The Democrats’ Scarlet Letter Strategy

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has evidently decided not to turn over the articles of impeachment to the Senate until Congress resumes its work January 7. Some observers think that’s a mistake that will cost Democrats on Election Day. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell seems to think so too, believing the longer the Democrats hold out, the more vindictive, uncooperative, even “unconstitutional” they will appear to voters. McConnell says he’s “fine” about Pelosi’s strategy, since it gives him a pass on having to make difficult decisions on the rules of trial procedure and which, if any, witnesses may appear at trial.

But I think Pelosi has the better strategy. She understands Trump’s psychology, and she’s targeting his ego. The thought of not being quickly cleared by the Senate—of not being “exonerated”—and having to wear the scarlet letter “I” for an indefinite time is probably driving Trump crazy. “He’s mad as hell” that he’s not getting his acquittal, says Lindsey Graham. Trump isn’t used to being on the defensive and forced to give ground, least of all to a woman. He will rant and rave daily, but nothing he says or does can erase that “I.” So Pelosi may be counting on McConnell, Trump’s Senate fixer, to give something to the Democrats, such as calling witnesses, to get a trial underway—and out of the way.

Trump knows that so long as he wears that letter, the chances increase of Republican defections—by those up for election and by traditional conservative groups. Guilt by association can produce interesting reactions. Let’s see who wins this test of wills and leverage.

Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.