Impeachment was never going to deliver the president’s scalp. “We all know how this is going to end,” Mitch McConnell, the Republican senate majority leader, told Fox News on 12 December, shortly before the House of Representatives voted 230-197 to impeach Donald Trump. “There’s no chance the president is going to be removed from office.”
This common knowledge – that a Republican-controlled Senate would never vote to eject Trump – has gone missing among some US Democrats. In March last year, Nancy Pelosi, the veteran Democratic leader of the House, advised her fellow Democrats against impeachment: “I don’t think we should go down that path.” After three years of declaring Trump an existential threat to the nation, Pelosi knew that the Democrats would only help the president if they took action that was not only guaranteed to fail to remove him, but which would allow Trump to reprise his favourite role: Phoenix Rising from the Headlines.
But Pelosi was in a bind. Like Theresa May, she has become the manager of a process she never wanted to happen. Faced with a revolt among Democratic lawmakers who need strong anti-Trump credentials to win their congressional primaries, she eventually yielded to their determination to remove Trump via legal means. Trump’s 25 July phone call to the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, seemed to provide all the ingredients that the soup of the Mueller report lacked: a Mafioso-style quid-pro-quo; a tampering with the US electoral process during, as opposed to before, Trump’s presidency; and, on top of it all, the irresistible charge of cold war vintage that Trump – with his consideration of delaying the delivery of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Kiev – was endangering national security by not sufficiently escalating tensions with Russia.