Brian Beutler, in Crooked:
At some point soon, Democratic leaders will have to reckon with the fact that the founders created the impeachment power for precisely this moment. That impeachment is their basic obligation. On a practical level, there’s simply too much time between now and the election for them to avoid the confrontation altogether with stalling tactics. But more importantly if they try to run out the clock, or settle on the claim that impeachment just isn’t worth it, they will do incalculable damage to themselves and the country.
This is not principally an argument about what constitutes sound political strategy—about what approach will galvanize whose base more. My biases tell me that impeaching Trump would inspire Democratic voters, and bog Republicans down with endless recitations of their party’s hideous corruption. My biases tells me that running scared from the impeachment question would deflate many Democratic activists, by signaling to them that the party doesn’t really consider Trump’s presidency to be an emergency after all, and will refuse to hold his regime accountable for its crimes even if the next election goes well. But that could be wrong.
The real importance of impeachment at this point is to shelter the country from what Trump and his allies will do if Democrats remain aimless. Democrats aren’t really buying time for themselves. They are buying time for Trump to get the GOP back on its horribly dishonest but unified message that he has been exonerated and that the investigation itself was criminal. If Democrats don’t pull the country into a debate about impeachment, we won’t get a draw. We will get a debate about investigating the investigators and jailing Trump’s critics. Cowardice creates a void that Trump will fill with autocratic ambition, and his crooked attorney general will be there to help.
William Barr has already threatened the FBI officials who launched the Russia investigation with recriminations. Two of Trump’s most clownish but ubiquitous propagandists told the White House counsel in a semi-public forum that they should counteract the Mueller report by charging Hillary Clinton with a crime.
The combination of impunity from prosecution, a faithless attorney general, and a Congress that says impeachment isn’t worth it is a bit like hanging a flashing sign outside Trump’s bedroom window that screams “YOU ARE ABOVE THE LAW.” It tells him that no one with any power will discourage him from colluding with Russia (or the Saudis or his new best friend Kim Jong Un) to win the election just as he did in 2016. The “politically cautious” move is actually an invitation to him—to work in tandem with the next authoritarian regime that’s willing to criminally sabotage the Democrats’ eventual nominee.