Impeaching Trump is risky business for Democrats
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wasn’t far off the mark when she said Trump “is making lawlessness a virtue.” His brazen defiance of nearly every legal and political convention, in everything from his borderline tax evasion to playing footsie with Putin to even more borderline possible election-tampering, is well-documented. Now there’s the borderline 2020 election-tamper — with Joe Biden the target and the Ukraine president as his political hit man. This was enough to move Pelosi off the dime on impeachment and authorize a House “inquiry” on it. An inquiry is one thing. Bringing actual articles of impeachment for the full House to consider is something else entirely.
Pelosi still hedges her bets. Every time progressive Democrats screamed at her in the past to bring impeachment charges against Trump, she said no.
There was good reason why, a reason Trump underscored when he tweeted that any talk of impeachment related to Biden and the Ukraine is just another Democratic “witch hunt.” If impeachment charges were formally brought against him, Trump would latch on to this for all it’s worth as his ticket back to the White House in 2020. This will fire up his base by allowing him to go into full-blown victim mode. He will wail that he’s being harassed and tormented by vindictive, sour-grape Democrats still fuming that he won the presidency and determined to wreak their revenge.
There’s some talk that Trump privately doesn’t want the taint of being only the third president impeached on his head as the 2020 presidential campaign gathers steam. That’s why he railed long and loud about Pelosi’s impeachment inquiry and quickly and uncharacteristically agreed to release the whistleblower’s complaint to congressional committees and a transcript of the call he made to the Ukraine president.
A close reading of the transcript doesn’t actually provide smoking-gun proof that Trump demanded the Ukraine smear Biden for alleged illicit business dealings by his family. But there is strong inference, knowing everything we know about Trump, that he wanted exactly that.
Another possible worry is the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell beat Trump to the draw in ripping the Democrat’s impeachment cry with the stock charge that it’s politically motivated. But McConnell did slightly break from Trump with the vague promise to look into the Ukraine-Trump dealing. Expect nothing to come of this, just like nothing would ever likely come of any chance the GOP-controlled Senate would ever convict Trump if an impeachment move ever got to it.
Pelosi knows that, and so does Trump. And here’s where the risk of pushing impeachment comes in.
Polls show that a lot of people buy the Trump and the GOP line that it’s a Democratic hatchet job to get him. A lot of Americans think that impeachment is a bad idea. Polls also show that independents, a big factor in the presidential election, for the most part don’t like the idea even though many don’t like Trump either.
Impeachment will be almost exclusively a Democratic show in the House since almost no Republican would ever back the effort. So, it comes off as nothing more than a stunt, or at best an empty gesture done purely to satisfy hopped-up progressive Democrats.
Pelosi, though, bets that the Ukraine furor changes the game for Democrats who hail from districts not loaded with progressives, who put the brakes all this time on any call for impeachment. They read the tea leaves saying moderate voters in their districts aren’t thrilled about the idea of impeaching Trump. This could spell possible political peril. A big, partisan politically charged impeachment fight could give the GOP an opening to take back some of those seats lost in 2018.
Pelosi now says the Ukraine has taken that peril off the table and that moderate Democrats in the swing districts are on board, at least for the inquiry. However, again, a dragged-out impeachment battle is another matter coming a year out from the election.
Barring any solid proof that Trump actually conspired with the Ukrainian president to sabotage Biden, the likely winner in an impeachment battle would be Trump. He would have months to spin the spiteful and vindictive Democrats line to inflame his base. It would be the ultimate distraction that Trump so dearly loves, deflecting attention and criticism from his incompetent and astoundingly corrupt administration. Pelosi and the Democrats, then, must tread carefully on this. Impeaching Trump is risky
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.