Much has changed in the past four decades. Congress is more polarized. There are factional media outlets with great reach. Voters can find their fellow partisans and tailor the slant on social media. The center seems smaller, and the need to stoke the base commensurately stronger. But the Constitution remains the same. Trump’s critics will still need “the concurrence of two-thirds present” in a Senate to impeach him, and that chamber, for the rest of Trump’s current term, will stay in the control of his Republican Party.
Pelosi is a shrewd operator and, like O’Neill, knows her caucus well. At least for now, she seems intent on following the O’Neill—as opposed to the Gingrich—strategy, comments like Tlaib’s notwithstanding. In most public opinion polls, depending how the question is asked, less than half of the respondents support Trump’s impeachment. At this point, Pelosi’s Democrats are waiting to see if special counsel Robert Mueller, and their own newly recovered power of subpoena, unearth grave presidential wrongdoing. If so, the moral and political imperative to begin the impeachment process could prove overwhelming.
It is worth noting that O’Neill kept his majority and rose to become a quite successful speaker himself. Gingrich lost his speakership and, eventually, his revolution. At least for now, the campaign that begins with the Iowa caucuses—just a year away, with Democratic candidates already in the field—seems a safer way of removing the president than a rushed, self-gratifying game plan of “impeach the motherfucker!”