To impeach or not to impeach?

Democrats have a problem.

That’s not unusual. Will Rogers probably said it best about 85 years ago: “I am not a member of any organized party. I am a Democrat.” 

And it’s sometimes said that the Democratic Party can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

If they don’t handle the current political situation carefully, Democrats could prove up that statement once again in 2020.

The most obvious evidence of their dilemma is the deepening division within the party over how to deal with President Donald Trump. To impeach or not to impeach?

Impeachment is too tempting to resist for a significant segment of the Democratic Party. The reasons are many: 

• Trump’s personality invites retribution for his boorishness, his bullying, his lies, his tin ear (or worse) on race, and his arrogance. 

• The Republican impeachment of President Bill Clinton, for lying about a sexual liaison with a White House intern, is never far from Democrats’ minds. Now, 20 years later, the Democrats control the House of Representatives, which wields the power of impeachment.

• Many Democrats consider Trump’s flirtation with Russian President Putin to be suspicious and possibly dangerous. They’re also troubled by other foreign policy ventures of the president, with Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, North Korea, the Philippines and China, to name a few nations, as well as his denigration of longtime American allies in Western Europe and many third-world countries in Central America and Africa.

• Special Counsel Robert Mueller, despite what Attorney General William Barr claims, turned up documented evidence of obstruction of justice by the president, who tried to derail Mueller’s investigation of pre-election and post-election contacts with Russian operatives.

• In heavily Democratic districts, congressmembers’ constituents demand impeachment. Some Democrats risk being primaried if they don’t go along.

• And with more than 20 Democrats seeking the presidential nomination, some of those see advocacy of impeachment as a necessary step toward preservation of their candidacy.

These factors, and probably others, combine to generate a drive for impeachment of the president within the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

On the other hand:

• No smoking gun of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” (Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution) has yet appeared that is undeniable enough to guarantee a successful impeachment in the House of Representatives. A failed impeachment vote would probably be a blow from which the Democrats might not recover.

• Because of that, moderate Democrats and the party’s leadership favor a go-slow attitude toward impeachment. They demand more evidence of high crimes by the president before proceeding. They remember President Clinton’s success in defeating conviction for impeachment in the U.S. Senate. Similar results for Trump would be Democrats’ worst nightmare.

• And of course — and this is the Biggie — Republicans control the Senate, where conviction on a charge of impeachment requires a two-thirds majority (67 votes). Even if all 46 Democrats and the two Independents in the Senate voted for conviction, it would take “yes” votes from 19 of the 52 Republicans for the effort to succeed. Right now, based on the evidence published in the Mueller report, those votes aren’t there.

So what is the Democratic Party to do? 

If they don’t press toward impeachment, they risk alienating many of their most committed activists, who may become disenchanted and stay home on Election Day in November 2020. 

If they decide to impeach in the House, they risk devastating division of the party and certain defeat of the effort in the Senate.

The course chosen by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic leadership team in the House — and it’s an increasingly frayed tightrope — is to continue the investigation of President Trump’s team while fending off immediate steps toward impeachment. It will require all the political skills they have, and it’s not clear whether that will be enough.

And all this comes at a time when Trump’s favorability ratings are underwater and several Democratic presidential candidates are beating him in the polls. 

Defeat from the jaws of victory indeed.

But you never know. There’s another saying that Democrats like. It goes something like this: Democratic intraparty squabbles are like cats yowling and hissing outside your window all night long. 

In the morning there are more cats.

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