EDITORS: Please note language in graph 14.
Do you suppose it’s possible that deep in the Stygian recesses of his mind, President Trump actually wants to be impeached? And for pretty much the same reasons that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continues to resist the idea. Think about it: a months-long, nationally televised political extravaganza with Trump himself in the starring role, the persecuted hero and cynosure of all eyes, climaxing with his triumphant acquittal by a Republican Senate that long ago surrendered to his cult of personality.
Impeachment could turn into the ultimate WWE spectacle, a Trumpian re-election campaign like no other.
What’s more, while the president couldn’t be forced to testify against himself, neither could he be prevented from playing sideshow barker and ringmaster as the circus went on. Trump may believe that his chances for a second term, otherwise endangered if his own (recently fired) pollsters are to be believed, would be greatly enhanced.
Of course, as the immortal baseball philosopher Yogi Berra famously observed, “It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Things could easily go the other way. Which is why I’ve begun to think that regardless of Trump’s and Pelosi’s intentions, an impeachment inquiry probably needs to happen for the good of the country.
Pelosi clearly has no wish to be the next Newt Gingrich. After Republican hotheads stampeded the House into impeaching President Clinton for lying about sex in 1998, Republicans lost seats in the midterm elections. The GOP speaker was forced to resign, his political career ruined.
Clinton’s subsequent acquittal by the Senate was a foregone conclusion. Partly because almost everybody has lied about sex at some time -- Gingrich among them -- the president’s popularity soared.
But I digress. Pressed on impeachment by Democratic partisans mainly from safe districts, Pelosi continues to resist largely because polls show that most voters in swing districts don’t want it. With Senate acquittal seen as a virtual certainty, she has seen no percentage in impeaching Trump.
Why risk Democratic control of Congress for a symbolic gesture? Let House oversight committees do their work, and wait for the accumulating evidence to shift public opinion. Concentrate on passing useful legislation that the Senate will ignore, and work toward the 2020 elections.
Except here’s the thing: It’s just not working. Scarcely one voter in 20 could name two House committees investigating the Trump presidency, much less explain what they’re probing. White House stonewalling works because people have little notion what’s being hidden.
For example, black letter law says the IRS “shall” hand over Trump’s tax returns to the House Committee on Obfuscation and Humbug. White House lawyers argue that “shall” means “maybe.” Photogenic “experts and analysts” on CNN are left to explain that entire geological eras could pass before courts rule on the administration’s preposterous alibi.
It’s certainly true, as people say, that the Mueller report on Trump’s finagling with the nation he calls “Rusher” would be devastating if people understood what’s in it. But let’s face it: They aren’t going to read the report. Many of them, like Trump himself, basically can’t. At 448 pages of terse legalistic prose with footnotes and redactions, it’s not exactly a Stephen King novel.
Here’s about as exciting it gets. From Volume I: “The investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, (but) the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired ... with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
In everyday language, Trump didn’t put Vladimir Putin up to robbing the bank, but he kept his mouth shut, played along and ended up sitting pretty. Except it wasn’t a stickup, but a hostile foreign dictatorship attacking our democracy. Alas, Attorney General William Barr’s cunning cover-up plan worked, and Robert Mueller’s pose as The Last Upright Man in Washington clarified nothing.
No wonder, as Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank notes, Trump gets away with blatant self-contradiction: “In recent weeks, Trump has said Robert Mueller conducted his probe in an honorable way and his findings offered full vindication and exoneration. During roughly the same period, Trump has also promoted the contrary idea that Mueller’s report is 'total bullshit,' not to mention 'fabricated' and 'pure, political garbage.'”
Then came last week’s ABC TV interview, where Trump turned the whole thing into a bad country song: “That Thing I Didn’t Do, I’d Do It All Over Again.” He all but invited Putin (or any other scheming potentate) to pull another scam.
So yeah, House Democrats are going to have to put on an impeachment TV melodrama, not so much in the expectation of luring 20 GOP senators away from the Trump cult, but of helping millions of otherwise unreachable voters to better understand exactly what’s been going on.