Expectations Management and a Bit of Advice

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I’ve been exchanging emails with various TPM Readers over the course of the day. If anything it’s tending to confirm my sense that the intra-Democratic acrimony over impeachment is driven less by disagreement than the understandable intensity of people’s feelings and anger over President Trump.

For example I’ve had a number of readers take issue with my viewpoint on this or ‘Democratic leaders’ (I scare quote only to make clear it usually isn’t specific to an individual) say, “No one is saying he should be impeached right away!”

That actually is my understanding of what the argument is about. Most of the arguments are about beginning a formal impeachment inquiry right away. But as generally understood, an impeachment inquiry is a matter of a few months tops, perhaps considerably less. In other words, it creates immediate time pressure to move ahead to actual impeachment, which I see as getting in the way of actual investigating.

As I’ve said, the logical strategy is to say that the President definitely deserves to be removed from office, hold impeachment out as a possibility and get down to the business of aggressive investigations. That’s something Democratic committee chairs have made a start of but need to ramp up. This will unearth more evidence which will either change the public mood on impeachment or lower the President’s standing going into the 2020 elections. We don’t need to know which path it is in advance. But both serve to protect the country and fulfill the House’s constitutional mandate.

But here’s the thing: a big amount of the current angst is propelled by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s comment last week that “based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point. Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgement.” A lot of Democrats read that as ‘impeachment is off the table’. I’ve even heard him quoted saying that. That’s not what he said. But the tone of curt dismissal and indifference has consequences.

Nancy Pelosi has handled these moments more deftly. But her comments have often been similar. I know their aim here – at least what I imagine Pelosi’s is. She’s not defending the President or ruling out impeachment categorically. She’s trying to keep the impeachment genie in the bottle because she thinks it divides her caucus and sees little point in doing it since Republicans are so inflexibly supporting the President. So get some bleating for a few days but say these things so people realize that’s just not the direction things are going in. In other words, brief discomfort for helpful expectations setting.

This is poor strategy. Impeaching the President now or beginning an inquiry which forces a vote in the near future is a mistake, for the reasons I explain here. But appearing to rule impeachment out categorically or dismissing it out of hand misreads the moment. It’s not so much setting expectations as demoralizing supporters who are rightly outraged by the President’s illegal activities and risking a damaging intra-party fight. There’s no need. It says more than needs be said and accomplishes less or something different than they seem to imagine.

Certainly there’s no need to be publicly dismissive. There’s no reason to rule impeachment out either as a matter of public messaging or in actual fact. Ramp up the investigations, escalate the messaging against what is at this point a refusal to accede to congressional requests which is itself an abuse of office and have impeachment waiting. Pelosi’s logical stance is as a reluctant impeacher, not eager for it but not ruling it out. All options are on the table in other words. Investigating moves the ball considerably more than the psychic release of voting articles of impeachment. But the truth is there’s no need to choose.

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