The recently ended Thanksgiving Day weekend saw some 3 million of us take to the air and some 51 million to our cars to travel 50 miles or more to attend family gatherings, the latter the highest number in 12 years. The airborne benefited from near-record low average air fares, while the earth-bound filled their tanks with gasoline for $2.59 per gallon, about what they paid last year. Many families agreed not to discuss politics at these gatherings lest food fights replace conviviality.
After consuming some 46 million turkeys, binging on Netflix or morning-to-night football, about 150 million of us hit the stores, either on foot or over the Internet, before returning to work today, Cyber Monday, to cyber-shop on the boss’ time. And to catch up on the latest news of the impeachment of our President.
Before the holiday break we had been treated to weeks of televised anti-Trump testimony before the House Intelligence Committee — the chairman would not allow Republicans to call any witnesses, or cross-examine the accuser, whom he refused to identify. Little wonder that the new Monmouth University poll found that 44% of Americans had no trust at all in how the House impeachment inquiry has been conducted, and 29% had only a little trust.
Or that “the needle has not moved,” to use Washington shorthand for the absence of significant change in Trump’s approval rating. Since only 19% of Americans profess surprise at Trump’s behavior since he took office, and 81% are getting either what they wanted or what they feared, this is only to be expected. His approval remains in the mid-to low 40’s, not very different from Barack Obama’s third-year 43% average.
The Intelligence Committee’s report goes to the Judiciary Committee, which will draw up “articles of impeachment” to be put to the whole House, which will approve them and move the action to the Senate, which will sit as a jury in a trial that might last as long as six weeks before acquitting the President. Some pro-Trump senators want the body to reject the charges out-of-hand, but the President is insisting on a trial.
These are safe predictions because the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, one Jerry Nadler, said more than two months ago, “I think the President ought to be impeached…”. In short, first we hang him, then we try him. Then a Democratic House will impeach and a Republican senate will acquit.
But the predictability of the various steps in this process does not mean that this tale of anti-Trump sound and fury signifies nothing. For one thing, it has re-energized the Trump base, promising the high turnout he will need to win re-election. The last impression voters will have is of a solemn trial ending in a not guilty verdict.
For another, these hearings have consumed the time of the Democratic House, leaving Democrats unable to attend to the business voters say they deem more important — climate change, the economy, health care, national security, immigration, drug prices. Impeachment ranks third from the bottom of Americans’ top eleven concerns. The New York Times, the house organ for progressive Democrats, reports, “Impeachment is potentially perilous to the Democratic candidates…. [It] highlights a challenge for Democrats … shifting the conversation from Trump’s serial controversies to their own agenda.” Speaker Pelosi was and is well aware of this risk, but her arguments could not overcome demands for an impeachment drive that began on the day Trump was inaugurated.
The NYT being what it is, it can’t imagine that shifting the conversation to the agenda of the contestants for the Democratic Party’s nomination might actually harm the Party’s prospects in the general election. With Elizabeth Warren, now leading in many polls, proposing to take away the health insurance coverage of the 156 million Americans (about half the total population) who have traded higher wages for employer-sponsored health insurance, and other Democratic candidates announcing plans to tax and tax and spend and spend on a wildly expanded government, the left lurch of the agenda has gone so far that Obama felt compelled to intervene. He warned the wannabees that average voters are “nervous about changes that take away what little they have…. The average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.”
Obama’s implicit support for the so-called moderates did not include endorsement of Joe Biden, the standard bearer for reform as opposed to revolution. In a conversation Obama had to know would be leaked, he said of his vice president’s ability to connect with voters, “You know who doesn’t have it? Joe Biden.” Which, along with Biden’s gaffe-ridden campaign performance, opened the way for Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire 54 times over, to enter the race as champion of the moderates. The former three-time mayor of New York City will not contest the earliest primaries, the battlefield on which the current contestants are spilling their sweat, tears and limited dollars, but accounts for only 4% of the delegates. He plans a self-financed, massive television-ad campaign, starting with a grab for many of the 40% of the delegates to be chosen on Super Tuesday March 3, when fourteen states hold their primaries. Mayor Mike will spend more on television ads in two weeks than all of the candidates combined (excluding fellow-billionaire Tom Steyer) have spent on their entire campaigns so far.
Bloomberg is unlikely to garner a majority of the 3,768 delegates. But neither are any of the candidates who will remain standing when the convention convenes in Milwaukee in July. If there is a floor fight for the nomination, the first since Franklin Roosevelt won such a battle in 1932 on the forth ballot, and no candidate wins a majority, some 765 so-called super-delegates get to vote. These party leaders and elected officials, beady-eyed practitioners of practical politics, are likely to throw their votes to whichever candidate they believe has the best chance of beating Trump. That could be a centrist who successfully managed the diverse, raucous, financial center of the world for a dozen years. Others say it is, get this, Michelle Obama — an enormously popular former first lady, a woman and black to check two boxes, with the sort of experience in the White House that, er, Hillary brought to the 2016 campaign.