There’s nothing like writing about this topic to stir up sentiment but let me assure you that’s not what this is about. This will be a dispassionate analysis of the impeachment drama playing out in Washington. Instead of beginning with a premise of guilt or innocence and definitely NOT picking sides, I want to evaluate the hands each side holds in a political poker game of the highest import. My aim 2020is to evaluate strategies and tactics of each side and try to literally game out the possible moves much like reviewing the transcript of a chess game. I’ll then draw some conclusions about each side’s approach.
We know the basics.
· One side wants to conduct an investigation, but the other side won’t give up any information to work with.
· One side is trying to change the subject and run out the clock, the other isn’t budging.
· One side can drive a lot of news coverage away from the topic while the other can also manage the news cycle to its ends.
· Each side has a solid base of support.
At any one point one side is up and the other down in the polls and vice versa. There’s also an election coming which leaves less time on the clock than you might think. So perhaps trying to run out the clock is a good strategy but maybe not.
If I were Trump
Trump holds a lot of significant cards in this poker duel. He sets the agenda, he holds, through the Justice Department, much evidence. He also controls many key witnesses who will not testify to congress without his say so. Finally, he has a sympathetic Senate majority so that even if the House could indict or impeach him, it’s highly doubtful the forces for removal could amass the 67 votes needed.
Keep holding the ball and don’t let the other side have a chance to score. In other words do what you’re doing.
Fundamentally, trump sees his situation much more like Whitewater which involved Bill Clinton, than Watergate involving Richard Nixon. Clinton, who was a lame duck at that point saw a bounce in his poll ratings and Trump wants the same to aid in his re-election. The trouble with this strategy is that no two circumstances, involving different accusations and different players, can be expected to play out the same way. Thinking of a Clintonian resolution for Trump seems a bit risky under the circumstances. The Dems see the whole enchilada as very Nixonian.
The down side
Trump has to keep a lot of balls in the air–evidence and witnesses must be kept under wraps. Any leakage by a witness who suddenly feels like making a statement, any documents that find their way to the press could easily unravel his strategy. Documents are coming out already. Ten years of tax records for starters. Also, the New York Assembly has voted to provide information from state tax returns should some duly constituted body ask. There’s also a long list of people to subpoena and if they refuse to cooperate, congress could act against them by holding them in contempt and fining or even jailing them.
Still for the moment, it all hangs together.
Trump is trying to goad the Dems into impeaching him soon, hoping the whole mess will be wound up in the Senate and leaving him vindicated and able to run for re-election. Trouble is, the Dems know this too.
If I were Congress
Trump’s ability to run out the clock could be used against him. For instance, if the Democrats want to play a long game, they’ll do their best against the stonewalling knowing that they can at least keep the issue before the public through the narrow period of time before the primaries or even throughout 2020. Congress could develop articles of impeachment easily enough and set up a trial in the Senate that goes into the new year up to and even into the primaries in which case Trump will be dogged by fresh accusations throughout his quest for the nomination. That’s important because he has challengers in the GOP. So, the key for the Dems is not taking the bait and impeaching too early. Trump knows this too and as time goes by expect his behavior to become more egregious.
Also, there are 34 seats up for grabs in the senate and 22 of them are in GOP hands right now. This means that a Senate trial that looks like a sham in the face of hard evidence might agitate the electorate enough to cause some Senate seats to switch sides. The Dems know this and an impeachment trial in the Senate will put the GOP and its senators on trial as much as Trump.
Assuming the Democrats could hold serve on the 12 they have up for re-election, they’d have to grab at least 3 seats, should a Democrat win the presidency, or 4 in case Trump is re-elected, to gain a majority. Senate Republicans know this, so do the Dems. So, a good strategy for the Dems would be to put the whole GOP on trial in the Senate and the later the better.
This also means that the people will ultimately decide on removal from office by voting for another 4 years or changing courses.
If I was leading the Dems
Mohammed Ali had a strategy of wearing out his opponents by curling up on the ropes and letting them wear themselves out. When they were exhausted, he’d come to life and knock them out. He called it rope-a-dope.
The Dems already appear to be taking a page from Ali’s book. They’re letting the other side exhaust itself, and the public, doing more and more outrageous things, some of which are clearly against the law. At the same time, each new assault on the Constitution adds to the case they are building.
At the moment, the GOP looks ascendant and the Dems, whose job is to assemble evidence and prove a case of obstruction and other crimes, look disorganized and passive. But the Dems seem to be playing rope-a-dope and timing is in their favor. Summer is coming and the public will tune out of the drama and go on vacation. But the Dems will continue to pull on many threads, gathering information and building their case.
After Labor Day, look for the tide to turn. It will be surprising to see the Dems come to life and you can expect more than one pundit to write about their sudden discovery of a spine. Nothing could be further from the truth. After Labor Day the Dems will have a case, maybe not the all-encompassing perfect case some want, but there are so many infractions that they’ll be able to take their pick.
So I’d look for an impeachment by Christmas and a trial early in the new year. It’s not the prettiest scenario, but each side will be playing the hand they were dealt.