Commentary: There Is No Clever Democratic Impeachment Strategy

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by George S. Bardmesser

 

We are now approaching three weeks since the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump on December 18. After passing the articles of impeachment that identified no actual crimes, congressional Democrats scattered all over D.C., celebrating in posh restaurants and ritzy bars.

Supposedly “neutral” journalists rejoiced, tweeting out “Impeachmas” cheers to their followers. Hardcore Trotskyists, Socialists, Maoists, Communists, Castroists, Che Guevarists, and other members of the progressive Left, celebrated all over the country. At long last, their three-and-a-half-year quest to impeach Trump, which started in April 2016, was close to fruition. Victory over Trump never seemed closer or more certain.

And then Nancy Pelosi rained on their parade. Looking like an Alzheimer’s patient who escaped from a nursing home, Nancy (who will turn 80 in just two months) went before the cameras, and stuttering and stammering, and informed bewildered journalists (and a half-interested public) that things weren’t as desperately urgent as she, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and 200 other Democrats told us they were.

Trump is probably an existential threat to the Republic, but maybe not this month. And maybe not in January either. And, just maybe, not even in February.

Trump is a destroyer of the guardrails of our democracy (and, granted, he did attack Rosie O’Donnell on Twitter, so he isn’t exactly innocent) but there was no rush to remove him from office. In fact, the Senate trial could wait for quite a while, until the senators agree to do the trial the way Nancy says they should. Her eyes vacant, her lower jaw seeming to move of its own volition, her Botoxed and made-up face looking deader than a Mexican Día de los Muertos paint job, Nancy insisted on – of all things – a “fair trial” in the Senate before she can transmit the articles of impeachment. Or else!

Cocaine Mitch can huff, and Cocaine Mitch can puff, but Nancy simply won’t give him the articles, so he’ll just have to keep the judicial confirmation machine spinning in overdrive in the meantime. Take that, Republicans!

Perhaps we’ll have to wait a few weeks before Nancy finally “transmits” the articles to the Senate. Perhaps a few months. Perhaps we’ll have to wait until after the 2020 election. All of a sudden nobody was in a hurry, least of all Nancy, who fled the scene of the crime, jetting off on a taxpayer-funded all-expenses-paid junket to Spain. This freeze-frame is now known, bizarrely, as an “impasse” between Nancy and Mitch. (The next time I visit a Bugatti dealer, who tells me that a new Bugatti Chiron would set me back $2.3 million, we’ll call it an “impasse” after I tell him that I don’t have the $2.3 million.)

As Many Articles As It Takes

Privately, most Democrats must have been shell-shocked by this turn of events. From a messaging perspective, it was a disaster. How are Democrats going to convince anyone of the desperate urgency of removing Trump from office 10 months before the election, if even Nancy Pelosi lacks confidence in her own work product?

Still, what Republicans took to be bumbling idiocy looked like a brilliant chess move to many on the Left – let impeachment hang over Trump’s head like the Sword of Damocles for years! Trump will never be free of the impeachment taint since we’ll never let the Senate acquit him by never sending the articles there in the first place! Nancy is a genius!

In the meantime, Nadler can work on a few more articles of impeachment. Stormy Daniels is still out there – some campaign finance angle might work! (For anyone who is curious, Stormy has a website, and is busy traveling the country doing “shows.” And if you are really, really into Stormy happenings and Stormy-related news, you can read all about how she was deported from Canada for planning to strip without a Canadian license even though – shocker! – she had no plans to strip in the first place! The unmitigated gall of those Canadians!)

There are always emoluments – who knows, maybe Adam Schiff, that noted constitutional scholar, can find some new and creative interpretations for that arcane word. Somebody in the Southern District of New York is perpetually investigating Trump – you never know, they might find something! Trump’s tax returns for the year 1983 might turn up on MSNBC. It’s always possible he didn’t fill out the depreciation schedule correctly.

The Mueller report can always be mined for more obstruction “evidence” – so perhaps Nancy’s clear directive to keep impeachment short, limited, and simple wasn’t such a good idea, in retrospect. Robert Mueller could be brought back to testify again – with the right medication, he just might mumble something of use.

On the second go-around, Mueller might even remember that he was in charge of the investigation. Some congressional staffer will be ready with a proper dosage of Razadyne, should Mueller forget to take it that morning. Mueller might even recall a thing or two from the Mueller report, and – with a bit of luck – what his own connection (if any) to the eponymously named document is.

Failing all else, Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), who, judging from his facial expressions, appears perpetually constipated, has his own long list of impeachable offenses committed by Trump, starting with putting ketchup on his steak and ending with criticizing Colin Kaepernick. If Nadler hits a few more dry holes with Stormy, emoluments, and Mueller, he can always pull his pants up a little higher, someplace above his larynx, and consult with his old friend Al.

Winning Hearts and Minds

Except that time is not Nancy’s friend – hypothetical future impeachments don’t help resolve her current dilemma.

The longer she sits on the articles of impeachment, the more ridiculous the entire impeachment effort looks to normal people who don’t obsess over politics on a daily basis. What was the point of all that drama, all those prayers, all that solemnity, and all that supposed sadness, if this is where it ends?

Ultimately, of course, this isn’t about removing Trump from office – as countless other commentators have written, the odds of that happening are between zero and zero. This is about winning the hearts and minds of a small slice of the electorate whose minds are still open – no small feat in this day and age.

Poll after poll has shown that Nancy’s gambit is backfiring. Trump’s popularity is trending upwards. Trump’s rallies are packed. Republican fundraising is at history-making levels, in no small part thanks to impeachment. Impeachment even killed the anti-Trump Republican candidacy of Mark Sanford.

To the extent two other Republican challengers (Joe Walsh and Bill Weld) still have a pulse, there is little evidence of it. In swing state after swing state, Trump is registering solid numbers that put him on track for reelection. Impeachment’s popularity is more or less where it was on day one of his presidency – which suggests that when some people say “I support impeachment,” what they are really saying is “I hate Trump,” just as they’ve been saying since the day he got elected.

Fair enough, but the idea of impeachment was to bring those numbers up – to 50 percent, then 60 percent, then perhaps 70 percent, until wavering Republicans would think they were committing political suicide by siding with Trump. The exact opposite has happened, and I predict further erosion of the “pro-impeachment” numbers, the longer the current “stalemate” drags on. The clock is definitely ticking, and nobody hears it better than Nancy.

Time is not Nancy’s friend for another reason – every vulnerable Democrat wants nothing more than to erase his vote from his constituents’ memories. If there is one thing vulnerable Democrats do not want to talk about for the next 10 months, it’s impeachment.

Every day that impeachment spends in suspended animation is another day that Democrats are forced to defend their impeachment votes in Republican-leaning districts. It might play well with the leftist activist base, but for every activist there is another low-engagement Republican-leaning independent voter who will be certain to vote against them.

This math is bad, and Nancy knows it.

Thoughtful Strategy MIA

But what are the options now? This fight over Senate rules is one that Nancy should have never have engaged, and she has zero leverage over Mitch McConnell. The most logical thing is to capitulate, send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, declare victory, and forget about the whole thing. And the sooner, the better. Yes, Nancy looks stupid for a day or two, but the compliant press can always be counted on to carry water for her, and to spin her surrender as a “statesmanlike” act. Can she do it?

To illustrate just how missing-in-action actual thought-out strategy is, in the Democrats’ flailing efforts, let’s imagine Nancy “wins,” and gets her “fair” trial – meaning Cocaine Mitch makes some kind of deal with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to call witnesses. What exactly has she won? What’s missing from this victory is the inescapable fact that the same executive privilege rules apply to the Senate trial that applied to the House “impeachment inquiry.” Democrats don’t seem to appreciate that the same witnesses who refused to show up before Schiff’s and Nadler’s committees can refuse to show up for the Senate trial. And even if they show up, they can refuse to testify. What then?

The only way to resolve this standoff (to the extent one can call it a standoff, given the political circumstances), would be to litigate the privilege claims in the courts. Would the Senate even go to court? It will take 51 votes – and it will almost certainly require Mitch McConnell’s buy-in – a highly unlikely proposition.

And a court challenge would take months. Will the Senate just sit there and wait while the lawsuits grind on? Unlikely – these litigations would be a direct consequence of the rushed, express-train impeachment in the House, and of the tactical decision by Democrats to avoid litigating the executive privilege claims. But that tactical decision now has strategic consequences – the Democrats’ case is falling apart even before it gets to the Senate, and the ultimate prize – preventing Trump’s reelection and flipping the Senate to Democrat control – is further and further out of reach.

Would stonewalling the Senate on witnesses would mean bad optics for Trump? Perhaps, but I doubt it – how would they be any worse than the fact of the Senate trial in the first place? Democrats will howl about “obstruction”? Let them howl – this is all purely tactical. If they don’t howl about this, they’ll howl about something else – just like they’ve been howling about one thing or another for almost three years. It doesn’t change the ultimate outcome, nor will it change the narrative – everyone already knows that Trump doesn’t want his closest advisors to testify. Everyone knows what happened (or what they think happened) – no minds will be changed. No new facts of any significance are likely to be uncovered – making a shift in the narrative unlikely.

Or Nancy can keep doing what she’s doing – which is waiting out Mitch McConnell. This is laughable, but no more laughable than it was back in December.

For a supposed political genius, Nancy Pelosi’s failure to think all this through is further evidence that she may be a good political tactician, but she’s a mediocre strategist, at best. All of this was entirely foreseeable the day she stumbled out of her office to launch her blackmail gambit against McConnell.

There is no brilliant strategy here, no clever chess move, no ace up Nancy’s sleeve. The Democrats’ “strategy” is failing.

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George S. Bardmesser is an attorney in private practice in the Washington, D.C. area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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