One of the most epic lines in the history of American cinema kept coming to mind as Democrats pounded away at an array of witnesses during their two-week impeachment inquiry.
“I coulda been a contender.” And then, “I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.”
That iconic line delivered by Marlon Brando, playing a washed-up boxer reduced to a down-and-out longshoreman in the movie On the Waterfront, elegantly depicts the deep, self-imposed dilemma facing the Democrats.
We’re not referring to the validity of their quid pro quo accusations against the president, now the most famous Latin expression in the English vernacular. The stream of State Department types and Washington functionaries run up the flagpole by Democrats over this last fortnight certainly established enough of a narrative against President Trump for the Democrats to exploit.
But by overplaying their hand — insisting on the removal of a president for actions that might widely be deemed inappropriate but hardly impeachable — Democrats are now on the verge of not only losing the issue but also having it turned against them with the same level of force they used in their three-year impeachment crusade, now reaching its climax.
Instead of trying to reverse the results of the last election, the Democrats could have held the same hearings in the House Oversight Committee, the appropriate venue for such airing of grievances. The resulting testimony would serve as a potentially powerful campaign issue with legs right through to Election Day.
But by demonstrating an unwillingness to let the voters decide on the magnitude of the issue, the Democrats, once they assemble and vote on actual articles of impeachment, will have shot their load many months before the voters go to the polls. And where the process goes from there — to the Republican-controlled Senate — should be particularly troubling for Democrats.
What more do Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and company have in the way of shock testimony that could be unfurled in a trial in the upper chamber? One would suspect little or nothing. They likely depleted all their heavy artillery over these last two weeks.
Once Trump is impeached, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) takes control of a process that mirrors a criminal trial, presided over by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Ol’ Mitch, a parliamentarian and partisan of the highest order, is likely to let the dogs out. You can bet his witness roster will include corruption-soaked Hunter Biden, forbidden from testifying in the House, and perhaps even former Vice President Joe Biden. Add to that many in the parade of Trump-haters who were in on surveillance of Trump’s 2016 campaign and then undermined his presidency: former FBI Director James Comey, former Director of the CIA John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, former FBI counsel Lisa Page, et al.
Thus, instead of giving themselves a powerful issue — corruption — to use against Trump in 2020, Democrats will turn the issue over to Senate Republicans, who have shown not a single crack in their armor defending the president. Even the most moderate Republican — and Trump skeptic — on the House committee conducting the impeachment inquiry, Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), said he was unconvinced of the impeachability of Trump’s phone call.
On top of all this, on Dec. 9, Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz is scheduled to release his report on the actions of the Barack Obama Justice Department. And while we should already be skeptical, now that parts of it have been leaked to anti-Trump media outlets, such as The Washington Post, presumably to provide the accused ample time to prepare a response, rest assured that GOPers will trumpet whatever dirt they can squeeze out of the IG report. And the comprehensive investigation of spying on the Trump campaign conducted by Attorney General William Barr and his chief investigator John Durham is still a Sword of Damocles hanging over the Democrats.
If Trump has been impeached by the time the IG report is released, the GOP could well be the beneficiaries of a perfect storm of opportunity to put Democratic corruption on full display — and public opinion will surely turn against them.
All of this is ready to come crashing down on the Democrats because they could not help themselves. They had to satisfy the Trump-deranged base of their party who demand Trump’s impeachment for any reason or no reason, other than their absolute conviction that this president is a mortal threat to all they hold dear.
The House could sidestep the problem by issuing a mere censure — effectively a slap on the wrist — against the president, thus avoiding the spectacle of a Senate trial heavily weighted against them. But that would not mollify their rabid base and would unmask the reality that whatever offenses the president might have committed hardly rise to the level of being forcibly removed from office.
One way or another, it is now too late for the Democrats to turn back. They have fully invested their political fortunes in impeachment. That doomed train has long since left the station, headed for a collision that might well destroy whatever chances they have had of unseating a president whose remarkable record on the economy and jobs is, well, unimpeachable.
Proverbs tells us, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The Democrats’ lack of the minimal vision to understand the trap they have created for themselves — how they have botched an enormous opportunity with their impeachment crusade — may well be viewed by historians as a miscalculation of epic proportions.
Read more from Tim Donner.