It’s no secret that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team have been trying to tamp down enthusiasm in their Caucus for initiating impeachment proceedings against President Trump. That’s been a heavier lift thanks to more vocally pro-impeachment voices among some of the freshman Democrats elected last November (Rashida Tlaib’s much-publicized f-bombed-adorned call for impeachment on the day she was sworn in was but the most colorful indication of a new mood), and fresh evidence of impeachable offenses by Trump coming from various sources (including Michael Cohen).
Deciding Trump is worthy of impeachment, however, isn’t the same thing as choosing to launch a doomed effort to remove him from office. And Pelosi clearly isn’t making that choice at this point, making her opposition to impeachment explicit in an interview with the Washington Post’s Joe Helm.
I’m not for impeachment. This is news. I’m going to give you some news right now because I haven’t said this to any press person before. But since you asked, and I’ve been thinking about this: Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.
That last line with its contempt for the 45th president will get some attention. But the real nugget is her conclusion that it would take “something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan” to make it a good idea. And that’s all about its feasibility, which is, as I argued in January, not high:
Blocking a conviction for impeachable “high crimes and misdemeanors” requires a mere 34 senators. Between now and the 2020 elections 53 senators (barring resignations) will belong to the party of a president whose rank-and-file voters adore him despite massive evidence of his crudeness, corruption and moblike habits and associations. One can imagine vaguely that Robert Mueller or a congressional investigation will turn up malfeasance so gross that Senate Republicans will defect en masse. But there’s little or no historical basis for believing that’s going to happen in any realistic scenario.
According to a recent Morning Consult tracking poll, 86 percent of Republicans and 43 percent of independents oppose the initiation of impeachment proceedings (only 36 percent of independents favor this step). Is that wall of opposition likely to fall apart in the brief time available before the 2020 presidential election year is upon us?
Lest anyone cite crumbling support for Richard Nixon during impeachment proceedings in 1974 (leading to his coerced resignation) as precedent for the same thing happening to Trump, the fact is this is a very different and more right-wing Republican Party than the one that weighed Nixon’s fate back then, and Trump’s approval rating among Republicans is much higher. Trump’s entire political persona, moreover, is all about incessant partisan conflict; he will consistently denounce any impeachment effort as a coup d’etat, an effort to overturn a democratic election, and the Republican “base” and the GOP pols who fear that base (all of them) will go to the wall to defend him. Yes, it’s theoretically possible that either the Mueller investigation or some future House investigation will produce evidence that meets the “compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan” standard Pelosi mentioned, changing the equation. If that happens, however, Democrats would have the delightful choice of moving against Trump then or waiting to destroy him in the 2020 election after watching Republicans go after each other with tire irons.
I’ve heard some people argue that impeachment hearings might be the only way to bring damaging new allegations about Trump to light. But it is unclear what, if anything, an impeachment hearing can produce that one of the multiple investigative and oversight hearings House Democrats have already initiated can’t just as easily flush out.
The main thing a rush into impeachment proceedings will accomplish (other than vindicating Tom Steyer’s investment in boosting impeachment sentiment) is to raise false expectations among millions of rank-and-file Democrats that Trump will be dragged kicking and screaming out of office.
As Pelosi told Helm, quoting Lincoln: “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.”
With enough public sentiment to successfully execute impeachment, Trump would almost certainly be run out of office like a cheap grifter in November of 2020. Without it, there’s just no point.