House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has two pieces of advice that don’t sit well with the most progressive members of her party. However, she is right on both counts.
First, Pelosi is rightly worried about the plunge into the socialist abyss. She doled out some tough love in a New York Times interview last week:
"Own the center left, own the mainstream,” Ms. Pelosi, 79, said.
“Our passions were for health care, bigger paychecks, cleaner government — a simple message,” Ms. Pelosi said of the 40-seat Democratic pickup last year that resulted in her second ascent to the speakership. “We did not engage in some of the other exuberances that exist in our party” — a reference to some of the most ambitious plans advocated by the left wing of her party and some 2020 candidates, including “Medicare for all” and the Green New Deal, which she has declined to support.
She’s not being a wet blanket; she’s speaking from experience in 2018. The party elected its share of leftists — in deep-blue states. The heavy lifting, however, was done by moderates in swing states. To reiterate, not a single candidate supported by Our Revolution, a progressive group that grew out of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential bid, flipped a House seat from red to blue. For a party that needs to flip states (e.g. Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan), going down the socialist road with Sanders (I-Vt.) or a candidate with similar proposals that are easy to characterize as “socialism” may be the only way for President Trump to win reelection.
Pelosi’s second piece of advice follows from the first: If Democrats insist on impeachment without broad popular support, they risk losing or creating an election so tight that Trump literally will refuse to leave office. But, you say, doesn’t the fear that he is so crazed as to contest election results weigh in favor of getting rid of him before then — by impeachment and removal after trial in the Senate?
That’s a perfectly reasonable argument, but there are several responses. First, Trump won’t be removed. Two-thirds of the Senate will not vote to onvict and remove him. Period. It might be fulfilling to watch Senate Republicans squirm and vote to keep a lawless, unfit president in office, but if these people could not bring themselves to vote for a motion of censure after Trump’s Charlottesville remarks, they aren’t going to remove a guy with 90 percent or so approval in their party. There is no conceivable way to get rid of him before November 2020. (This, by the way, argues strongly against the Office of Legal Counsel’s position that we cannot indict a sitting president. It’s a recipe for keeping the most corrupt and dangerous presidents in power.)
The second response to the fervor for impeachment (and my heart, if not my brain, is with those who see a constitutional obligation to eject him) is that the same results that impeachment would produce — exposure of his mendacity, the conclusion that a second Trump term would be disastrous, a historic repudiation of the president — can be achieved by other means. Congress can hold hearings and call the very witnesses whose possible appearances have freaked out Trump. It can reach a conclusion as to his abuse of power and seek to remove those who enabled him (e.g. Attorney General William P. Barr). It can recommend prosecution after Trump leaves office and it can censure him. Moreover, the House should pass bills that closely track Trump’s conduct and that criminalize actions such as failure of a campaign to disclose contacts with a foreign government, providing assistance or encouragement to a foreign government to intervene in an election, and/or providing nonpublic campaign-related research to a foreign government.
Third, patience is in order so long as the 14 cases or so spun off from the Mueller case take their course, and so long as New York state prosecutors investigate the the Trump Organization and the Trump Foundation. While indictment of Trump may still be out of the question, indictment of the Trump Organization for financial crimes could be possible, depending on the facts uncovered in ongoing investigations. Likewise, defiance of subpoenas may put Trump in a box: Turn over records or face a court order of contempt. (His presidency, or his tax returns?)
In sum, Pelosi has it right: Democrats must find the best center-left candidate to deliver an indisputable victory over Trump. Keep the heat on Trump without necessarily pursuing impeachment. Once he is out of office, encourage his prosecution to the full extent possible under the law and the facts of his case(s). In the meantime, a contempt order or finding of financial wrongdoing (by Congress or the Southern District of New York) may change both Trump’s calculation and Congress’s.