Saturday, October 12, 2019

Impeaching Fast or Slow

What a difference a couple of weeks make. It seems but yesterday that Donald Trump looked impervious to all the challenges that Democrats and Reality had thrown his way. Today, not so much. Poll after poll shows that a solid majority favors proceeding with the recently started impeachment inquiry. And several polls – including the latest Fox News poll – have begun to show majority support for actual removal. No wonder the President is losing his mind.

Until recently, Democrats and others who oppose Trump were extremely frustrated by the timidity of the Democrats in pursuing impeachment – especially after the Mueller report. I have written elsewhere about the possible strategy there. Now that the impeachment process is underway, another – more important and concrete – question has arisen: How fast or slow should impeachment proceed?

There are two schools of thought on this. One – espoused by those who can barely put up with Trump any more – is to move ASAP. After all, there is more than enough concrete evidence to frame one, two, perhaps even three irrefutable articles of impeachment. The argument is that the Democrats must strike while they still have the public’s attention, and that, with time and Christmas holidays, the air will begin to go out of the balloon. Those who hold this opinion are still frustrated by the pace at which the Democrats are moving, though not at previous levels. Among other things, this group implicitly concedes that there is no possibility of a Senate conviction, and impeachment per se is the most that can be done.

A second school of thought is that the Democrats should proceed methodically, laying bare as much more evidence as possible for the public to see, thus building such inexorable public pressure that Trump’s numbers collapse and even the Republicans in the Senate begin to turn on him. The logical conclusion of this scenario would be a Watergate-style Republican delegation convincing Trump to see the writing on the wall and quit. Events so far have provided more support for this approach in that: a) Every day since impeachment began has brought more Trumpland corruption to light; and b) Public support for impeachment and removal is growing at an unthinkably rapid rate. However, those who think that this process will lead to Trump’s resignation are almost certainly wrong. What is likelier is that Trump will frog march that hypothetical Republican delegation right back to Capitol Hill and refuse to leave the White House, thus precipitating a crisis that does not even have a name in the American political lexicon.

While none of the Democratic presidential candidates have said so publicly, it is possible that most of them also favor the first option so they can get back to the business of their campaigns without being drowned out in the media. But it is also instructive to look at things strategically from the viewpoint of the people who are now – finally – driving the process: Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats. Consider the situation today. Every day that passes brings new scandals to light. Trump’s poll numbers look worse. He himself says even more unacceptable things that his cowardly sycophants in the Republican Party then have to go and defend in public – or tie themselves into knots trying to avoid doing so. Every day that the Republicans spend stuck in this dignity-losing quicksand is a day they sink deeper into its muck – and a day they are not trying to win the next election. And the longer the Democrats can keep the Republicans in this awful posture, the more public opprobrium they bring upon the Republican Party as a whole. This strategy of slowly sinking the entire Republican Party into oblivion by tying Trump’s misdeeds more and more tightly around their necks every day is a political winner for the Democrats. Their goal should not be to remove Trump or allow the Republican Party to abandon him and nominate a more electable candidate such as Nikki Haley or Mitt Romney for the 2020 ticket. Rather, it should be to stretch out the impeachment process in a way that allows Trump to remain extremely popular with the 30% Republican dead-enders while becoming extremely unpopular with the rest of the country. This will make sure that Republican candidates cannot turn on Trump but are forced to defend behavior that is becoming more and more unpopular with voters in general. Ideally, the process would end with a weakened but defiant Trump still on the Republican ticket in 2020 and going around the country shouting cringe-inducing profanities to anyone who shows up to his rallies. If that can come to pass, the Democrats would have a great chance of winning the presidency and both houses of Congress.

All this will require exquisite timing by the Democrats. If the impeachment inquiry ends too quickly and Trump is acquitted in short order, there may be time for the Republicans to recover. If the inquiry goes on too long, becomes too complex by picking up a lot of extraneous issues, gets swamped by the Holidays and the Superbowl, and bleeds into the primary season, that too may be a problem. It will keep the Democratic presidential candidates from talking about the bread-and-butter issues that win elections, and dissipate the attention of the non-activist voters that the Democrats desperately need in 2020. Somewhere between impeaching next week and waiting for months, there is a sweet spot for the Democrats, and the Pelosi-Schiff team needs to hit it.

And what of the Republicans? The key point is to realize that going into the 2020 election with Trump as their candidate is already a liability for the Republican Party, and will keep becoming more so as impeachment proceeds. The Republicans have much better options than Trump – especially given what they see as a weak Democratic field of candidates. Surely, Mitch McConnell is more aware of all this than anyone else. Some gears must be turning in that scheming mind of his.

One of the more interesting events in the young impeachment saga so far is a letter signed by sixteen prominent conservative lawyers – including George Conway, husband of presidential mouthpiece, Kellyanne Conway – recommending “expeditious” impeachment in the House. The letter is surely motivated in part by righteous indignation, but there may also be a more complex purpose at work. For those committed conservatives who would like to see the recent era of conservative dominance in the courts and legislatures continue, the best of all the bad outcomes would be a very quick end to the impeachment saga – preferably with Trump gone. That is the only rational course for Republicans, and the sooner it is deployed, the better it is for their prospects in 2020. If this strategy is in the works, look for McConnell and the Senate Republicans to gradually start pivoting to a “minus-one” strategy. Of course, if it comes to that, Trump is unlikely to go quietly. Apart from injury to his ego, he and his family members are looking at many potential prosecutions if he ceases to be President before the statute of limitations on their shenanigans has run out. The only way to convince him to leave would be under an immunity deal. If the Democrats take a hard line and refuse to agree to any deal, it would ensure almost certain catastrophe for the current version of the Republican Party. And perhaps, in putting himself over his party, Trump will finally have performed his sole act of patriotism for his country.

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