Today, as further impeachment bifurcation among the Democrats rattles the party, Nancy Pelosi, in just a few words, notably changed the climate of the dispute. “I don’t want to see him impeached. I want to see him in prison.” At the very instant she finished her sentence, she confused many, myself included. After some thought, I think I can explain why she said this.
Pelosi’s reticence to open an impeachment inquiry is directly related to two things that she’s publicly said she wants a number of times: 1. A public majority in favor of impeachment, and 2. A congressional super-majority in favor of impeachment. Right now, she has neither, although the public majority isn’t very far away. Procuring a super-majority in both chambers of Congress is, in this hyper-partisan era, however, a pipe-dream. It would almost certainly require Mitch McConnell to terminally and spitefully sour on Trump.
Should we wait for the public and Senate to catch-up though? I think not. Indeed, many Democratic presidential hopefuls don’t think so either. This is where the moral imperative argument locks horns against the procedural efficacy argument, and where Pelosi has a hypothesis all of her own.
Pelosi is a slow chess player, but a good one. Even before she was anointed Speaker, she was choosing her words with the care and weight that a Speaker might, and thus her strategy has been unwavering: let Trump destroy himself. In Pelosi’s defense, that’s just about the only thing Trump is consistently good at. What’s more: it appears to be working. By jabbing Trump with her staid and factual messages to the polity, she’s able to accentuate Trump’s lunacy without even going up to bat against him. The vaguest slight from her can provoke a full course of mad tweets, public outbursts, and an incoherent call into Fox News.
Perhaps more importantly, Pelosi knows that an impeachment inquiry takes time. Yes, we have a substantial body of evidence from multiple investigative corners in every branch of government, but producing a unified body of evidence under the remit of an inquiry and subsequent investigation would take a considerable amount of time – time that the Democrats likely don’t have before the 2020 election. And that’s where we get to the logic behind Pelosi’s jail comment.
If Trump is defeated in 2020, he won’t have the veil of the presidency to shield himself from the vast number of legal charges sure to hit him, of which he’ll be lucky to be guilty of only one. But one is all it takes to be sent to prison. All this said, I don’t think Pelosi is going to keep us pining for much longer. She’s waiting for her time to pounce, a time when Trump properly shits the optics bed, irrespective of whether impeachment is possible before 2020. Why? Because a properly-timed blow is more important than a poorly-timed one. She’s going to wait until it hurts the most.