The Real Reason Pelosi Doesn’t Want to Impeach Trump

It has very little to do with it being divisive to the country.
March 12, 2019
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In a move that is sure to disappoint a #Resistance crowd that has been waiting impatiently—and with high expectations—for the conclusion of the Mueller investigation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has taken impeachment off the table, at least for now. “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path,” she told the Washington Post, “because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.”

She’s right. No president has ever been successfully removed from office following impeachment, but in each case—Johnson, almost Nixon, and Clinton—the attempt did lasting damage to the federal government.

But that’s not to say that we should take comfort in the idea that historical precedent and the overall health of the country are Pelosi’s primary motivators. If they were, she could have made this announcement much sooner. Her calculations have much more to do with pragmatic political strategy. Liberals should take heed, and the Republicans who see this as evidence that Mueller must not have anything serious on Trump should instead be alarmed.

Pelosi wants to be able to run against Trump. He has historically low approval ratings and historically high disapproval ratings. At no point in his presidency has he had net favorability, including immediately after his inauguration, when most presidents enjoy a grace period. At his best mark ever, he was net unfavorable by 2 percent; at his worst, 25 percent. Running against Trump was a winning strategy in the 2018 midterms, which saw Democrats gain 40 House seats and a 7 percent popular vote margin with record turnout. Pelosi would be foolish to change that formula.

Trump supporters, instead of gloating, should consider why Pelosi’s stance is not crazy. For starters, Trump isn’t that effective. Judicial appointments aside, many of his more consequential and signature “achievements” (if you can call them that)—the Muslim ban, reducing regulations, the sequential summits with dictators and thugs—have been unilateral executive actions with no more staying power than Obama’s. Unlike Obama, Trump couldn’t shepherd a massive healthcare bill through Congress, or an infrastructure bill, or any other major legislation apart from a tax cut—and even Obama supported that.

If Trump were a hyper-effective politician whose every day in office saw the country and federal policy conform more and more to his worldview, the Democrat’s prime imperative would be to stem the bleeding. Obama was that sort of politician, and the shift of the country leftward during his presidency drove Republicans mad. If congressional Republicans had seen impeachment as a real possibility, they would have found justifications: Abuse of the IRS might have sufficed. Pelosi doesn’t think Trump presents a serious threat. He may even be an opportunity.

Republicans should consider whether the man they elected “because he fights” actually scares the other side that much at all. He sold himself as the man who would go to war with the Democrats and could finally #win for the first time ever. If the Democrats have seen him in action for two years and have decided they want him around for two more, he’s not an asset to the conservative movement.

Pelosi’s smart to want Trump to be the Republican standard-bearer for the foreseeable future. Are Republicans?

Benjamin Parker

Benjamin Parker is a senior editor at The Bulwark.