House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a mediocre political strategist, but a very good tactician. We should not make the mistake of thinking that we understand something about the politics of impeachment over the Ukraine call that she does not.
Pelosi, who would love to remove Trump but has no realistic options for doing so, has had to thread the needle on impeachment for months. With roughly 200 House Democrats now supporting impeachment to various degrees (or perhaps 218, depending on whose head counter you trust), her options dwindled, and no longer included verbal gymnastics alone.
The latest Ukraine-related non-scandal is almost irrelevant for its lack of substance. This is not about substance. This is about Pelosi losing control of her caucus should she continue to resist impeachment, and Pelosi sensing a looming electoral disaster of monumental proportions should impeachment be launched outside the parameters she defines.
There’s Nothing Impeachable In the Phone Call
Having read the transcript of Trump’s phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, I can say there is literally nothing there. There is no mention of military aid to Ukraine, of freezing or un-freezing of any aid, of any quid pro quo, or of any pressure on Zelensky to do anything.
I would argue that, given the nexus of the Biden family corruption to Ukraine, it is entirely proper for Trump to ask Zelensky for help investigating the precise circumstances of the Biden family enrichment. That Biden is now running for president does not give him immunity—a criminal running for president is still a criminal.
If the situation were reversed, and if a corrupt Republican ex-vice president were running for president, no Democrat would ever hesitate to ask every foreign government in the world for help in investigating that person. Nor do Democrats hesitate to ask for foreign help in investigating sitting Republican presidents. The 2018 letter to Ukraine (!) by Senate Democrats asking for an investigation of Trump is illustrative.
Anyone who is not a rabid Democratic partisan and gets through the five pages of single-spaced text of the transcript will walk away with a feeling that it’s all pretty boring nonsense. As impeachable offenses go, this one is a complete dud. So if Pelosi’s intent is to remove Trump from office for some specific (and real) offense, she is SOL. There is nothing in the transcript to hang her hat on.
This Isn’t About a Crime, It’s About Politics
Even if Pelosi only suspected this on September 24, when she supposedly jumped the gun on impeachment, she surely knew it the next day, when Trump released the transcript of the call. So why green-light the Full Monty impeachment farce three days later, when it was clear as day that this “bombshell” was already fizzling, just like all the other “bombshells”?
The answer is simple: the absence of impeachable offenses makes no difference whatsoever, because the outcome is pre-determined, and Pelosi’s options are stark: start the impeachment now, and retain control of the narrative, or start a month or two from now, and lose control completely, with the impeachment hearings dragging on into the primary season.
Pelosi understands perfectly that an election where the Democratic Party is framed as a single-issue party, whose sole concern is an impeaching a president over two casual sentences in a phone call, will be catastrophic. But she has run out of rope.
Impeachment proceedings are a given, because her caucus now almost unanimously demands it, and her caucus demands it because the Democratic Party has been hijacked by the Resistance crazies and the hard left. Pelosi has also run out of cute euphemisms for impeachment—the usual Pelosi mumbo-jumbo, like “inquiry,” “investigation,” and “official inquiry,” no longer work without giving the crazies the real deal.
Pelosi had to get ahead of the tidal wave before it drowned her. As Spartan women used to say to their men, “Return with the shield, or on it.” Pelosi, who generally does not lack in political courage, would rather return with the shield this time, and live to fight another day. So she chose the better of two bad options.
Getting Rid of Joe Is a Side Benefit
Pelosi also understands quite well that the first Democratic casualty of all this will be Joe Biden. His sputtering campaign will not survive months of scrutiny of his son’s shady dealings with Ukrainian-Russian gas companies while he was handing U.S. taxpayer money to Ukraine. But Pelosi can live with this. If she has to toss Biden overboard, then so be it.
This is why Pelosi is putting a time limit of a final impeachment vote by end of the year. This is why she is circumscribing the supposed impeachable offense universe to just “the Ukraine thing”: letting the Jerry Nadlers and the Elijah Cummingses run away with tangential issues means dragging the show out into the primary season.
So no Stormy. No Mueller. No Russia collusion (at least, not explicitly — she probably hopes that people can’t tell the difference between Russia and Ukraine.) No Trump hotels. No emoluments. No obstruction. Just Ukraine.
Then Back to Blaming Evil Republicans
With the House vote done by December, Pelosi can congratulate the troops, and move on, regardless of the result (not that it’s in any doubt). She can then proudly proclaim that the House Democrats have been diligent in saving the republic, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and those nasty obstructionist unpatriotic Republicans in the Senate refuse to see the light.
With a straight face, she can tell the lunatics and the impeachment fanatics that she has given them exactly what they asked for, and that it is up to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer now. Then she can privately breathe a sigh of relief.
Pelosi can then spend 2020 working to retain her House majority, while hoping Republican voters lose their energy by next November. Democratic candidates can spend the next year talking about something else, anything else, and at least have a chance of defeating Trump.
Pelosi knows that if impeachment is on the voters’ minds next year, Trump will be reelected in a tsunami. Her majority and speakership will go the way of the Dodo bird. The only way to change that narrative is to do the impeachment show now, and forget all about it next year.
How Republicans Should Fight Back
So what should Trump and the Republicans (not to conflate the two!) do, given that Democrats have issued a declaration of war?
First, all of us out here in the real world must make it abundantly clear to congressional Republicans that spinelessness and defeatism in the face of extreme Democratic aggression will not be tolerated by their voters. Any Republican member of Congress who votes with Democrats on this one must be primaried and must lose—no excuses, no explanations, no rationalizations, no dark nights of the soul.
This is a war declared on all of us. There is no compromise and no middle ground. No Republican can win reelection if his base turns against him, and voting with Democrats is the one sure way to lose the base. Every congressional Republican must either rediscover his vertebrae, or start composing his retirement announcement.
Fight Them from the Executive Branch
Second, the word “cooperation” must be erased from the lexicon of everyone in the executive branch who is dealing with Congress. Every single demand by the Democrats must be fought tooth and nail. Delay every response. Then delay some more.
If they demand something by Monday, inform them late Sunday evening that the matter is still under review. Then claim privilege and refuse to provide documents. Then provide redacted documents. Voters out here in the real world care little about process, when the Democrats can’t explain coherently what specific crime Trump supposedly committed.
Refuse to provide witnesses, and if the witnesses have no choice but to appear, delay and reschedule. Limit the scope of their testimony in advance. Argue about every question. Insist on closed-door testimony. Claim privilege over the most trivial details and conversations.
Let the Democrats run to the courts—nothing happens in court instantaneously. Then appeal. Then appeal again. Then claim a change of circumstances, and start the whole thing over. All this will take time—days, weeks, months. The public will be bored with the endless wrangles over process.
This is not 1974. We’ve all seen thousands of these squabbles and congressional hearings. The clock will be ticking, and nobody will hear that clock better than Pelosi.
Make the Obstruction Charge Come True
Third, every Republican on Rep. Adam Schiff’s intelligence committee (which, oddly enough, is in charge of the impeachment proceedings) must dedicate his every waking moment to obstructing Schiff and his merry gang of comrades. Every question must be interrupted. Every procedural point must be raised to delay, thwart, frustrate, and obstruct.
Every single committee vote must be along party lines. Yes, Republicans will lose, but the purely partisan nature of this charade will be highlighted again and again. Every congressional hearing must turn into a farce.
Regardless, the outcome of the impeachment process is a foregone conclusion. Democrats will vote to impeach Trump. This is a fact, and there is no point shedding tears over it or debating it. No amount of brilliant oratory by lawyers, no pointing out the absence of any actual facts of any crime, not even ironclad proof of actual innocence, will make the slightest difference.
Republicans might as well get used to the idea now: President Trump will be impeached. But when and how this happens can be turned to our advantage.
You Want Impeachment? Come and Get It
Fourth, force the Democrats to vote again and again, including vulnerable Democrats. For example, Democrats already fired off subpoenas on Friday, demanding State Department documents by October 4. But the House has yet to hold a single vote authorizing impeachment proceedings, and until it does, there is nothing. For a swing district Democrat (and there are dozens who got elected by the skin of their teeth in 2018), each such vote brings him one step closer to becoming an ex-congressman.
Pelosi knows this, so don’t let her get away with an impeachment that starts without a full House vote, just on her say-so in a press conference. Democrats want documents for impeachment? Then the House must vote on impeachment first.
The final impeachment vote? Republican voters need to remind their Republican member of Congress, again and again, that they’ll be looking for another job should they even think of siding with the enemy. Let it be 236-198. The whole thing will be remembered only as an unhinged partisan hate show.
Fifth, the Senate. We already know how little McConnell thinks of all this. I wouldn’t presume to know his strategy, but I can suggest one: as soon as the House votes to impeach, schedule a quick vote the next day: to convict or not, up or down. Give it two hours of “debate,” and then vote.
That’s it. Show is over. The vote will be 52-48 to acquit (yes, Mitt Romney, you worthless cream puff of a weathervane, I am thinking of you), and that will be that.
This latest twist is merely another battle in the endless war. A House vote to impeach President Trump is now a virtual certainty and, by itself, of little consequence. What matters is what we conservatives out here do with it. Our first task must be to stiffen the backbones of our cowardly representatives.