US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has recognised that if the American public is not in favour of impeachment, there will be no pressure on Senate Republicans to vote for removal, President Donald Trump will be acquitted and he and his followers will feel vindicated.
As a result, Trump and the Republicans might get the lift they need for re-election. She has not bought into the idea that the public will warm to impeachment as the proceedings unfold.
I have generally been sympathetic to her position, in large part because Democrats have been unable to communicate in concise and vivid terms the "High Crimes and Misdemeanours" at issue. Trump, through a fog of lies and obstruction, has made the Russia investigation unintelligible for most Americans. Egregious corruption is easier to explain and prove. It is politically untenable to use the Mueller report as the basis for impeachment.
However, with the allegations (and virtual public confession) that Trump went to a foreign power, Ukraine, to dig up dirt on former Vice-President Joe Biden, his most likely opponent, and may even have extorted Ukraine using taxpayer money, the calculus may change dramatically.
Unlike the Mueller investigation, the collusion at issue is discrete, simple and, in all likelihood, easy to prove. Witnesses in addition to the whistleblower may include former officials who have no reason to abide by Trump's bogus executive-immunity claims. Subpoenaed to testify, I suspect people like former director of national intelligence Daniel Coats would testify honestly. From factually specific news reports (e.g., confirming Trump asked the Ukrainian president eight times to find dirt on Biden), we know the proof and the witnesses are out there. Rudy Giuliani, acting in the capacity of Trump's fixer, is protected by no privilege.
Trump doesn't seem to dispute the facts. Rather, he is trying to prevent concrete, glaring evidence from emerging. He apparently thinks it's perfectly fine to lean on a foreign power to help him win an election.
Given all that, impeachment may look very different. A single article of impeachment based on an incontrovertible abuse of power would make Democrats' job much easier.
The difficultly that at-risk Republicans face in explaining to voters why they countenance such conduct begins to outweigh any downside for Democrats in pursuing impeachment, even if the outcome is acquittal in the Senate. Imagine 2020 races for Republicans outside deep-red states. So, you think it is perfectly fine to go to a foreign power to help sway our election outcome? If your opponent goes to, say, China to dig up dirt on you, is that fair game?
The argument for Democrats — namely that Republicans are spineless lackeys who have violated their oaths of office — is far easier to maintain than the Republicans' assertion that it's nuts to remove a president who goes to a foreign power to help re-elect him.
I do not expect enough Republicans will vote to remove Trump under any circumstances. Most have proved their fear of Trump and his base outweighs any assault on American democracy. These are hollow little men who find it impossible to put country above partisan loyalty and ambition. They will come up with whatever justification to avoid crossing Trump.
The political downside for Democrats will be small. The public might grasp the severity of the conduct and Republicans might pay a price for betraying democracy. The House needs to move swiftly. If so, doing the right thing may coincide with doing the politically smart thing.