DANIEL VAUGHAN: Conventional wisdom is wrong: GOP should force Dems to answer impeachment questions

October 25, 2019

In the wake of breaking news, conventional political wisdom sets up fast in Washington like Quikrete pouring out of a cement mixer going down the interstate.

There’s no studying, observation, or waiting to add new information. Whatever the news of the day is, you can count on journalists and Beltway pundits quickly coalescing behind some version of a leftist narrative for it.

And so it is with the impeachment hearings that Democrats are holding in the House. Conventional wisdom inside the D.C. bubble says that political stunts — like GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz taking a group of Republicans to “storm the impeachment hearings” — are meaningless.

You’ll see journalists mad about Republicans taking cell phones to this event, “endangering” classified information. The media expects, smugly, that these sorts of things will backfire on Republicans.

This notion makes sense if you’re wish-casting what you want on events in Congress. The purpose is ridiculously simple if you sit down and put all the political pieces on the map:

Democrats want to impeach Donald Trump. But they don’t want to hold votes or make big public splashes with the impeachment proceedings.

Moderates and swing district Democrats won in 2018 because they focused on bread-and-butter Democratic issues like health care, education, and drug prices. But with the impeachment inquiry going on, these very Democrats are telling The New York Times that impeachment is “threatening to overshadow House Democrats’ attempts to show that they can govern.”

That’s a friendly way to put it. The more realistic read on that friendly-to-Democrats Times piece is that Democrats understand their best chance to win re-election is to not talk about Trump. The problem is that impeachment forces them outside that bubble — and everyone knows that impeachment is the only thing that matters. The Democratic House isn’t going to pass some grand legislation with Trump; the single big-ticket item they can do is impeachment.

Hence why Nancy Pelosi and House leadership has taken all the impeachment-heavy hearings into the dark. Secret committee hearings let these vulnerable Democrats keep their heads down while Pelosi placates the hard-left wing of her caucus.

We get plenty of media leaks from these hearings — which is why it’s utterly laughable for any journalist to say with a straight face that the GOP “storming” an impeachment hearing endangers classified information; those same journalists will get all that information leaked to them afterward (and sometimes during) the hearing.

Democrats point to the fact that there are no rules on how they conduct impeachment inquiries or how they draw up articles of impeachment. That’s true! Impeachment is a wholly political event whose practices the Founders left to each chamber to set. That means Democrats are more than free to conduct their impeachment inquiry behind closed doors.

But just because they have the technical and legal capabilities to do something doesn’t mean that’s the best political move to make. Remember, an impeachment is a political event, and if you’re going to use a political tool, you have to have the political will and mandate to use it. Otherwise, you cost yourself politically.

The standard retort to this is that there are Republicans on the committees that are dealing with the impeachment hearings. That’s true! But the public’s only view into these committees is via leaks to the national media. And if we’ve learned one thing from all the Russiagate and Mueller-report journalism, it’s that having the actual documents and witnesses before the public is better than any leaked version of events.

The media regularly gets the story wrong. Representatives are leaking what they want the public and media to see — not the full story.

FiveThirtyEight’s impeachment poll tracker, which has a separate category for polls asking the public if they want Trump impeached and removed from office, shows around 48% support for such a measure. And while that’s higher than what you’d want for a president, it’s also not high enough to give moderate, and swing-state Democrats wiggle room they need on a divisive issue like impeachment.

That means if they do cast a vote on the topic of impeachment, that issue will define them as a candidate and make it impossible to run on anything else in 2020.

For these types of Democrats, its like casting a vote for Obamacare or the Iraq War — it won’t boost their election chances. FiveThirtyEight’s tracker shows support for the impeachment inquiry at around 53%, which isn’t enough support for Pelosi to even bring a vote to the floor on supporting the inquiry. Fifty percent isn’t some magical line; you need broad support to impeach.

Simply put, conventional wisdom in D.C. is wrong about Republicans. And it’s wrong about these political stunts, because they force Democrats to answer why they’re keeping everything behind closed doors.

They force Democrats to answer for their political decisions and choices, which matter in a political decision like impeachment. Liberal journalists and Nancy Pelosi don’t want Democrats answering these questions — but if you’re voting on impeachment, you should have to answer these fundamental questions.

Democrats also want to keep things behind closed doors because so many of their members — people like Adam Schiff — are loose canons who destroy the legitimacy of anything they touch. Forcing more of these things out in the open will allow the public to witness the incompetence of people like Schiff trying to make a case for impeachment — which, again, matters in accessing the validity of the articles of impeachment.

Impeachment is a wholly political affair, and Democrats want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to stay out of the impeachment media limelight, answer no questions, and talk about literally anything else.

Rep. Gaetz and others are forcing light into that process — and that’s important. Even if it is a ham-handed political stunt, it does accomplish critical political goals. Republicans need to push everything into the light that they can.

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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.