A Presidents Day Tribute to the Smartest Politician in Washington
Who’s looking smart this Presidents Day, just after Senate Republicans held a show trial with no witnesses and acquitted Donald Trump?
The speaker held off those in her party; it wanted to impeach Trump right after it took control of the House of Representatives. She annoyed many of her fellow Democrats. Even a few Capitol Hill Republicans, who privately asked Democrats to rid them of this turbulent president, were irked.
Pelosi waited until she got an issue that historically should have alarmed the Republicans. She focused on a threat to our national security. Witnesses and documents revealed Trump helped Moscow’s push to occupy all of Ukraine. But better, she showed the world that in 2020 the president and top Congressional Republicans were spreading Kremlin propaganda about our 2016 election.
With each day, Pelosi’s savvy political strategy grows clearer, even as she gets much too little credit.
All the Democrats must do now is market that. The Republicans are masters of marketing, using slogans and deceptions to make awful policies sound good. The Democrats tend to get lost in process, basically asking people to read the fine print instead of appealing to emotions. But that’s a slam on Democrats as a party, not their leader.
The speaker created a win-win with the House impeachment. With each day, her savvy political strategy grows clearer, even as she gets much too little credit.
Making Things Happen
Pelosi didn’t come to Washington to win the news of the day, send flurries of tweets or bask in praise. She came for long-term results. She has a steely focus on what can be done. Then she makes it happen.
Senate Republicans would acquit Trump, Pelosi knew. Yet she set a trap for Trump and his obsequious Republican supporters on Capitol Hill. Lacking Pelosi’s inner confidence and skill at three-dimensional political chess, Trump and fawning followers fell into Pelosi’s clever trap.
The trap: By supporting Trump no matter what, Republicans are stuck to him with political superglue. As Trump behaves ever more like a dictator, Republicans cannot break free of him without tearing themselves apart.
The Democrats would have scored a huge victory had Trump been removed. That would have put Mike Pence in the White House. While Trump poses as a bigger than life character, Pence is a mere figment, a minor politician with no great political appeal, following or track record.
Trump Overplays His Hand
But even without convicting Trump, Pelosi’s strategy wins. Trump mistakenly believes he is free at last from political constraints. He fully embraces his instinctive, and utterly mistaken, belief that our Constitution gives him authority to “do whatever I want.”
Actually our Constitution gives the executive the duty to do what Congress tells him to do. He is supposed to “faithfully execute” those powers and duties.
Steve Bannon said of Trump last week: “Now he understands how to use the full powers of the presidency.”
Bannon was speaking about how Trump now openly uses our Justice Department as his personal bullying squad to harass perceived enemies. For example, look at the 19 million people of New York State, who will be denied easy re-entry into the country after they go overseas.
Trump acted unfazed when a federal grand jury would not go along with indicting Andrew McCabe. The former FBI deputy director enraged Trump by doing his job.
Barr at His Side
You should expect more ginned-up cases. Whomever the Democrats nominate in Milwaukee, the candidate and running mate and their families will be targets so long as Bill Barr remains attorney general.
Trump also uses Justice to shield friends like the felons Roger Stone and Mike Flynn.
More than 1,100 former federal prosecutors have called on Barr to resign. The chances that Barr will step back are on a par with the sun rising in the West tomorrow.
Thanks to Pelosi, a few Republican senators have expressed unease that Trump thinks the Justice Department is his personal law firm. They don’t lie that Barr acts like Trump’s consigliere, his reincarnated Roy Cohn. The comments by Republican senators are not much, but they’re not nothing either.
More House Investigations
Count on continuing House investigations designed not just to expose wrongdoing, but also to open the first real cracks in the wall of Republican submission to Trumpism. And don’t be surprised if some whistleblower or leaked document shows Barr or his loyalists breaking the law. It could mimic the way Richard Nixon’s pals John Mitchell and Richard Kleindienst became the first U.S. attorneys general forced to take up residence in federal prisons.
Pelosi’s strategy has also made Trump so toxic that qualified people with government experience shun this administration. He had a hard time from the start. But now anyone with a thought of a future career wants to avoid the stain of Trump on their resumes.
Obsequious Trump minions Hope Hicks and John McEntee are back at the White House, a clear sign Trump can only attract the worst.
McEntee was forced out in 2018 because he couldn’t get a security clearance over concerns about his gambling habits. His financial disclosure statement never won approval. So McEntee may again be forced out.
And we’ve seen former aides turn on Trump. There was Rex Tillerson, the Exxon Mobil CEO who Trump chose as his first secretary of state. But it was not until after the impeachment trial that Trump’s former chief of staff, retired Marine General John Kelly, turned on Trump.
What we are seeing in real life is Shelley’s imaginative 1820 tragedy “Prometheus Unbound,” with Trump in the role of the vengeful Jupiter, who loses all his godly powers as his exalted friends turn on him.
Tied Republicans to Trump
Republican leaders are highly unlikely to turn on Trump. But Pelosi has ensured that they will pay a price for defending Trump as his conduct worsens. The GOP and Trump cannot easily get a political divorce, thanks to Pelosi, without openly saying they made a terrible mistake in failing to remove Trump.
Fellow Democrats who complain that Pelosi slow-walked impeachment and then agreed to proceed on just two articles instead of a kitchen sink of charges have missed her long-term strategy. The tack continues to play out to the Democrats’ advantage.
By forcing impeachment over national security, Pelosi maneuvered leading Republican senators into a choice between breaking with Trump or spreading Kremlin propaganda to help Trump. Pelosi’s strategy put the lie to 75 years of Republican claims to be worried about the Kremlin.
By showing that concern about Moscow was a fraud, Pelosi also showed that putting protection of Trump ahead of love of our country is the policy of GOP leaders.
The only question remaining: Are the Democrats savvy enough to get that plain and simple message across to voters and to give the Democrats control of the White House, the Senate and the House in 2020.
Don’t count on the rest of the party to be as smart as Pelosi, but hope they absorb her wisdom.