Democrats have long criticized Donald Trump for his addiction to Twitter, his rolling-news attention span, the backlit narcissism of his reality-TV presidency. But the most media-addled people in public life are, in fact, Trump’s critics. Nobody is quicker to reach the most hysterical conclusions. The anti-Trump show must go on, just like the president’s Twitter feed, never mind the details.
Take Nancy Pelosi’s announcement this week that the Democrats are forming a committee to look into whether Trump should be impeached because of his dodgy negotiations with Ukraine. This is Big Trump News: impeachments always are. It’s also a foregone conclusion. There can only be one verdict. The Democrats now have to press ahead with the Trump-Ukraine conspiracy — or look deeply stupid.
Remember, folks, it’s Ukraine, not Russia. The Trump-Russia conspiracy fell flat — after three years of Democrats and most of the media insisting Trump’s ties to Moscow should and would lead to his impeachment, Robert Mueller’s exhaustive inquiry found no damning evidence of collusion. It was the biggest media cock-up in modern history.
For breathless anti-Trumpists, the Trump-Ukraine story is connected to Russia, because everything is. But it is different, they insist. In 2016, Trump was just a candidate. In 2019, he is the president. If he really did, as reports suggest, threaten to withhold aid to Ukraine in exchange for dirt on Joe Biden, his leading challenger in next year’s presidential election, that is a high crime.
What’s the evidence, though? So far, we have little beyond a suspicious timeline. On July 25, Trump called Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and — as Trump himself has readily admitted — discussed former Vice President Biden, whose son Hunter did business in Ukraine while his father was in office. In early August, Rudy Giuliani, the president’s wonderfully indiscreet personal lawyer, met a representative of Zelensky’s government in Spain and reportedly urged an investigation into the Bidens. On August 12, an anonymous intelligence official filed a complaint involving communications between Trump and Zelensky. On September 9, members of Congress were told of the complaint. On September 11 (fateful day), the Trump administration released military aid to Ukraine.
Theories are swirling. Well-placed sources have begun referring to Giuliani’s ‘black ops’ campaign. On Monday, the Washington Post broke the story that, ‘at least a week before’ his call to Zelensky, Trump had asked his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to hold almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine. Rumors spread that transcripts of the Trump-Zelensky conversation were selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars in Kiev.
On Tuesday, Trump spoiled the fun by saying he would release the full transcript of the conversation. ‘It’s ridiculous,’ he said. ‘It’s a witch-hunt. This has never happened to a president before. It’s nonsense.’
Immediately the conspiracy theorists changed tack. Larry Pfeiffer, a former CIA chief of staff, helpfully said that there probably never had been a tape of the call. Suddenly the transcript went from total bombshell to probable fake news.
Or did it? Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, was not deterred. ‘Nobody is above the law,’ she said on Tuesday (the day the British Supreme Court ruled that Boris Johnson’s prorogation of parliament was unlawful). ‘The actions taken by the president have seriously violated the Constitution.’ Does that highfalutin vapidity ring a bell? Does it not sound like almost every Democratic soundbite about Trump-Russia from 2016 to 2019? It’s the same pile-on; the same rush to judgment; the same elite liberal media feedback loop.
We shouldn’t be as quick to counter judge, of course: Pelosi may have seen something we haven’t. Certainly, the transcript, which was duly released today, has excited all those who want to interpret within Trump’s words (‘do us a favour’) the suggestion of an offer: you give us the info, we give you the aid. But the ‘favour’ quote relates to the Mueller inquiry – not Biden. Any Trumpian quid-pro-quo is, at worst, implicit rather than explicit. And implicit will not be enough to condemn the President.
Perhaps the whistleblower’s account is devastating. Perhaps the real scandal is to do with Giuliani, who is discussed in the Trump-Zelensky call. Or perhaps Pelosi is playing a double game. It is well known that the Democratic machine is not altogether happy with Biden, by far the frontrunner to win their party nomination in 2020. By trying to impeach Trump for his attempt to unearth dirt on Sloppy Joe, the Democrats inevitably remind everyone that Biden is not the straight arrow he pretends to be.
Pelosi is a wily operator, yet that theory might be too clever by half. The more likely scenario is that the Democrats have, once again, allowed the apoplexy they feel towards Trump to flood their brains. They have got swept up in their own reality TV show, the one in which they get to save the republic. Pelosi has said before that she would rather beat Trump at the ballot than impeach him. But she has to speak for her Congressional majority, and now 196 excitable Democratic lawmakers are calling for impeachment. She’s caved.
But the obsession with ‘getting’ Trump is self-defeating to the point of madness. The Trump-Ukraine scandal will not lead to Trump being forced from office: to be impeached, two-thirds of the Senate must vote against the president and Republicans currently have the Senate majority. Congressional Democrats think they can humiliate Trump in the court of public opinion and thus damage him and the Republicans ahead of 2020. They forget that Trump has no shame and the public regards all politicians as contemptible.
By pursuing impeachment, the Democrats will only validate what @realDonaldTrump has been saying on Twitter all along: that his opponents are scared of facing him in a fair democratic fight. Boris Johnson, who was in New York with Trump on Tuesday, knows all about that.