Contrary to most of the hot takes and analyses I’ve read about Robert Mueller’s press conference and the clear inferences he made about impeachment, I see this as a parting gift as he walks out the door and does whatever he can to get out of the public (and Congressional) spotlight. He has reinvigorated calls for impeachment, and though the White House would object to such a move by the Democrats, it would actually be a huge blessing in disguise.
Before I get into why this is the case, let’s discuss the obvious reason that, as it turns out, is untrue. Many have looked to President Bill Clinton’s popularity boost following his impeachment as somehow correlated to President Trump’s possible impeachment. They are not similar at all. It was Clinton’s second term so there were zero reelection implications. Moreover, much of the support boost he received after impeachment came from an evolving cultural tolerance in America that was less in agreement with the GOP Congressional assessment that he should be impeached over morality issues. He had extramarital sex and lied about it. This was shocking to many, especially Republicans in Congress, but by the time impeachment was over the general public sentiment was favorable for Clinton. In many ways, Americans saw his impeachment itself as punishment enough for his crimes of passion.
With President Trump, the alleged crimes driving impeachment talks are not personal character flaws or harmless sexual escapades. He would be impeached for obstructing an investigation into an enemy who had attempted to illegally influence our elections. Moreover, it’s relevant to an upcoming election as well. Unlike Clinton during his impeachment, President Trump still has a reelection campaign to run. President Trump will not get the same type of sympathy boost Clinton got after impeachment.
With that out of the way, let’s discuss why Mueller’s statements today may benefit the President if they are used to draw impeachment sooner. To understand this, let’s look at the possible scenarios in order of least to most favorable for the President:
- Awful: Trump is impeached and either exposed enough to get the Senate to remove him or for the American people to vote him out. It would obviously be horrible if it could be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that President Trump did obstruct the investigation into Russian election hacking. Depending on what revelations came from the impeachment investigations, a substantial amount of new information could get enough Senators to vote their conscience or for the people to smack him down in the 2020 elections. This is the worst-case scenario for President Trump. It also happens to be by far the least likely event.
- Bad: Trump is impeached in the heart of the election season. It would be a bold and possibly brilliant move by Pelosi to wait until after the Democratic nominee is known before unleashing impeachment on the President. He’d be forced to do more defending than campaigning, and while doing so would help him in some ways with the voters, it would also do little to harm the Democratic nominee who would have additional fodder. Congress would become the free opposition research wing of the Democratic nominee. There is also a chance this could totally backfire on Pelosi, the Democrats in general, and the nominee in particular if there are no new revelations. If their investigation yields what the Mueller report already told us, then the Democrats would appear to be the partisan hacks they are.
- Acceptable: Trump isn’t impeached. This is only marginally better than Trump getting impeached in the middle of 2020 election season. With no impeachment, it would look bad on the Democrats, particularly Pelosi, but it would also leave a lingering doubt about the President’s role in possible obstruction of the Russia investigation. This option is only a little less likely than the top option; it’s hard to imagine self-protecting Pelosi keeping up the no-impeachment talking point for another 15 months without all-out revolt among the Democrats.
- Good: Trump is impeached soon. This is the gift Mueller gave to the President, though he almost certainly didn’t intend it as such. By saying what he said and planting the seed of his own desires to see the President impeached, he just ramped up pressure on Pelosi to act soon. She is holding fast with her stance of not impeaching but rather investigating until we’re all blue in the face, but it may not be possible for her to hold that stance. If she is forced to impeach the President now, it would be premature from a 2020 election perspective and would likely result in no fruit. Would the Democrats get their impeachment on the record? Yes. Would the Republicans then have plenty of ammunition to use against Democrats for their partisan tactics when the 2020 elections roll around? Absolutely. Meanwhile, the President will have enough campaign time to put the impeachment behind him and frame the Democrats as the real obstructionists.
Robert Mueller just made it harder for Nancy Pelosi to wait until election season before launching her disruptive impeachment. If she’s forced to act now, it will give the President the ammunition he needs to sink many more Democrats in 2020.
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