E.J. Dionne: Trump, impeachment and #MoscowMitch
WASHINGTON — Nothing unites Democrats more than a deep belief that President Trump must be driven from office. And right now, nothing divides Democrats more than finding the best way to bring this about.
Trump is not a political genius. He is president because of our outdated and undemocratic Electoral College. What he is skilled at is taking advantage of his opponents' weaknesses and sowing division in their ranks.
Think about what the Russians, in alliance with the Trump campaign, did in 2016: They drove wedges between supporters of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton by feeding the sense of aggrievement in the Sanders camp. They worked to lower turnout among African Americans by pointing to the criminal justice policies of Bill Clinton's administration in fostering over-incarceration.
Trump's strategy is thus not just about rallying his base. He also does everything he can to dispirit the Democratic base. He will be happy once again to use social media (and welcome foreign efforts in this direction) to assail the Democrats from the left. And since Democrats seem to relish attacking each other, they may give him a hand.
The efforts to divide are already unfolding. Consider the well-documented accounts by Michael Scherer and Amy B. Wang in The Washington Post and Rachelle Hampton in Slate. They reported on Twitter attacks against Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., that she is "not an American black" because her parents are immigrants. One version was retweeted by Donald Trump Jr. though he later took it down.
Hampton also wrote of an online campaign urging African Americans not to vote for any Democrat who refuses to endorse reparations for slavery. Trump and his lieutenants are eager for a despicable two-fer: To attack reparations to overtly win white voters, and to narrowcast messages to African Americans to depress Democratic turnout if the party's nominee declines to endorse reparations.
And former special counsel Robert Mueller's testimony last week split House Democrats into very nearly equal halves.
Nearly one half — it could well grow to a narrow majority during Congress' August recess — argues that Mueller's account of Trump's lies, obstruction and the possibility that he has been compromised by Russia (among other issues) mean that failing to move toward impeachment would be a dereliction of constitutional duty. And let there be no doubt that if Trump were not a Republican, his GOP apologists in Congress would be clamoring to throw him out of office for running a campaign that cooperated with a Russian dictator's agents to win, and for lying about it.
But precisely because Republicans will provide few if any impeachment votes, the other half of the House Democratic caucus believes that Mueller's testimony made impeachment more problematic. With so many media reports focusing on Mueller's often-halting delivery, it's not surprising that members from competitive districts stressed the failure of the hearings to ignite opinion against Trump.
Democrats can make Trump gleeful by tearing each other apart over impeachment, or they can find a way collectively to press him much harder. There can be no August recess for the Judiciary Committee, and its chairman, Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., signaled on Friday there would not be.
Significantly, the committee's court filing on Friday to obtain release of grand jury materials specifically mentions impeachment. The argument is that the House needs access to documents (and eventually witnesses) to decide whether to impeach.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made clear at a Friday news conference that she has not ruled out impeachment, but she also knows there are not yet the votes in her own caucus to win a majority for it. The signals she and Nadler sent are clear: Democrats are escalating their fight. For now — given that Pelosi leads what she correctly said is not "a lockstep, rubber-stamp" caucus — this is the only plausible path forward.
In the meantime, Democrats might note that the hashtag #MoscowMitch, a phrase used by MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, went viral to protest Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's refusal to allow votes on bills to protect the 2020 election from foreign interference. Making life hell for McConnell and his party for blocking necessary and patriotic legislation would be a good use of August.
And, yes, the Democratic presidential candidates will debate this week. Judge them not by the points they score but by who among them best understands that removing this reprehensible president from office is far more important than any of their individual ambitions — and that nothing will make Trump happier than an opposition tearing itself to pieces.
E.J. Dionne can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter: @EJDionne.