They aren’t using that phrase quite yet, but that’s the gist of what several leading Democratic candidates for president are saying. Politico reports that after all the hand-wringing about “Lock her up” chants at Trump rallies, Democrats appear to be headed down the same path. It started after a report that Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her caucus, “I don’t want to see him impeached, I want to see him in prison.” From there, several candidates felt free to expand on the theme:

A few days later, Beto O’Rourke said on ABC’s “This Week” that he thought Trump had committed crimes that should be prosecuted.

“I would want my Justice Department, any future administration’s Justice Department, to follow the facts and the truth and to make sure at the end of the day that there is accountability and justice,” the former Texas congressman said. “Without that, this idea, this experiment of American democracy comes to a close.”

Next came Harris, who in an NPR podcast interview that aired last Wednesday took the biggest step yet in sizing up what she’d expect from her DOJ on the prosecution front if she defeated Trump in 2020.

“I believe that they would have no choice, and that they should,” said Harris, who also is a former California attorney general and San Francisco district attorney. “I believe there should be accountability. Everyone should be held accountable. And the president is not above the law.”

Then Buttigieg got in on the action. “I would want any credible allegation of criminal behavior to be investigated to the fullest,” he told The Atlantic.

Again, they’re not quite ready for the chant, but they do want the resistance base to envision them as the Democrat who will kick off the process that leads Trump to a cell. It’s close enough that even some anti-Trump cheerleaders are trying to wave them off. Benjamin Wittes is the guy best known for his “Boom!” tweets in relation to any development in the collusion narrative. Last week he wrote a piece essentially telling Dems to knock it off.

Kamala Harris taught a master class this week in how not to address the question of accountability for President Trump, declaring to the NPR Politics Podcast that she favors Trump’s indictment and prosecution after he leaves office. Asked if she believes prosecutors should bring a case against Trump, Harris said, “I believe that they would have no choice and that they should, yes.”…

She refrained from chanting, “Lock Him Up!”—for which I suppose we should be grateful.

Harris is not the only prominent Democrat to have dipped her toes in these dangerous waters. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi reportedly said recently that she didn’t want to see Trump impeached, she wanted to see him jailed. We can expect others to weigh in over the coming weeks as well.

Wittes suggests the question of prosecuting Trump ought to be held until we see whether or not he agrees to leave office quietly. Until then, he wants Democrats to zip it on the post-presidency prosecution talk.

Here’s what I think is really going on. Democrats are kicking this can down the road because it’s dawning on them that impeachment is not going to happen (it polls badly). But they are left with a frustrated base that was fed two years of collusion daydreams. The base feels entitled to some sort of dramatic ending to the Trump administration. So Democrats are now speculating about what might happen after Trump leaves office. It’s a cowardly way to avoid saying what they should say: We’ll settle this at the polls. As long as the promise of Trump’s ultimate humiliation is out there, sometime after the election, they can put off telling the base that Trump’s prosecution probably won’t happen either.