This weekend Nancy Pelosi, the presumptive new Speaker of the House, sent mixed signals about whether she plans to have the House immediately begin the impeachment process against Donald Trump. This has led to some hand wringing and confusion among Democrats. It’s also allowed her detractors on the left the opportunity stand up and yell “See, Pelosi is too (fill in the blank).” But here’s the thing: Nancy Pelosi is smarter and more politically savvy than all of her critics combined.
Of the two U.S. Presidents who have been impeached (Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton), neither was removed by impeachment. The one U.S. President who has been forcibly removed (Richard Nixon) was never actually impeached. It’s simple to understand why. You can’t put up a PowerPoint presentation detailing a president’s crimes, and then expect to get sixty-seven votes in the Senate to convict and remove. You’re asking at least fifteen Senators from that president’s party to help kick the president out.
On the other hand, if you want to force a president out, you have to destroy him before you even start the impeachment process. It’s how Richard Nixon went down. His detractors exposed his crimes in such great detail, and made it so painfully clear to the American people that his actions were criminal to the point of indefensibility, it made him radioactive. It got to a point where even Nixon’s allies were afraid to touch him. With no one to prop him up, that’s when the impeachment articles came down. Sure enough, it forced him to resign, because by that point the impeachment would indeed have ousted him.
If House Democrats were to begin impeachment hearings against Donald Trump the day they take control in January, it would be a fun ride for our side, but it would probably not result in his ouster. In war, you don’t just start immediately and indiscriminately firing off all your ammunition; you use the proper weapon at the proper time. For the moment, the Democrats’ most effective weapon is their control over every House committee.
House Democrats are going to immediately launch nationally televised hearings into every one of Donald Trump’s scandals. They’re going to expose all the Trump dirt that the House Republicans have spent the past two years trying to cover up. This will be intertwined with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings. It’ll be a massive, broad, and coordinated expose of Trump’s criminality, incompetence, instability, and unsuitability. Then once Trump’s political viability has been reduced to a pile of blubber, the impeachment process can be successfully used (or threatened) to force him out.
No one in politics has a magic wand. These past two years we’ve seen Donald Trump only get a fraction of what he’s wanted (no wall, no war with Iran, no real control over the DOJ, no revenge against Hillary, etc) despite his party having had majority control of Congress. Now the Democrats have control of the House, but that gavel in Nancy Pelosi’s hand isn’t a magic wand either.
If you want the House Democrats to simply stomp their feet and set their hair on fire while angrily screaming Trump’s name, and race into an impeachment process that will not result in his ouster, then you’re not very good at understanding how to win in politics. You can’t just throw everything at the wall and hope it’ll stick; ousting a president is more like surgery. Nancy Pelosi has spent the past decade consistently proving that she knows how to win these kinds of fights. You’re just going to have to trust that she knows how this game works better than you do. Of course she’s looking to destroy and oust Trump. She’s just going to do it in the kind of way that’ll actually succeed.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report