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Pelosi’s Unforced Error on Impeachment


“Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.”  
            -Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, March 11 Washington Post interview

I can appreciate Nancy Pelosi’s political instincts telling her that it could hurt the Democratic Party in the 2020 elections to push impeachment unless the demand for it is “overwhelming and bipartisan.” Given the need for 2/3rds of the Senate to vote to convict a President who is impeached by the House, given Trump’s approval ratings hovering between the high 30’s and mid-40’s since taking office, and given Trump’s hold over the 25% of the country which is Republican and almost all Republican Senators, as of now there’s little chance of his being convicted.

But for Pelosi to say these things publicly now, literally right after the Democrats who control the House have had their VERY FIRST public hearing, the one with Michael Cohen, and before the Mueller report has come out and been exposed to the light of day, is a major unforced error, a definite mistake, something she will hopefully realize she should retract.

I was a National Coordinator of the National Campaign to Impeach Nixon in 1973 and 1974, so I have some experience with impeachment movements and what can be accomplished by them.

That Impeach Nixon movement technically failed. Nixon wasn’t impeached, and he wasn’t convicted after being impeached. He left office on August 9, 1974 via resignation. Why did he do this?

One reason is because no one as powerful as Pelosi in the Congress let him or the Republicans off the hook by saying the kind of thing she just did.

Another reason is because the Democrats controlled both the House and Senate, so the political dynamics on Capitol Hill were different than they have been since Trump took office. However, there were only 54 Democratic Senators, not 67, so they by no means had a lock from that standpoint on a possible impeachment conviction vote.

The rightist Republican media machine back then existed, but there was no Fox News or Rush Limbaugh or AM talk radio or all of the other ways that, today, rightists have of holding the allegiance of their base or somewhat neutralizing centrist and left criticisms and positions. As a result Nixon’s supporters were, I am sure, exposed to more objective news stories about the Watergate abuses and illegalities than Trump supporters are today about Trump’s criminality. This reality accelerated Nixon’s declining popularity, which hit 25% just before his own party leaders turned against him and started telling him he should resign or face impeachment.

I think that the difference in personalities between Trump and Nixon is also part of the reason for Nixon’s eventual downfall. Nixon often came across pretty weaselly; he was an OK but not a very good liar. Trump, on the other hand, is the most confident-seeming, brazen liar the US political system has ever produced, and there’ve been a lot of them. For a big majority of the country, Trump’s pathological lying has turned them totally against him. But for at least a third of it, the most politically regressive of our fellow US citizens, that seems to be a plus to them. It’s a very disturbing indicator of how US culture has changed for the worse in the last several decades.

Ultimately, however, there was one very specific development with Nixon that led to a big drop in his polling numbers: the revelations from audio tapes of him in the Oval Office.

It was a big deal when, at a Congressional hearing, an aide to Nixon unexpectedly reported that Nixon taped all, or virtually all, of his Oval Office meetings. When the special prosecutor’s office followed up with subpoenas, it discovered a “smoking gun.” Here is how it was explained in a Washington Post article on June 22, 2012:

“Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the “smoking-gun” tape, a Watergate milestone: Richard Nixon, with the tapes rolling, ordered his staff to have the CIA tell the FBI to stop its investigation of the break-in — with the president himself suggesting that they use Watergate criminal Howard Hunt’s involvement in the Bay of Pigs as the pretext.

“When that tape was revealed, two years later, it marked the final breakdown of the coverup — or, to be more precise, the coverup of the initial coverup, since Nixon had maintained throughout the Watergate investigations that he was never involved in plans to obstruct justice.”

Will the Mueller report do something similar? Very possibly. Will Paul Manafort finally crack and start telling the truth? Maybe, especially since he has been indicted on state charges in New York where Trump has no pardon power. Will a smoking gun be revealed through the investigations with subpoena power of the House Democrats? Sure seems likely.

I continue to think that the most likely result for Trump is his resignation from the Presidency in return for a deal where neither he nor his family are indicted or brought to trial. But that won’t happen if there’s a let-up in the investigations and the pressure for the truth to come out.

Nancy Pelosi, could you please re-think this?

Ted Glick has been a progressive activist, organizer and writer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com.

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