Maureen Dowd talked to Nancy Pelosi, and Nancy Pelosi said something about impeachment even worse than everything she’d said before:
While the president was squandering millions to prove his manliness by rolling out tanks and jets on the Fourth, Pelosi was holed up at her vineyard getaway in Napa with her family, eating Mexican food, rereading the Mueller report and preparing to unman the president with a thousand legal and legislative cuts.
While the number of House Democrats who want an impeachment inquiry is growing—it’s up to 80 now—Pelosi knows that giving in to that primal pleasure could backfire.
Is the Fifth Avenue trust fund baby who loves to play victim actually goading the Democrats into impeaching him?
“Oh, he’d rather not be impeached,’’ she said. “But he sees a silver lining. And he wants to then say, ‘The Democrats impeached me but the Senate’ — he won’t say Republicans — ‘exonerated me.’ The thing is that, he every day practically self-impeaches by obstructing justice and ignoring the subpoenas.”
Dowd wrote up the interview in profile mode, with herself as a first-person reportorial presence on the scene, actively talking to Pelosi, while the background narration vibrated blurrily between the omniscient and the limited third persons. This made it hard to tell whether “preparing to unman the president with a thousand legal and legislative cuts” was Dowd’s gloss on Pelosi’s plans, or Pelosi’s gloss on her own plans, or Dowd’s gloss on Pelosi’s gloss on Pelosi’s plans. Whichever it was, this incremental unmanning seemed unlikely to happen in real life, but exactly who was kidding whom about it remained a mystery.
“Practically self-impeaches,” though, was in quotation marks. Pelosi had said it. But what could she possibly have meant? The question of who was responsible for what was even more baffling here, in the direct words of the Speaker of the House, than it had been in the rest of the text.
How was this self-impeachment supposed to work? Clearly, Donald Trump is not going to be the author of his own impeachment, literally or figuratively; he is going to keep on breaking the law and butchering his duties while alternately, if not simultaneously, lying and bragging about it. Was the idea, instead, that the voters will witness Trump’s obstruction of justice and rejection of congressional authority and, by November of next year, will have no doubt that he deserves to be removed from office—that if Nancy Pelosi keeps refusing to try to do the thing the constitution commands her to do, the people will do it for her?
In what way did Pelosi, or Dowd, or Dowd-as-Pelosi, imagine impeachment backfiring, that non-impeachment would not be just as likely to backfire? It seems true that if the Republican Senate acquits Trump after a House impeachment, he will claim to have been exonerated. What do they think he will claim if the Democratic House doesn’t even have the courage to try to impeach him? Even Nancy Pelosi knows it’s fake and I’m innocent.
And—speaking practically, as Pelosi wishes to speak—he’ll be right. The migrant children will still be dead and the public funds will still be in the Trump Organization’s bank accounts and the whole cavalcade of corruption will still be as corrupt as ever, but it won’t matter. If the Democratic leadership chooses to stall for the next 16 months, so it can turn the question of Trump’s fitness for office over to the voters, the voters should logically conclude that the opposition party doesn’t believe he’s done anything seriously wrong. It’s the message on which Trump and the Trumpists hang all their hopes for reelection: there is no alternative.