I welcome the news last night that House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler had broken new ground in his statements on the question of Trump’s impeachment. Having dealt in ‘maybes’ for months, Nadler came out and said, flatly, “I think the President ought to be impeached.”
While that movement into greater clarity was welcome, another aspect of Nadler’s remarks remained stuck in an unfortunate Democratic groove. Nadler went on to say:
“In my personal opinion, impeachment is imperative not because he’s going to be removed from office — the Senate won’t do that — but because we have to vindicate the Constitution,” he said.
What makes that unfortunate is not that the statement is incorrect. He’s quite right.
The problem is that treating the Senate’s acquittal (or refusal to even conduct the trial) as a given –“the Senate won’t do that” — is politically foolish.
And it is foolish in a way characteristic of the Democrats for a generation: it throws away the opportunity to make the Republicans pay the price for politically disgraceful behavior.
The picture of Trump’s criminality, corruption, and possible betrayal of the nation is stunning, rich, abundantly overflowing. Assuming that the Democrats can present that picture effectively through public hearings, a significant majority of the American people should become convinced of the need for such a President to be convicted and removed from office.
And if that occurs, consider the position that the Republicans in the Senate will be in. Consider, in particular, the political price they would pay if they choose to protect a President whose criminality and corruption has appalled a significant majority of the American people.
True, they would also pay a political price for opposing a President whose die-hard — “I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue” — supporters would likely be furious with them. But that’s the beauty of the position the Democrats can work to put them in, i.e. having to make a lose-lose choice.
Which brings us back to the Democrats, and the need for them to change the way they talk about what the Republican Senators might or might not do.
Every time the Democrats speak publicly as if it were a foregone conclusion that the Senate Republicans will betray their oath of office and abdicate their most profound responsibilities, they clear the way for the Republicans to behave disgracefully and pay no political price.
After all, if the public has so often been told that the Republicans will act that way, why should there be any outrage? It was a “given,” and so the Republicans are given a pass.
What is required, rather, is for the Democrats to start framing the choice that the Senate Republicans will face.
At this point, while large portions of the public remain somewhat ignorant of the extent of Trump’s “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the Democrats can speak in terms of “Ifs”:
“If it is shown clearly that President Trump has …., then the Republicans in the Senate will have to choose between the path of honor or of dishonor, of patriotism or of betrayal of the nation, of faithfulness to their oath of office or selling their souls to a criminal President.”
As the rich picture of Trump’s impeachability penetrates the public consciousness more fully, the “If” can be dropped.
At every turn, what should be highlighted is the reality of an important choice — in terms of morality and patriotism — with no mention of the apparent probabilities of the Republicans choosing the honorable choice.
In that way, the Democrats can maximize the damage the Republicans will do to themselves if they in fact do the dishonorable thing.
(The Democrats — and the nation — benefit whether the pressure actually makes the Republicans choose differently, or moves the American people to punish the Republicans for doing what everyone now expects.)
And that damage in itself matters greatly in terms of the battle for the soul of America: even if the Republicans keep Trump in office, the spotlight on their morally bankrupt conduct will help fortify a 2020 Blue Wave, and the Democrats’ efforts to gain control of the Senate.
The Democrats in Congress have been so terribly gentle with their Republican colleagues for years, while those Republicans have been doing terrible things. It’s time to change that almost inexplicable failure to press the battle in the face of the Republican conduct—and this is one place where that change can begin.