Democrats Should Not Stop Now

The impeachment hearings must be continued, to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

“When you strike at a king, you must kill him,” observed Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The impeachment hearings have wounded Trump, but he is far from politically dead. Therefore, Democrats are making a big mistake if they wrap up the House Intelligence Committee’s inquiry just when they have traced the crime into the White House. Trump’s inner circle— Mike Pompeo, Mick Mulvaney, and Rudy Giuliani—must still be pierced, and the defector John Bolton bought in to explain what he meant by the Ukraine “drug deal.”

Nancy Pelosi says that she doesn’t want to wait for the courts to decide whether these top officials have to testify. Adam Schiff says there

is already enough evidence to support impeachment. But at this point getting a majority of Democrats to agree to a party-line vote in the House is hardly impressive.

What counts is the court of public opinion, where stripping Trump of his presidency still lacks a durable, sustained majority.

Democrats have had the moral high ground so far. Despite the political risks, they are defending the Constitution and the fundamental principles of the republic that no person is above the law.

To focus on the Constitution rather than political differences, they placed the burden of impeachment on the narrow issues of the Ukraine affair. But getting rid of an elected president is a big deal to most Americans. Moreover, the Fox-ification of the news has created a presumption that all presidents are mired in scandal, muddying the waters on precisely what sets Trump’s actions apart. So to make the strategy work in the larger political context requires: 1) a smoking gun, making Trump directly guilty of bribery and extortion; and 2) using the investigation to demonstrate that the Ukraine phone calls were not just the act of a selfish and clumsy president, but the product of a deep and dangerous corruption that can no longer be tolerated.

Without winning this political fight, when the case goes to Mitch McConnell’s Senate, the Democrats will find not Trump, but themselves on trial for wasting the county’s time on partisan politics.

If so, Trump will likely walk away from this, as he did from the aborted conclusion of the Mueller Report, reinforced in his contempt for the Constitution and setting precedents to accommodate future authoritarians in the White House.

Democrats claim that their haste is driven by the looming start of the 2020 primary season. Impeachment, it is said, distracts the public from the Democrats’ message on the “issues.” And, anyway, the public is getting tired of the non-stop Trump revelations. But this erodes the Democratic claim to putting principle over politics—without which they have no standing.

As for the politics, the Democrats may well be better served by having the public focus on impeachment than the spectacle of yet more televised squabbling in presidential primary debates among 18 “qualified” egos—12 of them with less than 3 percent in the polls, with another multi-billionaire, Mike Bloomberg, just now jumping in.

By now the important differences among the candidates are clear. Less focus might winnow the field more quickly to concentrate on mobilizing to defeat Trump. History shows that when incumbent presidents lose their re-election, it is more because voters want them out, rather than because they want their opponents in, such as George H.W. Bush in 1992 and Jimmy Carter in 1980.

As for the public’s interest, despite the tedious and ritualistic daytime impeachment hearings, it got TV ratings at the level of Monday Night Football—double the ratings for the nighttime Democratic debates.

Both for politics and principle, Democrats need to finish what they started. 

Jeff Faux

Jeff Faux, Member of the Editorial Board of Insight, is the founder and former president of the Economic Policy Institute and the author of the new book "The Servant Economy: Where America's Elite is Sending the Middle Class".

Insight - Free thinking for global social progress

Free thinking for global social progress