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Facing an unruly band of newly installed members of the House clamoring for impeachment proceedings against President Trump, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been a voice of moderation, urging caution while warning that a move to drive the president from office in the absence of clear, irrefutable evidence of wrongdoing does not enjoy majority support in the country and will backfire on her party.
A politically shrewd Pelosi is willing to allow the supporters of impeachment to continue to vent publicly and sometimes profanely, aware that she holds the stronger hand and could easily crush any intra-party rebellion.
Her ascension to the speaker’s office after dozens of candidates pledged to oppose her was a textbook lesson in manipulating the levers of power, dealing deftly with her critics, striking deals and dispensing favors. It was a masterful performance, picking off dissidents one by one until the entire opposition movement collapsed.
Even her severest critics came away grudgingly impressed at her ability to navigate choppy political waters which not so long ago threatened to swamp her and send her to a back bench.
Truth be told, Pelosi and congressional Democrats benefit from Trump remaining in office. They need an enemy, a polarizing and divisive figure whose mercurial personality, rapidly shifting and often contradictory policy pronouncements careen across the political landscape in such breathtaking fashion that even his staunchest supporters are often left bewildered and scrambling for supporting explanations.
Pelosi understands that, by contrast, her party’s legislative agenda seems insightful, rational, well thought out and broadly responsive.
She is aware, also, that an impeachment debate will rally Trump’s base and close ranks against what appears to be a revenge-filled attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election. Some left-leaning members of the media have egged the impeachment lobby on as well.
It may momentarily satisfy the lust of the party’s more shrill and strident impeachment advocates, but approval in the House is by no means assured and conviction in the Senate is out of the question. It would, in other words, play into the hands of Trump’s supporters who will argue it is an egregious abuse of constitutional power to undertake impeachment on the basis of disagreement with presidential policies or personal dislike.
The Democrats’ 40-seat gain in the midterm elections and control of the House did not reflect any great grassroots groundswell of support for the party’s platform; rather, it was an expression of deep dissatisfaction with Trump and a desire for a Democratic congressional majority to hold him in check. While their ideas may have held appeal for some, the driving force behind their victories was distaste for Trump.(Numerous polls, including that of the Stockton Polling Institute, bear out this explanation.)
Her cautious strategy on impeachment is indicative of a belief that if the more than two-year investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller reveals evidence of lawbreaking by the president or his staff, if will provide solid grounds for proceeding with a removal effort.
Should the investigation allege collusion by Trump campaign operatives with Russian interests to influence the 2016 election, it will be impossible to restrain the forces of impeachment. It will also validate the speaker’s strategy.
Despite sporadic predictions that the Mueller probe is nearing its conclusion, there has been no definitive word from his office, although pressure on him will surely grow as jockeying for the 2020 nomination grows increasingly serious.
Keeping impeachment demands at arm’s length is an acknowledgement by Pelosi that a precipitous veering to the far left is risky for Democrats. While the party’s vocal fringe will continue to demand consideration of its agenda, the cooler, wiser heads — including Pelosi — understand that the multi-trillion-dollar cost of Medicare for all, free college, forgiving student debt and government-paid public jobs for the unemployed, among other proposals, is near fantasy and politically unacceptable to a majority of the country.
Pelosi will allow committee investigations of the Trump administration to go forward as a relief valve for the frustrations felt by Democrats who feel they’ve been ignored during the years of Republican control.
Whatever the committees discover — the trivial as well as the potentially embarrassing — will be absorbed into the overall strategy of dramatizing the differences in philosophy of governance between the president and Democrats.
Pelosi understands that for as long as he remains in office — presumably through 2020 at least — Trump will provide political benefit to her party. Pelosi’s view seems to be forget impeachment — he’s better for us if he remains.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University in New Jersey.