How Democrats can use Trump's need for drama against him
Right now, the political argument against impeaching Donald Trump — and the political argument is the only argument — is that it will somehow backfire on the Democrats, despite the overwhelming evidence of Trump's guilt and his tendency to act like a cornered rat at all times. At the top of the list for reasons to believe that impeachment will backfire is the reason that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems to favor: Trump himself seems, at times, to want impeachment.
On Tuesday evening, Ashley Parker of the Washington Post published one of those inside-the-anonymous-White-House-chatter pieces exploring the idea that Trump is, in fact, flirting with impeachment. Parker noted that Trump gets so irate about the idea that he refuses to even say the word — instead childishly calling it the "I-word" — but also argues that he likes hearing from advisers who tell him "that impeachment could be a political blessing" and might even help him get re-elected.
Look, there's no doubt that Trump is, even as he rages against it, attracted to the idea of being impeached. He brings it up with reporters, even when he's not asked about it. He tweets about it relentlessly, making sure that the idea never falls far from the political discourse of the day.
But it's probably giving Trump too much credit to suggest that he does this because he's a political mastermind, seeking to goad Democrats into shooting themselves in the foot. While I don't think Trump is as big an idiot as many liberals believe, he's also more of an impulsive hothead, like the late King Joffrey on "Game of Thrones," rather than a scheming mastermind like Littlefinger.
No, the likely reason that Trump is drawn to impeachment is because he is a "messy bench" who lives for drama. At this point, it's worth reminding readers, for about the one billionth time, that Trump was a reality TV star. He got that job in the first place because TV producers seek out human hurricanes with inadequate emotional regulation for those shows. This is a man who would routinely blow up his personal life in order to get himself in the tabloids. One doesn't need to have an official psychological diagnosis to recognize that this is a person whose longing for drama outweighs his own sense of self-preservation.
The behavior that Parker describes, where Trump veers between craving impeachment and then panicking at the very idea, should be familiar to anyone who has dealt with drama addicts in their own lives, who constantly seesaw between chasing after trouble and fearing the consequences.
Trump's attraction to the idea of impeachment, therefore, is not a good reason for Democrats to fear impeachment. They're worried that Trump craves impeachment because he'll make himself the hero of the story, but history shows clearly that Trump is just as happy, if not happier, to be the villain — just as long as he's getting attention. But all that drama, while it will be an adrenaline rush for Trump, is also what Democrats need if they're ever going to exert any control over the political narrative.
Because, let's face it, the current Democratic strategy of limp scolding and procedural maneuvers to try to evade Trump's high-drama stonewalling simply isn't working. Mostly, it's being ignored by both the media and the White House, drowned out by more dramatic stories and, of course, Trump's clownish antics.
On Monday, the House Judiciary Committee, stymied by Trump's stonewalling from calling witnesses who might actually get the public's attention, instead had former Nixon lawyer-turned-whistleblower John Dean testify about special counsel Robert Mueller's case against Trump. Dean, a well-practiced hand at testifying for the cameras, did a good job as usual, but overall, the entire stunt barely got more attention than the latest naming of a post office.
This was entirely predictable. However talented Dean is as a speaker, the grim fact of the matter is that he's just a commentator on the sidelines, with no involvement in the Trump investigation. He had no new information to impart, or even unique insights. The fact that he effortlessly landed a zinger on Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a loyal Trump henchman, was kind of funny, but also not that newsworthy, since Gaetz is such an easy target.
Ultimately, calling Dean to testify is like bringing your cousin as your prom date. It doesn't matter how hot he is: Everyone knows you're just doing it because you couldn't get a real date.
On Tuesday, Democrats tried again, passing a civil contempt resolution against Attorney General Bill Barr for the part he's playing in defying congressional subpoenas. This resulted in a lot of boring articles explaining that this will slightly improve Democrats' legal standing in the court battles over these subpoenas. But it did nothing to move the needle, in terms of actually intimidating the Trump White House or focusing public attention on the overwhelming evidence of Trump's criminality.
It was such a non-story, in fact, that neither CNN or the New York Times bothered to mention the contempt vote in their daily news roundups. Stories deemed more important included New York City's improved rent protections, Trump calling Joe Biden "Sleepy Joe," and California Gov. Gavin Newsom calling for better veterinary care for racehorses.
Barr himself is obviously not scared. He has doubled down on his unwillingness to obey the legal requirement to comply with congressional subpoenas, as Salon's Sophia Tesfaye reported Wednesday. This brazen nose-thumbing will continue, as long as Democrats keep demonstrating, with every ineffectual move, that they are unwilling to do anything substantive to hold Barr or Trump accountable.
Ratcheting down the drama is good advice when dealing with messy drama addicts like Trump in one's personal life. But this is about politics, and right now Democrats are losing badly by underplaying their hand over and over again. It's time for them to start using Trump's greatest weapon — his desire for drama — against him.
Trump's instinct that impeachment hearings would be riveting drama that would drown everything else in politics out is entirely correct. But that's a good thing. The information contained in the Mueller report is legitimately hair-curling, and anyone who reads it in good faith, like Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan — so far the lone Republican to support impeachment — cannot fail to understand that Trump's behavior is almost certainly criminal and absolutely corrupt as all hell. Presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris is correct to say that any reasonable prosecutor would charge Trump with crimes.
The problem is that the public just doesn't know how bad it is, because so few people actually read the Mueller report. And they'll never figure it out unless and until someone grabs their attention and makes them pay attention. The only way to do that, as unpleasant as it may be, is to embrace a little of Trump's penchant for drama. Calling John Dean as a witness doesn't get the public's attention. Impeachment hearings, however, absolutely will.