The Democrats have been talking about impeachment since the very day that President Trump was inaugurated. But until recently, no one here in Washington took that idea very seriously. Maxine Waters would rant about a trial. Then Pilates moms in Santa Monica would fantasize on Twitter about removing Trump by force.
But the adults in the party -- Nancy Pelosi, for example, the House Speaker -- opposed impeachment on the grounds that it was bad politics, and might boomerang on them.
And then in what seemed like a day, everything changed completely. Suddenly, we had impeachment hearings playing out live in TV. Nobody explained why. Looking back, what exactly happened? Well, part of the answer is the Democrats were simply responding to their own cheerleaders on cable news.
Lawrence O'Donnell, host of "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell" on MSNBC: If precedent means anything in the Trump era, Donald Trump will be, must be impeached.
Chris Matthews, host of "Hardball with Chris Matthews" on MSNBC: But if they don’t impeach, Democrats will abdicate a clear, constitutional chance to hold this president fully accountable.
Chris Todd, MSNBC host: The national nightmare is upon us. The basic rules of our democracy are under attack from the president. We begin tonight with a series of admissions by the president that all but assures his impeachment in the House of Representatives.
Nicolle Wallace, MSNBC host: I don’t understand why the fact that impeachment is polarizing is some sort -- it makes them just as cowardly as the Republicans.
Eddie Glaude, Princeton University professor and MSNBC contributor: Absolutely. And to my mind, it also is an abdication of their constitutional responsibility.
Don Lemon, CNN host: Will there be any consequences for this president, who is continuing to defy the rule of law?
"The rule of law." Hear that, Mr. and Mrs. America? It’s a national emergency! And if they don’t impeach, Democrats -- listen carefully -- Democrats will abdicate their solemn, constitutional responsibility. Democrats literally have no choice but to undo the 2016 election.
Yeah. That’s what the hair hats on TV, the men who wear makeup and yell at their assistants, were telling Democratic leaders night, after night, after night. And remarkably -- and it is remarkable looking back -- Democrats believed them.
So, what happened next? Let’s see. Have you read the new Vanity Fair? Sorry, rhetorical question. Nobody reads Vanity Fair anymore. It likely won’t exist by this time next year.
But before the title disappears forever, check out this month’s issue. There’s a fascinating piece by Ken Stern that assesses new polling on impeachment. Here’s the headline: Among independents, the only group that matters in an election, support for impeachment -- impeaching Trump -- has dropped by 10 points since the process started.
How to explain this? In political terms, this is the Andrea Doria, a routine cruise that suddenly becomes a disaster, a debacle. They spent two weeks telling you that Donald Trump is a criminal. And by the end, more people sympathized with Donald Trump.
How’d that happen? Take a close look at the numbers and it’s obvious how it happened. Independent voters were asked to rank 11 issues in order of their importance. First on the list was fiscal health. Seventy-four percent of independent voters said that the budget deficit was their main concern. Seventy-two percent said health care was the main concern. Seventy percent said infrastructure. Pretty conventional.
This is what happens when you let Jeff Zucker run your political party. You start to imagine that CNN's primetime lineup somehow speaks for America, rather than for a tiny, out of touch little part of it.
Impeachment? That came in dead last, 11 out of 11. Only 37 percent of independents thought it was a priority -- at all. By a margin of 3 to 1 -- and this is hilarious -- independents said that impeachment was more important to politicians and to the media than it was to them.
These are not subtle numbers. So, how did Democrats miss them? Well, because they only talk to each other. This is what happens when you let [CNN President] Jeff Zucker run your political party. You start to imagine that CNN’s prime time lineup somehow speaks for America, rather than for a tiny, out of touch little part of it.
Zucker tells you that impeachment is the only issue that matters. His unit agrees with him. And you believe them. Come fall, you lose the election.
In a moment like this, weirdly, it’s the non-politicians who seem to see things the most clearly. Here’s Andrew Yang after last week’s presidential debate.
Andrew Yang, 2020 presidential candidate: When I talked to voters around the country, well, I have to say, I get very, very few questions about impeachment. I know that there are people who are very intent on the impeachment proceedings day-to-day, but that doesn’t line up with what I’m hearing from voters here on the ground.
Wolf Blitzer: So, would Democrats, you believe, be better off simply wrapping up this impeachment process sooner rather than later?
Yang: I do think that the more time that goes on, the less time the Democrats have to present a positive vision for the country that will get people excited and help us win in 2020.
Out in Santa Monica, the Pilates moms are looking at that and saying, “Andrew Yang? Did he just criticize impeachment? Is he a right-winger?! Is he a racist?! Is he telling us that voters want politicians to care more about their lives than they want politicians to extract symbolic, televised revenge on their political enemies?”
If you watch MSNBC, it’s hard to believe that that could be true. But that’s what Yang is claiming.
In the wake of those poll numbers we just read, other Democrats appear to be considering the same thing. Even Adam Schiff may be coming around.
Jake Tapper, CNN host: Do you think President Trump should be impeached?
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee: I want to discuss this with my constituents and my colleagues before I make a final judgment on it.
Tapper: And you’ve also said that what you’ve seen is, “far more serious than what Nixon did.” Explain to me how you have not come to the conclusion that the president should be impeached? I mean, it sounds like you think he should be impeached.
Schiff: Well, I certainly think that the evidence that’s been produced overwhelmingly shows serious misconduct by the president. But I do want to hear more from my constituents, and I want to hear more from my colleagues. This is not a decision I will be making alone.
Yeah. He’s not going to make the decision alone.
Just to make sure you got this clear: The man in charge of impeachment in the House, the member you just watched for two full weeks shepherding the impeachment hearings -- the guy who cried on television just thinking about how much Donald Trump needed to be impeached right now -- that guy isn’t really sure he’s for impeachment.
You know, he needs to talk to his colleagues. He needs to hear more from his constituents. It’s a lot to think about. He’s going to prayerfully consider it over the holiday weekend, just alone. Just in some reflection. That’s Adam Schiff’s position now.
In other words, it’s over. Democrats lost.
Adapted from Tucker Carlson's monologue from "Tucker Carlson Tonight" on Nov. 25, 2019.