Actually, in keeping with Halloween, it’s all a bit scary. It’s no longer “if” but “when.” We are hurtling, in largely uncharted waters, toward impeachment.
Democrats, who control the House of Representatives—where the process begins—must decide on a strategy, both in terms of politics and public relations. Because, while it is in the Senate that the impeachment trial takes place, it is public opinion that will determine how the country will move forward post-impeachment. There has been a good deal of hand wringing around how to best ensure House members can perform their constitutionally mandated duty without getting caught in Trump’s snare. Like a poisonous spider, he is a master at trapping opponents in his web and then turning them into victims. Whatever nuances separate Democratic legislators (and candidates for President), the following elements are key ingredients on which all can agree:
First, aggressively support the impeachment process. This is the first order of priority and carries implications for generations to come. Preserving the integrity of both the office of the Presidency and the principle of separation of powers is paramount. Recent events have made it clear: there is an overriding responsibility to impeach a President who has continually abused his office and flaunted the rule of law. Failure to act risks setting a precedent for future Presidents, whatever their party, to operate without accountability.
This is a moral issue, not a political one. It is the right thing to do. The scandal in Ukraine has conveniently provided legislators with a smoking gun, offering an easily understood reason for impeachment. However, the President’s behavior even before the current circumstances has been so egregious on so many levels that impeachment is the only timely remedy. And if it becomes a political issue, Democratic support for impeachment should be viewed and promoted as a patriotic act.
Next, urgency matters. Democrats must set an internal, unpublished deadline for steps along the way: Let’s say, a vote on impeachment should happen in the House before Thanksgiving with the end of a Senate trial taking place by January 15. To say this is an ambitious timeline is an understatement. But, with 2020 being an election year, meticulous timing is necessary. If the past is any indication, the White House will stonewall these proceedings, using every maneuver they can to forestall investigations currently underway and delay a Senate trial. Democrats, in turn, should be willing to fight these delaying tactics with every weapon in their legal and procedural arsenal.
Finally, know when to call a halt to the proceedings. If by January 15, the impeachment trial shows no signs of ending, Democrats can say they were blocked from doing their work by endless delaying tactics employed by the White House. Period. They can then suspend the proceedings and get on with the upcoming elections. This frees candidates to focus on issues that concern the American people—health care, education, school shootings, prison reform, the crisis at the border, the opioid epidemic—without having to navigate the choppy political waters of impeachment.
This approach calls for key disciplines: Democrats must remain united. Nancy Pelosi has been a masterful tactician; she needs now to exercise her muscles as a drill sergeant, marshalling her troops to hold fast in support of the greater good. Speed is important but caution must be exerted so that the whole thing does not seem like a hatchet job. It is a delicate dance.
The White House and Republicans will no doubt level the charge that impeachment is a rush to judgement. But the President, despite his skillful deployment of maneuvers like deception, exaggeration and distraction, has become his own worst enemy. He cannot be expected to stay out of his own way. His tendency to say and do inappropriate things that work against his own interests will provide an ever-flowing stream of opportunities to validate the process as it unfolds and expand support in the court of public opinion.
For Democrats, then, it is pretty straightforward: First, do your duty. Boldly support the impeachment process. History will be on your side long after this administration has left the scene. Second, set an aggressive timeline for the beginning and end of the impeachment trial—and stick to it. Third, as the calendar moves relentless toward the 2020 elections, if time runs out—confidently hit the pause button, being clear that it was the intransigence of the White House that prohibited the process from reaching its conclusion. Then, simply step aside and let the voters do the rest. Reduce the fear and leave the scary scenarios to the ghosts and goblins of Halloween.