House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) can read the polls and knows her members. Moreover, she knows a thing or two about public sentiment and how to sway it. Holding off on impeachment until the Ukraine scandal popped up gave her several advantages.
First, the Ukraine scenario is simple and went to the heart of Trump’s powers as commander in chief. (Ironically it was another case of collusion, but a simpler and more obvious one.) It was perfectly teed up for moderate members with expertise on intelligence matters to reach the conclusion, however grudgingly, that they could no longer trust Trump with the nation’s security.
Second, no one can doubt that Pelosi resisted the siren calls from the base to charge up the hill on impeachment. She has been measured, and she demanded from the get-go we follow the facts. Here, the facts were coming from the president’s own lips and from his attorney’s. A prosecutor couldn’t ask for a better case. She has been telling everyone who cared to listen that Trump is self-impeaching, meaning that it was only a matter of time before Trump provided incontrovertible evidence of his abuse of power. She was right on that score.
And that brings us to the third and critical distinction that underscores Pelosi’s wisdom in waiting for an incident like Ukraine. Here, Congress will do the investigating from the start. It can accept “no” for an answer from the administration in response to demands for documents and witness testimony, and then use that as the basis to pursue impeachment for obstruction of Congress. It need not take time looking for other players’ criminality. A short investigation under Congress’s control with short deadlines on a limited number of facts, aided by constant leaking to the media, is far more manageable than waiting years for Mueller and then fighting endlessly over compelling testimony to describe what was in the report that Americans refused to read.
A skilled leader doesn’t go plunging into the abyss of impeachment without her party, the public and a concise narrative all lined up. She learns from past errors (e.g., don’t rush to court to compel testimony, a process that takes months, and don’t let members conduct factual inquiries at hearings) and adjusts her strategy accordingly. One can see just how skillful Pelosi has been by the lack of a coherent response from Republicans. By picking the right fight at the right time — and withstanding outside pressure to act precipitously — Pelosi has positioned her members to make the best possible case against Trump while defending their majority. In retrospect, it certainly is fortunate her members didn’t push her out of the way in favor of a novice leader.