Drilling down on the delusion that impeachment is a good idea

Following Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump Schiff says Intel panel will hold 'series' of hearings on Mueller report MORE’s surprise public statement on Wednesday, Twitter Democrats and cable news pundits exploded in a synchronized chorus: “We must impeach!”

These arguments usually are grounded in high-minded ideas, such as preserving the rule of law and setting precedents that, in theory, future presidents will follow. But the truth is, believing that impeachment is good for the country — and for Democrats — requires engaging in layers of delusion about the likely outcome, and about the American public.

Let’s be clear: impeachment would end in disaster for Democrats in 2020 and would be bad for the country. It’s a remarkably weak hand to play that will only strengthen the underlying currents that put Donald Trump in the Oval Office. It would set up a rule-bound, legalistic fight about process crimes that few people actually care about. If the goal is to protect principles, they’ve already been destroyed, and we can’t hold Republicans to precedents they never will respect. As an added bonus, impeachment would end in certain defeat.

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To think that impeachment is smart politically requires believing that the American public cares about obstruction of justice, or might be made to care if forced to watch enough hours of cable TV coverage on the findings of the Mueller report. They don’t, and they won’t.

Make no mistake, President TrumpDonald John TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates MORE has done horrifying things in office. Firing former FBI Director James Comey is not in the top 10 “bad things Trump has done,” and it is not in the top 100 things that voters care about. So why in the world — given our ability to talk about health care or climate change or tax cuts for plutocrats, or an endless number of broken promises — would we actually choose to fight Trump on the grounds of process crimes?

Those in the pro-impeachment camp would say that we can “walk and chew gum at the same time.” But that’s another fantasy. Cable news and the Twittersphere will be drawn like moths to the flame of high-drama impeachment hearings. With live coverage on TV, every word will be parsed.

Believing the pro-impeachment argument requires buying into a delusion that exercising the conventional power of the impeachment process is remotely sufficient to counter Trump. Think about the yawning gap in effectiveness between Mueller’s careful exercise of his legally-granted authority and Trump’s punch-you-in-the-face tactics. As one example, Mueller made a stunning comment: “If we had had confidence that the president did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”

Understanding all of this requires a thorough knowledge of every twist and turn of the Trump-Russia investigation and Attorney General William Barr’s handling of its conclusion, and what is actually in the report. Compare that to the president’s simple mantra, oft-repeated before Mueller’s public statement: “No collusion, no obstruction.”

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Impeachment sets us up for many days of politicians questioning bureaucrats, and alleged “bombshells” that most people won’t hear or grasp. Impeachment follows rules, observes decorum. We’ll be arguing about technical definitions of obstruction and Office of Legal Counsel guidance, while Trump laughs and tells voters that we don’t care about anything other than our hatred of him.

Believing impeachment is good for the country also requires believing that Trump is the problem and that his presidency is an aberration. In fact, rising right-wing authoritarianism, which has  manifested in the U.S. as “Trumpism,” is the real problem. As I have argued, impeachment would only exacerbate the forces of Trumpism.

Finally, there’s one really obvious problem with impeachment: it will fail. The outcome is preordained. Why in the world would we want to enter into a fight that we know we are going to lose? The president is not going to be removed from office. We pretend that we want him to be removed from office, but who among us is actually eager to swear in President Mike Pence? Americans already know that we Democrats really, really don’t like this president. Does placing an official black mark on his record, in the form of impeachment, heighten the public’s understanding of our view?

On the contrary, impeachment would underscore the narrative that elites have been out to delegitimize this president from Day One. It will make the Washington establishment look even more out of touch with the concerns of most Americans. And all with the end result of the president being able to say, “I won, case closed.” An esoteric debate, on an issue few actually care about, that ends in a certain loss. What could go wrong?

Krystal Ball is the liberal co-host of “Rising,” Hill.TV’s bipartisan morning news show. She is president of The People’s House Project, which recruits Democratic candidates in Republican-held congressional districts of the Midwest and Appalachia, and a former candidate for Congress in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @krystalball.