The Pelosi maneuver

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House Republicans just can’t stop talking about how they’re going to impeach President Joe Biden. They really, really, really want everyone to believe it’s going to happen. No one knows for certain what these rudderless House Republicans will ultimately do in the end – including them. But the manner in which they keep playing up impeachment gives away that they don’t think they have the support to pull it off. Let me explain.

Think back to when Donald Trump’s Ukraine scandal was coming to light in 2019. At the time, Speaker Nancy Pelosi kept publicly downplaying the prospect of impeachment, right up until the day she finally announced she was seeking impeachment. It’s a good reminder that if you have the votes, if you have the support, if you have the muscle, if you know you’re going to end up doing it and you know you’re going to be able to pull it off, you don’t have to play it up beforehand. If anything you play it down until you’ve managed to get all your ducks in a row, so you don’t risk burning out the public on impeachment talk before you’re able to pull the trigger on it. Call it the Pelosi Maneuver if you like. She perfected it. But the notion of downplaying something when you already have the muscle to pull it off, and playing it up when you don’t have the muscle to pull it off, has been around for as long as politics has been around.

These House Republicans are doing things in the precise opposite way as Pelosi. They keep screaming about how they’re going to impeach President Biden, as loudly as possible, to anyone who will listen. Why? This is what politicians do when they don’t think they can pull something off. They’re desperately trying to play up the idea of impeachment in the hope that their chatter will ignite some kind of momentum behind the idea, eventually allowing them to pull off an impeachment. And if they never do manage to build that kind of momentum, then they at least managed to give their supporters the appearance that they did something related to impeaching Biden, even though they didn’t actually do anything.

This past week we saw House Republicans drastically pull back from their impeachment threats. They went from supposedly being on the verge of outright impeachment hearings, to instead settling for an impeachment inquiry (which isn’t much of anything), and ultimately settled on an “impeachment inquiry” that they didn’t even vote on (which literally isn’t anything).

Yet even as House Republicans were drastically backing down from the threat of impeachment, they were dramatically ramping up their verbal diarrhea about impeachment. That’s because they know they can’t pull off impeachment right now. The measuring stick for impeachment would be what impact it would have on 2024 polling numbers, both for Biden and for incumbent House Republicans. If they impeached Biden right now, his numbers would go up and theirs would go down, and they know it. So they’re out there cheerleading in favor of impeachment, in the hope of shifting public opinion such that impeachment might end up becoming an actual option for them.

We’ll see what happens in the end. These House Republicans are, in addition to everything else that’s wrong with them, really bad at strategy. They’re also devoid of any unifying leadership. So they could end up doing something really stupid and self-defeating, even if the numbers tell them not to.

But for now, there is no impeachment process against President Biden. House Republicans have made that clear with their actions. And by running their mouths so feverishly about how impeachment is supposedly a done deal, they’re giving away that they don’t think they have the public support to be able to pull it off without costing themselves seats.

Remember, if you have the internal votes and the external public support to pull something off, you don’t have to run your mouth about how you’re going to do it. You just do it. Nancy Pelosi taught us that. On the other hand, if you’re running your mouth to try to make it look like you’re doing something that you’re not actually doing, it’s a dead giveaway that you know you don’t have the muscle to pull it off.

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