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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

How Risky is Not Impeaching Trump?

We have given a fair amount of space to various arguments against impeaching Trump. But even the most ardent Democratic opponents of impeachment acknowledge that there may come a time when Democrats will look bad by not doing so.

For Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro that time has arrived. As Castro said,

“I called several weeks ago now for impeachment proceedings to begin because it’s clear that this president obstructed justice,” he emphasized. “Congress needs to act. They should act…“The fact that you’d have almost 400 former federal prosecutors say that anybody else would have been charged with several felony counts for obstruction of justice, that says something…the question is – is this president above the law? I believe the answer to that is no, and that’s why impeachment is warranted.”

Warren said it this way:

“I have tried to let the House make its own determination and I’ve made clear how I see this…Every single person in the House and the Senate should take a vote on whether what Donald Trump did to obstruct justice was an impeachable offense. And then they ought to have to live with that vote for the rest of their lives.”..Mueller served up the evidence on a silver platter to Congress. Congress is now the only body that can act to prevent a president from obstructing justice and walking away with no penalty imposed.

There will be more. For most of the Democratic candidates, it’s more likely a matter of “when” than “if.” But at slate.com, Jim Newell says that that Speaker Pelosi’s strategy is pinned on “her own worst fears: that impeachment would backfire on Democrats, that it would distract them from their legislative agenda, and that there’s no chance Trump would get convicted in the Republican-controlled Senate.” Newell argues further,

The muddled message from Pelosi—Trump is obstructing justice every day, but we’ll show him by not impeaching—is a byproduct of the corner she’s occupying: Impeach the president and risk a catastrophic backfire that secures him another term, or don’t impeach him, and allow Donald Trump to operate in a space where the credible threat of impeachment is off the table. Beneath all of the mixed signaling, though, is a coherent decision that she has made: to delay the decision on impeachment indefinitely, by continually requesting more, seeing where facts land at the end of a time-consuming process of fact-landing, and, by then, arriving at Election Day.

Newell quotes WaPo’s Greg Sargent, who commented on impeachment as a way to make Trump’s tax returns public:

Democrats must now choose between continuing to pursue the returns through conventional channels, which carries some risk of failure, and getting serious about impeachment hearings, which would likely minimize that risk to the greatest extent possible,” Sargent writes. “If Democrats go with the first, it raises at least the possibility that they could squander months in court, only to fail to secure Trump’s returns at the end—at which point they’d decide it’s too late to pursue impeachment, because 2020 would be looming.

As Newell concludes, ” Investigations will serve as a tool to expose the president’s wrongdoing for voters to draw their own conclusions, not as the build-up to Congress reaching a conclusion of its own. In a way, it’s the highest-risk gamble of all: Betting everything on an election which, if Trump wins, would leave him with four more years, and Congress with a broken ability to oversee him.”

So it’s a risk for Democrats either way. Once impeachment begins, it will become the dominant media narrative. Coverage of Democratic policies addressing health care, trade, fair taxes, education, gun safety and other urgent priorities of voters will be smothered by media coverage of impeachment. Pelosi is not wrong about that.

But if Democrats don’t “do their job,” in the words of candidate Warren, they run the risk of appearing ‘soft on corruption,’ and they will have squandered what may be their best opportunity to make Trump resign or be removed. And there is the hope that future revelations about Trump’s corruption will shame nine Republican senators to join Democrats in supporting conviction.

It’s a tough call, and there is no middle ground. But Democrats must be unified for either strategy to achieve their goal.

3 comments on “How Risky is Not Impeaching Trump?

  1. Candace on

    “Accountability for Trump Cannot be Left to the Ballot Box

    while civilian leadership in government is determined by the voice of the public every few years, basic accountability and security are not. We don’t determine whether to throw criminals in jail by popular vote. We don’t determine war and peace by popular vote…. While the choice of president is subject to popular will, the right of every American to make that choice with adequate information about the candidates is not”

    “If those in executive power cannot be held accountable, merely because of their very position, and if the opposition in the legislative branch cannot hold them accountable because they believe it would be politically detrimental to their near-term electoral interests, then America is no longer a democracy. It’s a lawless elected monarchy.

    And monarchs who operate lawlessly won’t bother to keep holding elections for long”



  2. Martin Lawford on

    J.P. Green is right. Impeachment proceedings against President Trump would crowd out all other issues in the 2020 Presidential campaign, including several on which the Democratic platform is more popular.

  3. Roscoe VanHorne on

    Can we rub our tummy and pat our head at the same time?
    The fear is legitimate but should not overwhelm the responsibility to act.


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