Justin Amash is clowning the Democrats. The Republican Congressman from Michigan came out this weekend in support of starting impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump. In so doing he demonstrated more political courage than nearly every Democrat who isn’t a woman of color. While congressional Democrats act as if merely uttering “the ‘I’ word” will bring a curse upon their house, Amash voluntarily branded “impeachment” on his behind and told Trump and his fellow Republicans to come get some.
Amash is making the argument for why the House should open impeachment hearings. It’s an argument that every Democrat should have been making every day since Democrats took back control of the House this past November.
But they haven’t. Instead, the Democratic Party strategy has been to wait for somebody else to make the argument that Trump should be impeached, then glom onto it. They’ve been waiting for somebody else to do the hard work of convincing people for them. The New York Times reports that some Democratic leaders are now privately more insistent on starting impeachment proceedings, if only to counter the hardball tactics being employed by the White House. It would seem sheer embarrassment is pushing the House towards the option they should have been advocating for all along.
Their big gambit was Robert Mueller. They hoped Mueller would buck Justice Department convention, indict the president himself, and save the Democrats the trouble of having to actually argue that the president’s crimes warranted removal from office.
The Mueller report actually gave the Democrats more than enough ammunition to make the case for impeachment. But Democrats weren’t looking for ammo, they were looking for cover. Democrats didn’t need the Mueller report to tell them Trump obstructed justice, because Trump tries to obstruct justice on Twitter or television nearly every day. No, Democrats needed Mueller to order them to impeach Trump, so they could pretend like it was Mueller’s decision all along. It wasn’t enough for Mueller to load the gun, Democrats wanted him to pull the trigger too.
When Mueller didn’t use his own authority to indict the president, Democrats placed their hopes with Republicans. Laughable as it sounds, they put it on Republicans to rise up, en masse, and bring about an end to the Trump presidency on their own accord.
Expecting Republicans to act with honor and decency must be some kind of disease you get when you win an election. Barack Obama contracted it. Joe Biden never got over it. It makes Chuck Schumer cry. No matter what Republicans actually say and do, elected Democrats always want to believe there’s a silent majority of Republicans who really want good government, effective courts, and social tolerance. I imagine freshmen Democrats are given a picture of John McCain and told to wait for his ghost to go full Jacob Marley, haunting and tormenting until Mitch McConnell buys Merrick Garland a Christmas goose.
As the “wait for Republicans” strategy has turned to tragicomedy, Democrats have identified other targets to do their work for them. The latest seems to be former White House counsel Don McGahn. Democrats want to interview McGahn. Why? They already have the Mueller report, replete with McGahn’s unwashed opinions about what he was asked to do. But Democrats want McGahn to say, “The president ordered me to obstruct justice,” in an open hearing. He won’t, ever. He’s far too clever a lawyer to get caught out like that, even if Democrats eventually wrangle him into a hearing. The entire McGahn testimony expedition is just another attempt by Democrats to get somebody else to make the case for impeachment for them, instead of doing it themselves. And like all the others, it is destined to fail.
Without cover from Mueller or McGahn or the Republicans, Democrats turn to the American people. Maybe they will demand impeachment, thus relieving Democrats of the weight of their constitutional responsibilities? But the polls are not in their favor. A plurality of Americans do not support impeachment.
Why would they? The Democratic efforts advancing the case of impeachment against Donald Trump have been pathetic. Elected Democrats have spent more time arguing with people like me about why they shouldn’t pursue impeachment than arguing with Lindsey Graham about why they must move forward.
Instead of asking whether Republican senators will uphold their constitutional duties, we’ve spent the five weeks since the release of the Mueller report asking whether House Democrats will uphold their constitutional duties. That’s an amazing display of political incompetence. If I hadn’t been a Democrat for my entire life, I’d be surprised.
In response, Trump is showing the Democrats exactly the respect they deserve: zero. Trump is prancing around, daring the Democrats to punch him, like a boxer who drops his guard and invites his weaker and slower opponent to take their best shot. He’s ignoring subpoenas, he’s ordering private citizens like McGahn to not comply with Congress. His attorney general is making jokes about being held in contempt. He is mocking Democrats, the rule of law, and the constitutional separation of powers. Every day that he reigns, he rewrites the relationship between the executive branch and Congress. As long as Congress does nothing, Trump sets dangerous precedents that will be followed by future presidents from both parties.
Trump has the Democrats twisted into such a knot that a couple of weeks ago, Nancy Pelosi said, “Trump is goading us to impeach him,” as if that was a reason to not impeach him. Somehow, the president of the United States is less worried about being the defendant in an impeachment hearing that the House of Representatives is worried about being perceived as his prosecutor.
Bill Clinton was so worried about impeachment that he tried to obfuscate the meaning of the word “is.” Richard Nixon was so reluctant to go through the ignominy of impeachment and the embarrassing release of his personal tapes that he resigned his office. Donald Trump isn’t scared of Democrats at all. He looks at his opponent and intuits that they don’t have the strength or discipline to make anything stick to him. He’s going to keep thinking that way until the Democrats show some strength and discipline.
Which brings me back to Amash. This Tea Party joker—who has positions I could easily spend the rest of my life opposing—is out there looking like he’s got actual convictions, even as Republicans gear up to primary the hell out of him. He’s not waiting for Democrats or Republicans to make the argument that Trump should be impeached. He’s making it himself. He’s taking it directly to his voters. He’s trying to convince them that he is right. It’s dangerous. He might lose his seat. But as they’d say in the neighborhood: he ain’t no punk.
The Democrats look like the punks. They’re standing on top of a diving board, scared and shivering, hoping somebody would just push them in already and save them from their embarrassment.