Pelosi and Schumer were right with the strategy to delay impeachment

“In politics, timing is everything” goes the popular expression. If this is true, it helps explain why Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' Overnight Health Care: New wave of COVID-19 cases builds in US | Florida to lift all coronavirus restrictions on restaurants, bars | Trump stirs questions with 0 drug coupon plan Overnight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds MORE chose this week to pass a resolution naming the House impeachment managers for the long awaited trial of President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick MORE and transmitting the articles over to the Senate.

I have written before about the deft sense of timing and sensitivity that Pelosi has to the sometimes imperceptible frequencies of public opinion. In leadership meetings, when hashing out legislative strategies, she would often point to a portrait of Abraham Lincoln when he was a member of Congress and remind her colleagues of his famous quote, “In this age, in this country, public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail, and against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes, or pronounces judicial decisions.”

That does not mean wetting a finger to sense prevailing winds. It may be too late by then. It means creating the wind or counterwind to achieve a favorable climate. Sometimes that requires a great deal of patience. Take the impeachment resolutions, which the House is expected to transmit today. In the immediate aftermath of the House vote to impeach Trump last month, the general public was insufficiently aware of the short shrift the Senate would give it. The donors at Democratic fundraisers knew. So did engaged Democrats who watch MSNBC and treat Twitter like a life sustaining oxygen machine. However, the less committed swing voters in battleground districts probably did not think about the fairness of a trial.


At the time, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' House to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power Republican lawyers brush off Trump's election comments MORE did have a favorable climate in which to conduct a sham trial, instantly acquit Trump, and hand the president a major political victory with a credible case for exoneration. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' 3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Cruz blocks amended resolution honoring Ginsburg over language about her dying wish MORE needed the time and space to build a different case. The truth was being suffused by partisan Republicans, the trial was rigged, and witnesses were needed. Ironically, the case was convincingly made by McConnell himself, first admitting to Fox News that instead of acting as an impartial jury under the Constitution he would coordinate with the White House for the trial, then indicating he would oppose the calling of witnesses who might lend any credence to the notion that the president may have committed impeachable offenses.

The strategy worked. By the end of October, when the House passed its impeachment resolutions, an acquittal might have been readily accepted by the public. Now it will come under a very dark cloud. It is pretty clear that the process and rules have been rigged and that even an acquittal comes laden with skepticism and doubt. In a survey by the Washington Post and ABC News, six in 10 Americans expect a fair trial in the Senate, and 55 percent believe Trump was treated fairly in the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committee hearings that bore the articles of impeachment.

A month ago, the five Republican senators who face tough elections this year, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, and Joni Ernst of Iowa, may have wanted to rip the bandage off impeachment by choosing to acquit and moving on quickly to mend broken fences with alienated voters. Now they are doing some political bleeding. In addition to a sense of timing, Pelosi and Schumer proceeded with two other indispensable strategic skills, the keen ability to act as hedgehogs and foxes at the same time.

The hedgehog reaches his goal with obsessive, undistracted, purposeful determination. The fox uses cunning, agile, clever tactics. The problem for a hedgehog is figuring out how to maneuver around barriers. The problem for the fox is often losing itself in detours and even sight of the goal itself. A grand strategist has to operate as both the hedgehog and the fox at the same time. Pelosi and Schumer fully maintained the determination of the hedgehog to get to the truth behind how Trump really dealt with Ukraine.

But the fox in both of the Democratic leaders developed a strategy that educated less partisan voters that the truth was being undermined. It did not have to be this way. McConnell could have worked with his Senate colleagues on a credible trial and given Americans with the confidence that the outcome, whether it is conviction or acquittal, was not only fair but also compliant with the Senate responsibility under the Constitution.

But these days, that responsibility has been cast aside by the imperative of electoral survival. Staying on the good side of Trump is more important than siding with the Constitution. If you still believe, at this point in time at least, that an acquittal of Trump will have been achieved through a sober and untainted search for “the truth and nothing but the truth,” come meet me up in New York, the state where Schumer hails from, specifically at the intersection of Fulton and Boerum in Brooklyn. There is a bridge for sale.

Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump, Biden intensify battleground focus as 2020 race tightens Biden allies express confidence as convention begins MORE represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.