For two years, conservative had a working theory about the ongoing stream of news reports and federal investigations tying Donald Trump to Russia: It was a plot to reverse the 2016 election by fabricating a pretext to remove him from office. (Here is the Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway accusing writers who accept the Russia investigations legitimacy as “publishing false news in pursuit of impeachment.”)
This week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she opposes impeachment. You might think this would cause Trump’s defenders to rethink their belief that the Russia investigation is a ploy to justify impeachment. You’d be wrong. Instead they have decided the news proves just the opposite: Democrats must know Trump is innocent of wrongdoing on Russia.
“If Pelosi and Schiff really believed their outlandish rhetoric on Russian collusion, they would be moving to impeach the president,” argues the Federalist’s David Marcus.
This has become the new standard analysis on the right, and swift reversal of the party line has been picked up by the right-wing press with all the subtlety of a Stalin-era policy announcement in the Daily Worker: “There is an even more important takeaway, which is that Pelosi no longer believes in the Russia story, if she ever did. There is simply no way she would subject herself to this level of rebellion from the liberal wing of her caucus and deliver this much disappointment to the Democratic Party base if she thought there was any chance that the special counsel report would substantiate the assumptions they have all held so closely for so long.” (Mike Huckabee.) “How could anyone conclude impeachment isn’t ‘worth it’ if you have all the evidence Schiff has claimed?” (Scott Jennings.) “If those charges are true, they should lead to impeachment.” (Charles Lipson.)
None of these conservatives even consider an alternate hypothesis: Pelosi does believe Trump has committed high crimes and misdemeanors, but recognizes that Republicans refuse to accept this evidence. Therefore, she has concluded that an impeachment process that culminates in the Senate failing to muster 67 votes for removal will be counterproductive.
Pelosi might or might not be correct in this calculation. Perhaps an impeachment trial might dramatize Trump’s guilt to the electorate even if it does not result in removal. And perhaps Democrats’ failure to hold impeachment hearings will allow Trump to evade accountability for his misconduct. The right’s response to Pelosi’s comments seem to show one possible drawback to Pelosi’s strategy. Republicans disbelieve all evidence against Trump, which becomes a reason for Democrats not to impeach him, which in turn becomes further reason for Republicans to disbelieve all evidence against him.
For two years, the Democrats’ plans to impeach Trump were evidence the Russia scandal was supposedly a hoax. Now, the Democrats’ plan not to impeach Trump proves the Russia scandal is a hoax.