Saturday, September 21, 2019


The obvious reason that nothing is going to come of the Trump whistleblower scandal is the cowardice of Nancy Pelosi, who fears the wrath of Republicans, and of swing voters open to Republican arguments, because her rise in politics took place in a period when Republicans not only were the dominant political party in America but were also, at times, genuinely popular. It has escaped her notice that Republicans aren't popular anymore -- there are far more registered Democrats than Republicans nationwide, Democrats have won the popular vote in six of the past seven elections, and most polls show that our current Republican president has never won the support of a majority of the public.

But Pelosi, who was elected to Congress a year before George H.W. Bush won the Republicans' third straight presidential election, and who rose to a leadership position the year Bush's son became wildly popular after the 9/11 attacks, doesn't recognize that times have changed. Even the election of Donald Trump was perceived by some of his voters as a rejection of the Republican establishment. Add those voters to the Democrats and independents, and there is obviously a large portion of the country that would receptive to a simple message: Republicans are terrible, and Donald Trump is the worst of all of them.

Pelosi notes that impeachment polls badly, but it has also escaped her attention that Republicans get away with doing unpopular things all the time. Apart from their own voters, no one wanted them to do endless investigations of Benghazi, for instance. But Republicans don't dither and ponder and wring their hands in public -- they just declare their intentions and launch their probes. If you simply act, much of the public will assume that what you're doing is, if not exactly to their tastes, then at least reasonable (even if it isn't). If Democrats had pounced on the Mueller report and simply asserted that it made a clear case for a presidential impeachment (which, of course, it did), if they'd just gone ahead and started the impeachment process, if they'd swarmed onto cable news shows with a unified message that impeachment was incontrovertibly necessary, eventually the public would just get used to the idea, the way so many Americans have gotten used to the idea that our president is an infantile rage monster who posts schoolyard taunts on social media and feels puppy love in the presence of murderous dictators.

But Democrats in Congress don't have the gumption for that, and Pelosi wouldn't allow it in any case. She won't change her mind and allow it in the matter of Trump and Ukraine because she still fears that the ghost of Ronald Reagan will rise up and lead GOP troops to victory in 2020 -- this in a country where poll after poll after poll shows that 60% of Americans don't want the president reelected.

And if you're thinking that widespread public anger will force an impeachment, forget it. The less obvious reason that nothing is going to come of the Trump whistleblower scandal is that the public will never understand why it's important. The public response to the Trump-Russia scandal was muddled, but at least the (non-GOP) public understood that Russia is an enemy. As long as the focus is on Ukraine, which isn't an enemy, most of the public will be confused. The public doesn't understand what's legal and illegal in providing assistance to campaigns. A plutocrat can give millions to a PAC, but no one can give a five-figure donation to an individual candidate -- how does that work? Some contributions are public knowledge, others are "dark money" -- who knows why? And the inappropriateness of foreign assistance to a campaign isn't intuitively obvious. This isn't like breaking into Democratic headquarters during the 1972 campaign. Apart from anti-Trump partisans, most Americans aren't going to have a visceral reaction that this is wrong.

Add the fact that there's just enough international intrigue in what the president wants investigated -- the public might think he has a point. What was Hunter Biden up to in Ukraine anyway? Regular people don't have business dealings like that. It doesn't matter that a non-corrupt investigation in Ukraine cleared him -- it looks hinky, and since Republicans will flood the media with spin doctors while Democrats do their usual terrible messaging job, and parts of the "liberal" press are already echoing right-wing talking points, members of the public who haven't already made up their minds will be in a state of befuddlement at best.

Democrats could tip the balance by confidently and relentlessly asserting that what Trump has done is beyond the pale, and by describing it in a compelling way. In a different world, Democratic talking points could determine how ordinary Americans talk about this story. But that won't happen. So this story will go nowhere.

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