Anyone imagining the drumroll-to-sad-trombone Mueller Report shaking the Democratic Party’s monomaniacal faith in impeachment does not grasp the meaning of monomaniacal. True believers believe; such trivial matters as evidence, or a lack thereof, do not shake this faith.
For a moment, in the wake of Attorney General William Barr’s announcement that the special counsel found no evidence of a conspiracy, it looked as though the many Ahabs might abandon their quest for their orange whale. But this underestimated their fervor — and their despair at the prospect of Trump’s reelection.
And when your belief in your electoral chances wanes, impeachment morphs from a constitutional response to high crimes and misdemeanors to a panic button in anticipation of four more years. The Democrats, who going on 28 months demonstrate great skill in pointing out the negatives in Donald Trump, now look at 18 months in which to put forward a positive alternative. They do not exhibit such skill in accentuating the positive.
The field of presidential aspirants is not as deep as it is wide. It contains many but not much. No towering figure overshadows the others, as Hillary Clinton did in 2016. Instead, a pack of dwarves stand atop their toes to ride the rollercoaster, with their collective height mattering little to the gatekeepers. None yet measures up to the “You Must Be This Tall to Ride” sign.
Joe Biden ran for president twice before, garnering zero primary victories and never reaching one percent in any contest. Caught presenting British Labour leader Neil Kinnock’s life story as his own, Biden dropped out of the race for the 1988 nomination in 1987. In 2016, he pursued a vanity presidential campaign, running for secretary of state or vice president but not for the office he purported to seek. As such, he came in fifth in the Iowa caucuses, losing to the likes of John Edwards and Bill Richardson, before dropping out. He couldn’t beat Bill Richardson but at 78 he runs ahead of the pack to succeed Donald Trump? This says something about the pack.
Bernie Sanders wants to abolish private health insurance, provide government jobs for all, offer free tuition to college students, and allow the Son of Sam, the BTK Killer, and Sirhan Sirhan to vote. Donald Trump does not need Lee Atwater to make an effective television ad from all that. Tommy Lee could do the job.
If mean mugging worked for politicians as it does for prizefighters, the field would fear Kamala Harris. Beto O’Rourke, skilled skateboarder, failed punk rocker, and teenage computer hacker, seeks to use a presidential run as a belated passage rite into adulthood. Elizabeth Warren advanced her academic career by highlighting her nonexistent status as a Native American; now she downplays her past as a Republican to advance her political career. Others not worthy of mention do not rate notice from most voters.
Donald Trump looks beatable to Democrats. But what Democrat looks like he or she beats him? Castoffs and wannabes, the ghosts of campaigns past and the future of the Democratic Party yet to arrive at that future, extremists and those the extremists call extremists all vie to replace Trump. The crucible of the campaign perhaps molds one into a winner. But that seems anything but a foregone conclusion.
This is the context of impeachment, desperation. Democrats, some of them at least, understand that they cannot beat something with nothing. So they push impeachment in part as fidelity to an article of faith — that Donald Trump stole the presidency with the aid of the Kremlin — and in part as self-preservation in hopes that impeachment either bypasses the electoral burden of defeating the president or damages him to such an extent as he becomes more easily beatable.
The past two presidents from the Democratic Party made “hope” an essential ingredient of their campaigns. This batch relies on a less stirring rallying cry, “despair.”