Few things have benefited Democrats more in the past few years than the Donald Trump show. The president likes to be the center of attention, and the media likes nothing more than to oblige him. This dynamic helped make the 2018 election a referendum on the man himself rather than his policies, and that made Pelosi speaker of the House.
Democrats envisioned the same dynamic helping them win the White House in 2020. Pelosi has been to that rodeo before, after the 2006 election, when she was first elected speaker. She mobilized her committee chairmen to launch focused investigations to keep the spotlight on George W. Bush’s Iraq war, energy policy, detainee treatment, etc. She corralled a diverse caucus to pass a modest agenda, “Six in ’06,” that showed Democrats could get things done but didn’t put them in the limelight, much less make them look crazy. This paved the way to the election of Barack Obama in 2008, and Democrats figured Trump would make a repeat even easier.
Instead, Pelosi this week accomplished the remarkable feat of sidelining Trump and owning most of the unpleasant headlines herself. House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler explained that his sprawling Trump investigation was primarily designed to convince voters that Democrats were “not just trying to steal the last – to reverse the results of the last election.” This required his colleagues to deny furiously that the party has already decided on impeachment.