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The Take Down Trump Project

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 11/14/2019 Daniel Henninger
Adam Schiff, Devin Nunes sitting at a table © Saul Loeb/Press Pool/EPA/Shutterstock

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

Nancy Pelosi was right the first time. The Democrats shouldn’t have done this. They should not have tried to make the already overwhelmed American public believe that Donald Trump’s umpteenth “norms” violation was a constitutional crisis. But no, the party’s leftmost elements insisted, and the Beltway press insisted. Mr. Trump had to be impeached.

Once he had survived the Republican primaries in 2016 and then beaten Hillary Clinton by tapping into a slice of overlooked voters, most serious people got on with the business of coming to grips, if not terms, with this unconventional, pugnacious presidency.

But not these people. The political and media left convinced themselves it was somehow possible to make the Trump presidency end before its November 2020 sell-by date. So here we are, three long years later, with Adam Schiff ending his opening impeachment statement by quoting Benjamin Franklin about “a republic, if you can keep it.” That bad, huh?

The testimony by the two U.S. ambassadors was fascinating, especially the account given by Bill Taylor, who like many others had the misfortune of finding himself in the center of one of Mr. Trump’s impetuous foreign-policy decisions.

In what he admitted was a “lengthy” statement, Mr. Taylor described how the U.S.’s single-channel policy of helping Ukraine defend itself from Vladimir Putin’s Russia suddenly became “two channels” after Rudy Giuliani introduced Mr. Trump’s monomania over an earlier Ukrainian government’s possible collusion with Democrats to defeat him in 2016.

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Ambassador Taylor was correct that what the U.S. had been doing in Ukraine comported with the Trump National Security Strategy of resisting persistent aggressions by Russia and China. In early 2019, that included helping Ukraine’s newly elected government and its young president, Volodymyr Zelensky, stand up to Mr. Putin’s murderous little green men in eastern Ukraine.

Mr. Taylor’s substantive point was that the Trump-Giuliani channel undercut a sound U.S. policy course when suddenly military assistance to Ukraine got caught up in Mr. Trump’s desire, or need, to have the Ukrainians investigate the Bidens.

So what else is new? Internal policy battles of this intensity are a constant of government life. Other than dragging in the Bidens, this is hardly different from a host of similar Trumpian foreign-policy interventions: his decision after the first summit with Kim Jong Un to reduce military exercises with South Korea; the 2018 decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, which caused Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign; his decision in 2017 to impose tariffs on virtually all the major U.S. trading partners, no matter the effect on domestic farmers and businesses; his decision last month to pull U.S. forces in northern Syria away from the Kurds, who he said “didn’t help us with Normandy.”

My own favorite of stillborn Trump foreign-policy ideas was his tweet, days before the anniversary of 9/11 this year: “Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday.” The Taliban at Camp David—now that would have been impeachable.

All these decisions, and not least the events with Ukraine, are absolutely valid voting issues for the next election. If you’re disgusted by the Trump-Giuliani Ukraine back-channel, don’t vote for him. If you think Mr. Trump’s protectionism and isolationism are bad for America’s future, don’t vote for him.

It would have been valid as well if the Democrats had chosen to conduct normal oversight hearings into the Ukraine whistleblower’s complaint—with witnesses called and questioned by both sides and the public allowed to watch and decide. But why are Americans being forced to endure the elevation of the Ukraine saga into the current impeachment melodrama?

Presumably the Democratic left and its allies believe the faux gravity of “impeachment” will grind down Mr. Trump’s support at the margin and jack up anti-Trump turnout. One wonders.

Once past the inevitable vote in the House to impeach, and then assuming Mitch McConnell bothers to hold a Senate trial, this will be over by the end of January. With impeachment, the Democrats finally will have dropped their nuclear device on Donald Trump. After that, what’s left?

No doubt many voters are sitting on the Trump bubble, uncertain whether to sign up for another spin with him or whatever the Democrats are supposed to represent now. Medicare for All? Former GOP House Speaker John Boehner’s wheel-spinning term looks like a legislative golden age compared to what Mrs. Pelosi has done with her majority.

What the speaker may have recognized this summer is that the activists’ take down Trump project was turning into three wasted years, and that voters might go looking for someone to blame for that. Once the Adam Schiff show closes, undecided voters will have about 10 months to decide if his politics of pursuit and retribution has been worth the trouble.

Write henninger@wsj.com.

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