I’ll take the opportunity up front to double down on this post from Friday. I’d bet my life savings plus several internal organs that Pelosi will have 218 to impeach. That’s based on the simple reality that failing to do so at this point would cost Democrats more politically than proceeding with impeachment would. Voters who hate Trump would be furious and voters who like Trump wouldn’t give Pelosi and Schiff an ounce of credit for standing down in the end. The president would gloat about it every day unto eternity. Pelosi, long respected by both sides for her ability to whip votes, would be humiliated utterly. Her legacy would be in ruins. They’ll have 218.
They might not have a lot more than 218, which would itself be horribly humiliating for Dems. There are 233 Democrats in the House right now; only two voted against opening the impeachment inquiry. If more than two vote against impeachment, the inescapable conclusion for many Americans will be that Schiff’s two weeks of hearings were so unpersuasive that he actually *lost* support for impeachment within his own party.
According to WaPo reporter Rachel Bade, the phrase of the day is “cold feet”:
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) November 24, 2019
What does she mean at the end there about ads? Read this Politico story from Friday. Moderate Democrats from reddish-purple districts are getting blitzed with anti-impeachment ads by the GOP and allied groups, and the Democratic response has been … less than robust:
Vulnerable Democrats are watching in horror as GOP impeachment attacks deluge their districts back home. And they want a much stronger counteroffensive from their own party and its allies…
GOP-aligned outside groups have spent roughly $8 million on TV spots this cycle in battleground districts, such as Rep. Anthony Brindisi’s central New York seat. The vast majority of those ads specifically hammer Democrats over impeachment.
Meanwhile, swing-district Democrats are receiving little reinforcement from their own party or even other liberal coalitions. Democratic and pro-impeachment groups have spent about $2.7 million in TV ads, according to an analysis of spending by the ad tracking firm Advertising Analytics. And more than $600,000 of that total went to ads targeting Republican incumbents, not helping vulnerable Democratic members.
“It’s like someone taped our arms to our side and punched us in the face,” groused one Democrat to Politico, which notes that the ad gap has been raised with Pelosi at caucus meetings. To make matters worse, to the extent that Dems and liberal outside groups are spending on ads, not all of that spending is going towards messaging on impeachment. One lefty group recently launched a multimillion-dollar campaign aimed at drug pricing, for instance — which, frankly, might suit Pelosi just fine. She spent the better part of this year shooing House Dems away from impeachment over Russiagate, fearing that it might inspire an electoral backlash or at least distract the party from the health-care messaging that helped it win the midterms. As it happens, impeachment ranked last in a list of 11 government priorities among independents in a recent Politico poll. To Pelosi, that might be reason enough to cede the field to Republicans on impeachment ads. Let the GOP drill down on that while Democrats quietly shift back to kitchen-table issues and see who benefits next fall.
Anyway, I can’t tell whether Republicans really do believe that Democrats might get “cold feet” to the point where they’d decline to impeach Trump after all this or if that’s just a talking point they’re pushing to make the eventual inevitable impeachment vote appear that much more outlandish and surprising to the public. I think it’s the latter, but Trump himself told “Fox & Friends” on Friday that he doesn’t expect to be impeached and Senate GOPers sound like they think there’s at least a chance that Pelosi will whiff:
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says senior White House officials think there’s a better than 50-50 shot Pelosi decides to avoid a Senate trial…
“There’s a growing school of thought that rather give Senate Republicans or the White House an opportunity on a level playing field on a large stage, Democrats would be better off just saying, ‘we’re going to look out for the country, not drag the country through this, we’ve made our point,’ and have a vote of censure-ship,’” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), one of Trump’s loyal allies in the upper chamber.
A censure vote would be the obvious fallback option if Pelosi couldn’t bribe or threaten her way to 218 votes, but even censure would be such a humiliating climbdown for the party that there’d be pressure from the left on her to resign as Speaker. “While no decision has been made to proceed with impeachment,” said one Democratic aide to The Hill, “the key facts are uncontested and not proceeding at this stage will be called a ‘total exoneration’ by the president.” Absolutely true, and Trump would treat a meaningless censure vote the same way. “Nervous Nancy couldn’t get the votes to impeach because even Democrats know I did nothing wrong, so now they’re wimping out with a phony censure vote! Sad!”
In fact, as noted up top, successfully impeaching Trump but doing so with fewer votes than the 231 which Dems had to open the impeachment inquiry would itself be sufficiently embarrassing that I wonder if the magic number in Pelosi’s mind isn’t really 218 in this case. It might be … 231. In order to “prove” that the public hearings were successful and that this process wasn’t a political mistake, she may demand that every member of her caucus who voted to proceed initially also vote to impeach. That’ll pain her, knowing that some purple-district Democrats will pay a price with their constituents, but this isn’t any ol’ vote where a bare majority is enough and certain moderates can be allowed to oppose the party in the interest of protecting themselves. Democrats have to affirm to the public that this political gamble was justified, even if they secretly believe it wasn’t. That means 231, or thereabouts.
Plus, look at it this way: A Democrat who voted yes to authorize the impeachment inquiry may already be doomed to pay a price no matter how he or she votes ultimately on impeachment. If you’re a swing voter in a certain congressional district and you believe this process has been a waste of time or a cynical attempt to delegitimize Trump based on little hard evidence, you’re going to blame your Democratic representative for voting to open the inquiry even if he or she gets cold feet in the end and votes against impeachment. *Maybe* that would be different if Dems ended up failing to impeach and that representative’s “no” vote was part of a majority that defeated the effort. But it won’t be; as I say, Democrats really are going to do this even if they don’t do it with 231. Which means everyone who voted yes on opening the inquiry will be partly to blame for the final vote, if only by having enabled it.
In which case, Dems with cold feet might as well vote to impeach anyway. If they’re destined to be blamed no matter what, they might as well make sure their base is happy with them, at least.
Here’s Kellyanne Conway this morning further pushing the possibility that Dems won’t follow through. Untrue, but it’s never a bad idea to stoke perceptions that the opposition is divided and cowering.
NEWS: @KellyannePolls tells @margbrennan the White House is preparing for a Senate trial, but doesn’t rule out that House Democrats may not vote on articles of impeachment. “We’re preparing for both eventualities,” she says. https://t.co/91kl5Jy5W6 pic.twitter.com/FgHq39qwSK
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) November 24, 2019