Democrats have a strong hand, but to win they may need to fold
He lies brazenly and repeatedly. He berates and baffles senior officials constantly. Even his own cronies routinely disregard his instructions — a mercy, it turns out, as insubordination appears to be the only thing that stopped him from successfully obstructing justice.
All this would be the tip of the iceberg, except that icebergs, for all their enormity, have limits; Trump’s mendacity appears limitless. At this point, unless you’re steadfastly devoted to Trump’s weird cult of personality, the conclusion is obvious: Dear God, we gotta get this guy out of office.
But how? A drumbeat advocating impeachment proceedings is rising. Investigating and trying Trump in Congress for obstruction of justice, as the Mueller report all-but-recommends, is pretty clearly the right thing to do.
Whether it’s the smart thing to do is a lot less clear. If anything, impeachment is already beginning to feel like a trap that Democrats won’t be able to avoid. The 448 pages of the Mueller report are a poker hand so strong that you can’t bring yourself to fold it, staring at your full house so hard that you never realize the other guy has four threes.
The appeal of an epic comeuppance for Trump is obvious. His particular brand of conservatism is broadly defined by whatever makes liberals the maddest. So the thought of bringing an end to all that in a blaze of indictments, handcuffs, and perp walks is tantalizing indeed.
“Lock her up?” How about we lock you up! The irony would be not the least bit bitter. I get a little happy just thinking about it.
And this is how hands get overplayed.
Relitigating this whole Mueller report, page by page, for months, would undoubtedly subsume the presidential election that is only 18 months away. Poring over every Trump Tower meeting, dragging James Comey back from some cornfield or forest or whatever, turning every #resistance Twitter warrior into an armchair expert on the overlap between Article II powers and obstruction of justice statutes — none of it would get us any closer to Trump’s removal from office. That requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate.
Trump, having already declared victory via “Game of Thrones” meme on Twitter (a new presidential tradition that will be passed down forever, no doubt) would spend the ensuing months painting Democrats as deranged and unwilling to accept defeat. He’d yell “No Collusion” so often that the shocking truth, that the Russian government worked very hard to undermine our election with the intent of helping Trump win, wouldn’t seem so shocking anymore. He’d harp on the notion that charging someone for obstruction without an underlying crime looks a little like arresting someone for resisting arrest.
And for once, he’d be at least a little bit right.
Look, all of this stuff is fundamentally unknowable. It’s entirely possible that doing the right thing, as the Constitution demands, would actually be rewarded politically. In general, the track record for doing the right thing and being rewarded is, shall we say, not great these days. But hey, you never know.
Maybe impeachment proceedings in the House can be handled quickly and successfully, thereby preserving the notion that some conduct lines cannot be crossed, even by the president. Maybe the hearings somehow won’t descend into inscrutable arguments about legal technicalities that even studious voters don’t have the time or inclination to parse. Maybe, presented with even more damning evidence uncovered during hearings in the House, Republican senators would rediscover their spines and their affection for the rule of law, and actually vote to remove Trump from offahahAHA I can’t even type that one.
But to pretend that the risks aren’t real or don’t matter, as those demanding immediate impeachment proceedings effectively do, reflects a particular sort of privilege. The very vulnerable people in the Trump administration’s crosshairs cannot afford that risk.
Another 18 months of Trump is all but assured regardless of what comes next. Anything that increases the chance of four more years after that is a catastrophe.
Sometimes the best hands are the ones you fold.