Nancy Pelosi said in the Washington
Post today that she did not support impeachment
of President Trump. The move may come as a surprise to many on both sides of
the aisle, but Pelosi is a shrewd politician who has hinted in the past that impeachment
proceedings would not be forthcoming. While Pelosi’s decision will anger many
on the left, not impeaching Trump is a sound political strategy that potentially
has a bigger payoff than the short-term gain of winning an impeachment vote in
“I’m not for impeachment,” Pelosi said in the Post. “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.”
While the temptation to impeach the president is strong
among Democrats, Speaker Pelosi seems to be looking at the big picture rather
than the emotional gratification of embarrassing Mr. Trump and adding him to a
short list of impeached presidents. Impeaching President Trump would allow
Democrats to win a battle, but it might cost them the war, i.e. the 2020
The most obvious reason not to open impeachment proceedings
is the lesson learned by Republicans when they impeached President Clinton: If you
don’t have the votes to remove the president, impeachment is pointless and
possibly counterproductive. President Clinton became more popular after he
survived the attempt to remove him from office and remained a prominent
Democrat elder statesman for two decades after leaving office on schedule.
In the case of President Trump, Democrats have the votes to
impeach the president in the House, but they lack the votes to remove him from
office in the Senate where Republicans retain a majority. Throughout all of
Trump’s embarrassing behavior and executive abuse, most Republicans have stood
by him. It is unlikely that many – or possibly any – Republicans would cross
the aisle to vote to remove the president from office. In all likelihood, if
Trump was able to withstand an impeachment attempt, he would become even more
popular with his base and possibly with independents as well.
On the other hand, forgoing impeachment removes a major obstacle
to electing a Democrat in 2020. If impeachment proceedings were begun, they
would be an issue in the 2020 election. Democrats would be pushing the issue
against prevailing political winds since 59 percent of voters recently told Quinnipiac that they opposed impeachment. The unpopularity of impeachment could be a drag
on Democratic candidates up and down the ticket.
The decision not to impeach also removes a Republican talking
point that could have been used to rally the base. A Democratic attack on the
president, who remains popular in the GOP, would have spurred Republicans to
circle the wagons in defense of the president. Without impeachment on the table,
Republican voters disappointed in Trump’s performance might be more likely to
Further, Pelosi undoubtedly realizes that Donald Trump is his
own worst enemy. Allowing President Trump to remain in office will mean that
the eventual Democratic nominee faces a weak candidate. If Democrats were
somehow able to impeach the president, Mike Pence, a much more capable
politician and campaigner would become president. Pence would have a much
greater chance of winning re-election than Donald Trump, whose approval is hovering in
the low 40s.
Having said all that, there are risks to Pelosi’s strategy. As Jess
Fields pointed out earlier, Pelosi may anger her own base and make it more
likely that a radical Democrat is the eventual
nominee. The conventional wisdom holds that Trump would fare better against
Bernie, Kamala Harris, or other of the far-left Democrats than against the more
moderate Joe Biden. Indeed, the Quinnipiac poll shows that two-thirds of
Democrats support impeachment.
I’m not sure that impeachment makes a difference in this
argument since Democrats should want to nominate the most liberal candidate who
can win if they subscribe to a mirror-image version of the Buckley rule. Impeachment
or no impeachment, Democrat voters are not going to repeat their 2016 mistake
of sitting out the election. Not impeaching Trump won’t improve the appeal of
second-tier Democrats to moderate voters, but it might make Trump more
beatable, as discussed earlier.
Finally, there is the question of what happens if Donald
Trump beats the odds a second time and is re-elected. In that case, assuming
that Democrats hold the House and possibly capture the Senate, impeachment
might be a more attractive option than it is now. With Democrat-led
congressional investigations ramping up and the Mueller probe continuing, there
might also be more evidence against the president that could even lead some
Republicans to vote to remove Trump from office.
wrote two months ago, impeachment is not a smart move for the Democrats.
Pelosi may be reviled by many on the right, but that doesn’t mean that she’s a
dummy. She is a shrewd politician who is playing the odds with her eye on the
bigger prize, namely putting a Democrat in the White House.