We can all agree that Nancy Pelosi is driving Donald Trump crazy, by which I mean, of course, crazier than usual. We can agree, too, and that no one has ever gotten this far into his head — not Comey, not Mueller, not anyone.
If you watched Trump’s Roosevelt Room news conference the other day — if you’re keeping score, that would be the bizarre news conference the day after Trump stalked out of the meeting with Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on infrastructure, not the bizarre one in the Rose Garden the day of the meeting — you saw how crazed that crazy can be.
Trump has spent the last few days on a Pelosi-inspired rampage. And it’s not just his recycled tirade that Pelosi has “lost it,” that “she’s not the same,” that she’s “a mess,” that she can’t even understand Trump’s new North American trade agreement.
He made the exact same move against Hillary, remember? It may have worked once, but it’s fair to guess that Pelosi has more game than Clinton.
The truly bizarre moments came in the seven minutes Trump spent trying to convince people that he didn’t have a temper tantrum — as Pelosi had called it. I’m talking about him actually calling on three staffers who were at the brief infrastructure meeting to vouch for his calmness/sanity.
You ever see The Big Lebowski? “I’m perfectly calm, Dude.” You ever see/read The Caine Mutiny? Someone took Trump’s strawberries.
The question I have is not whether Trump had a tantrum — does quietly seething while stalking out of a meeting qualify? — but what exactly Pelosi’s game is.
Is she driving Trump crazy simply for our amusement? I hope this doesn’t make me a bad person, but I do find it funny as hell.
Is she driving Trump crazy in order to reinforce that the self-described extremely stable genius is neither stable or a genius? I mean, she’s hitting hard — questioning his manhood, calling for a family intervention, advising him to take a leave of absence. This is a feud like none I’ve ever seen. It has gotten to the point where Trump and his TV lawyer are left to retaliate by retweeting doctored or heavily edited clips of Pelosi. And we’re knocking Facebook for not policing itself?
There’s some thought that Pelosi lured Trump into a trap — that she intentionally enraged him by accusing him of a cover-up just before the infrastructure meeting to make sure that Trump would walk out.
Here’s the thinking: It’s hard for Democrats to turn down a $2 trillion infrastructure bill, after all, even knowing that it would provide Trump with a large victory heading into 2020. But if Trump walks away? If Trump is saying he’ll never work with Pelosi so long as the House continues all these investigations into various examples of Trumpian malfeasance? Who loses then?
As far as I know, Pelosi’s plan may include all of the above, but I have an idea that there may be something more at work here. And it may have less to do with Trump than with potentially mutinous Democrats.
Pelosi is the one person who can hold off — at least for a while — House Democrats from starting an impeachment process against Trump. To impeach or not impeach has been the only real question in Washington since the redacted release of the Mueller report. I know the polls say that people don’t want to see Trump impeached. The polls also said, in a similar pre-impeachment stage, that they didn’t want to see Nixon impeached.
Meanwhile, the pro-impeachment side in the House grows daily. Joe Neguse and Diana DeGette just joined the team. The list of presidential hopefuls calling for impeachment also is on the rise — although not yet including John Hickenlooper or Michael Bennet.
Pelosi doesn’t say that Trump, the cover-up king, isn’t deserving of impeachment. In her weekly press conference Thursday, she said, “Let me be very clear: the president’s behavior, as far as his obstruction of justice, the things that he is doing, it’s in plain sight, it cannot be denied — ignoring subpoenas, obstruction of justice …”
Her concern is all about strategy and whether Trump, like Bill Clinton before him, could wind up winning an impeachment battle. But that’s a difficult argument to maintain. If Trump should be impeached —as most Democrats say — then the right thing, it seems to me, would be to impeach him.
And so, understanding this dynamic, what Pelosi is saying instead is that Trump wants to be impeached. Seriously. Here’s the quote, as reported by several outlets, from a conversation she had with top Democratic lawmakers: “He wants to be impeached so he can be exonerated by the Senate. His actions are villainous to the constitution of the United States.” This is a quote she wanted to be leaked.
It’s the briar patch argument — that Trump’s refusal to cooperate with all the House committees, his refusal to allow key witnesses to testify, his refusal to turn over documents, his refusal to turn over his tax returns — are all part of the game and that Democrats shouldn’t take the bait.
Is Trump really crazy enough to want to be impeached? I doubt it. My guess is he doesn’t turn over documents and doesn’t want people to testify because he’s afraid that either or both could lead to impeachment. He may be a brinkmanship freak, but I don’t think any president, even Trump, wants to be stained by an impeachment even if there’s little chance he could be convicted by a Republican-controlled Senate.
So how does Pelosi win a standoff with fellow Democrats? It’s pretty clear, isn’t it? By constantly needling Trump as Dems cheers her on. By winning the daily battles with Trump as a way to avoid all-out war. By playing Trump’s game better than Trump does.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in the Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.