The infuriating thing about Chris Cillizza, CNN’s confident and vacuous and successful political analyst, isn’t that he’s spectacularly dumb—it’s that being spectacularly dumb is the reason he’s successful. Cillizza communicates in nothing but absurdities and non sequiturs because those are what surround him; he soaks up the conventional political discourse like a sponge and dribbles it back out, where it flows back into the same puddle of meaninglessness from which it came. If he were capable of thinking, he wouldn’t be able to do his job.
Yesterday, Cillizza wrote a tweet summarizing an item he had written about the question of whether or not the Speaker of the House believes it is a good idea to impeach the obviously criminal President of the United States. She reportedly thinks it is a bad idea. The reasons Cillizza gave for it being a bad idea were these:
1. The public doesn’t (really) want it.
2. He’ll never be impeached anyway.
3. It turns Trump into a victim.
4. It (even more) badly divides the country.
5. People don’t actually vote on it.
None of these reasons dealt with the question of whether or not the president committed impeachable offenses, for which the House would have the duty to impeach him. That would be the substance of law and politics, which is not what Chris Cillizza is paid to think about, or which is what he is paid to not-think about.
Instead, they were all claims about either the supposed perception of impeachment, or the imagined consequences of it. Unless there were to be an impeachment effort, they would remain mostly, safely unfalsifiable. (When the national politics expert wrote “He’ll never be impeached anyway,” he was misusing “impeached” to mean “convicted and removed.”)
One of the points, however, was already and unquestionably untrue: that impeachment “turns Trump into a victim.” Cillizza’s full item expanded on this claim, accidentally demolishing it in the process:
Trump, as had been demonstrated time and time again, loves to play the victim. He’s the target of a “Deep State” conspiracy. He’s unfairly treated by the media. He was the subject of a nearly two-year-long “witch hunt” at the hands of Mueller. Impeaching Trump in the House — without a puncher’s chance of the Senate doing the same — hands Trump the ability to say that Democrats hate him so much that they are unfairly targeting him — and being derelict in their duties to the country. Trump is, in fact, already rolling out that argument: “The Democrats are getting ZERO work done in Congress,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning. “All they are focused on is trying to prove the Mueller Report wrong, the Witch Hunt!”
Of all the dynamics that the impeachment avoiders are ignoring—the ability of impeachment itself to shape public opinion, as demonstrated by the collapse of Richard Nixon’s support; the difference between presuming the Senate would vote to protect Trump and actually forcing the senators to cast those votes; the possibility that inaction would demoralize ordinary Democrats and other anti-Trump voters more than action would galvanize Trump voters—the most straightforward, and non-theoretical, consists of what Donald Trump is already doing, right now, in the absence of impeachment. He is already claiming to be a victim! Even Chris Cillizza has noticed this! Cillizza just couldn’t manage to connect that fact to any other facts he was writing about.
How could impeachment plausibly be said to carry a risk of making Trump do the thing Trump is already doing, that Trump has already done, and which Trump will go ahead and do in the future no matter what? The only strategy that might keep Trump from claiming to be a victim is complete support for everything he wants to do, accompanied by unlimited praise for him.
A few hours after Cillizza’s item about how Trump would claim to be a victim if he were impeached, in fact, Cillizza published an item about how Trump—still unimpeached—had staged a tantrum in the Rose Garden about being investigated, behind a lectern with presumably taxpayer-funded signage saying “NO Collusion” and “NO Obstruction.” The Trump 2020 campaign is going to be, on Trump’s side, entirely about how unfairly his enemies have treated him, and how innocent he is, and how he and his followers need to fight back.
The only uncertain thing is what the political background may be while he’s doing it. The people who are afraid of impeachment are caught up in the reigning delusion of contemporary politics, or really of all contemporary life, that doing nothing is not, itself, a choice whose consequences have to be considered. They see the shameless, seemingly unbreakable intransigence of Mitch McConnell, and they imagine Trump being acquitted in the Senate, and they conclude that impeachment would be a losing effort.
But non-impeachment is also losing, only without even putting in the effort. It does seem likely that the Senate would protect Trump (though it seemed likely, before the Watergate investigations really got rolling, that Nixon would be safe, too). Even so, that would mean the choice is whether Trump goes into the next election having been being acquitted by a party-line vote in a Republican-controlled Senate after a public trial, or having been acquitted by a Democratic-controlled House with no trial at all.
It is clear, from everything Trump says and does, which of those options he personally prefers. Where people like Pelosi and Cillizza fast-forward to what they imagine to be the endgame, Trump is fixated on the process of investigation and impeachment itself—a long-running, public, televised excavation of everything he’s done wrong. He keeps ranting about how he wants it all to end and go away.
The Democrats and the political press, still incredulous and alarmed by the fact that he ever got elected to begin with, want to believe this is crafty strategy by a master of tactics and publicity, trying to bait them into a conflict that will make him look good. But Trump is already staging that conflict on the most favorable terms he can get. The reason he’s yelling about impeachment is that he’s frightened of it. The only people more frightened are the Democratic leadership.