Nancy Pelosi’s Hamlet Moment
For House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, it comes down to this: “To Impeach or not to impeach. That is the question.”
June 21, 2019
Slowly but surely, House Democrats are breaking ranks with Nancy Pelosi on her decision to go slow on attempting to impeach President Donald J. Trump.
While many on both sides of the aisle think that impeachment is mandated based on moral, ethical and statutory grounds, most in Congress also believe that the politics of impeachment are fraught with trouble.
This view is in large part derived from the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton. In 1998, an insurgent and highly partisan House of Representatives, led by firebrand Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich, voted to impeach Clinton.
The U.S. Senate, however, failed to convict Clinton. He left the White House after a full eight years as the most popular president in modern U.S. history.
Gingrich was drummed out of politics and the Republican brand suffered a major blow.
Backed by polls that show that only 27% of Americans support impeachment now and that 48% are against it, Pelosi evidently theorizes that there is insufficient public backing to proceed.
Pelosi further theorizes that there is little chance the Republican-controlled Senate will be able to muster the super-majority needed to convict Trump and remove him from office.
The theory holds that the Democrats will suffer more than Republicans if the Democratic-controlled House attempts impeachment, much as the Republicans did following the Clinton impeachment.
The wrong lesson
This however is the wrong lesson to be taken from the Clinton impeachment and a potential misreading of the polls.
First of all, the differences between Clinton and Trump are stark. When the House voted to impeach Clinton, he enjoyed a 66% approval rating, according to Gallop. In a Gallup poll conducted in mid-May, Trump’s approval rating stood at 40% — among the lowest of any President in the postwar era.
Sure, after a good week, Trump may peak at 44%. But he can’t seem to get beyond that number — he has been unable to do so for his entire Presidency.
Clearly, Pelosi needs to take a closer look at the politics of impeachment in light of these poll numbers.
The offenses don’t compare
Second, there is a big — indeed, huge — difference between what Clinton was accused of and the allegations swirling around Trump.
Clinton’s indiscretion with Monica Lewinsky was worthy of “Me Too” opprobrium, but it didn’t rise to the heights of the massive and widespread illegal conduct engaged in by Trump. The Lewinsky affair may have been morally corrupt, but Trump is corrupt to his very core.
Third and perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t really matter what the politics are. The Congress of the United States is charged with overseeing the executive branch of government.
By not launching an impeachment inquiry under these compelling circumstances, the House of Representatives is failing to uphold the duties to which it is constitutionally bound.
This duty applies all the more so as Robert Mueller indicated that it is Congress, not the Justice Department, whose role it is to charge a sitting president with criminal wrongdoing.
There can be little doubt that the founding fathers had current circumstances in mind when they conceptualized impeachment.
The President is an outlaw
Beyond constitutional theory, Nancy Pelosi also needs to take a close look at the charges against Trump. After the release of the Mueller Report, it can no longer be accepted that Trump is anything less than a thuggish racketeer.
In fact, Trump’s serial improprieties and illegalities would surely qualify him for prosecution under the RICO Act — the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
In an ironic twist, RICO was the preferred prosecutorial tool of Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, when Giuliani served as a federal prosecutor.
Make Republicans defend the indefensible
By bringing Trump’s criminal activities to life in an impeachment inquiry, the House would put Republicans in Congress in the position of defending the indefensible.
Of course, the defenseless positions of the Trump apologists would have little or no impact on the Trump base — the Fox News watchers.
But nothing is going to change the minds of his base. As Trump himself has pointed out, he could shoot someone in the middle of fifth Avenue and they would still vote for him.
Bringing all of these issues to light in an impeachment inquiry would however help educate the broader electorate. It would put pressure on Senate Republicans, who would have to engage in utter hypocrisy to stay loyal to the President.
Americans hate hypocrisy and defending Trump could easily become a hot-button issue in elections for the U.S. Senate. This line of attack might not help in places like Mississippi and Alabama. But it might help unseat some GOP Senators in key swing states.
Remember President Nixon?
Nancy Pelosi would also do well to remember that Richard Nixon was never impeached. He was never tried and never convicted in the U.S. Senate. She should keep in mind that Nixon won reelection in November 1972, with nearly 62% of the popular vote. Eighteen months later, he resigned in disgrace.
Nixon’s resignation came about not because of a Senate trial. It came about because the Republican leadership went up to the White House and told the President that they could no longer defend him.
And it was the smoking gun — the White House Tapes — that emerged in the middle of Nixon’s impeachment proceedings that proved his undoing.
Pelosi and the smoking guns
Pelosi should know that there is the possibility of a smoking gun — more likely many smoking guns — emerging in the middle of an impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump.
An impeachment inquiry, for example, would have the ability to subpoena Trump’s financial records going further back in time than was permitted by the limited scope of the Mueller investigation.
God only knows what crimes and skullduggery might be found in the official record of Donald J. Trump.
You can’t run out the clock
All of this is why Nancy needs to give up her Hamlet routine. She needs to use the President’s high crimes and misdemeanors to expose Trump for what he is — the head of a criminal enterprise.
And the Democrats need to take their arguments to his Republican apologists in Congress, tarring them with the broad brush of hypocrisy.
Another historic mistake by the Democrats?
It is a safe bet that a senior official in the 2016 Clinton Presidential campaign looked at the polls ahead of the election and pronounced the fateful words, “All we have to do to win this thing is avoid mistakes.”
Of course, that was the mistake — a mistake that Speaker Pelosi is on the verge of repeating.
It is important to remember that impeachment proceedings against Trump would bring to the forefront his manifest failings as a human being — his bullying, his boasting and, of course, his lying.
These attributes do not play well beyond his base of working-class white males. They are viewed with anger and disdain among large majorities of women, of various minorities and of college-educated white males.
Trump’s behavior when under pressure serves to strengthen anti-Trump sentiment and energize his opponents.
By banking on the notion that current poll numbers will hold as long as Democrats avoid mistakes in the run-up to the 2020 elections is a recipe for failure. And by not taking the impeachment fight to Donald Trump would be nothing short of political malfeasance.
For House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, it comes down to this: "To Impeach or not to impeach. That is the question."
Pelosi needs to use Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors to expose him for what he is -- the head of a criminal enterprise.
Nixon’s resignation came about not because of a Senate trial, but because Republicans told him that they could no longer defend him.
Not taking the impeachment fight to Donald Trump would be nothing short of political malfeasance.