff insults and attacks veer into ugly territory, no matter how much he gushes about foreign dictators, Trump keeps delivering just enough to make it worthwhile for Republicans: a big tax cut, repealing Obamacare’s mandate, a marching parade of conservative judges, Right to Try, ANWR drilling the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines, VA Choice, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, canceling the Iran deal, replacement of dilapidated border fencing, a couple billion for new border fencing . . .

From now until either January 20, 2021, or January 20, 2025, this is what the Republican party base wants. And the GOP will sink or swim with Trump until that date.

Department of ‘I Warned You Guys’

Monday, in the Corner: “Democrats seem convinced that the visuals of Mueller repeating what was written in the report that was released to the public three months ago will somehow dramatically public opinion about the president. Good luck with that one, fellas.”

Peter Baker in the New York Times this morning: “By the time he finished nearly seven hours later, Democrats were disappointed they did not get the made-for-TV accusatory moment they wanted, and the prospect for impeachment appeared far more difficult.”

ADDENDA: The conspiratorial assessments are beginning: Mueller “acted like a man terrified to speak the obvious,” writes Sarah Kendzior. “The question remains: why? . . . Mueller had the opportunity to deliver insight and validate his own work. Instead, he was timid in the face of both Republican smears and Democratic inquiries. He kept noting that he knew the answers to questions that are of great public interest, but that he had no intention of revealing them.”

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