The Democrats have badly damaged themselves by voting in the House of Representatives to impeach Donald Trump. The proper judges of his conduct are the American people, who will decide in next November’s presidential election whether to grant him a second term.
All the efforts of the Democratic Party should be focussed on finding a candidate, and a programme, which will enable it to win that election.
The impeachment is a distraction from those tasks. It holds out the illusory hope that the Senate will find the President guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours, and will therefore remove him from office.
The Republicans in the Senate have already said there is no chance they will do this. To this the Democrats reply that the charges against the President are so grave that the impeachment has to go ahead.
Trump’s supporters in the wider American public say he “hasn’t been treated fairly” and the Democrats are trying to “crucify” him. They consider him the victim of a process which is being manipulated for factional advantage by opponents who long ago declared him guilty.
Hillary Clinton lost to Trump in 2016 because she placed excessive reliance on the contention that he is a bad person, morally unfit to occupy the White House. This proposition could without any difficulty be proved true in the eyes of Clinton and her friends.
But for various reasons, this seemingly easy course of action proved more damaging to Clinton than it was to Trump.
In the first place, it made her sound like a hypocrite. People could remember how seedy the White House had been during her husband’s eight years there, which culminated in the President’s contention that oral sex with a White House intern did not count as “sexual relations”.
And she ran the risk of accusing anyone who voted for Trump of being a bad person too: a trap into which she fell by referring to half of his supporters as “the basket of deplorables” who are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it”.
Worst of all, she did not devote enough time and effort to working out why some of Trump’s policies – improving America’s infrastructure, tightening immigration control, making sure China did not destroy American manufacturing by trading on unfair terms – exercised a strong appeal to, for example, car workers worried their jobs were going abroad.
She ruled out conducting a proper argument with Trump, in which she demonstrated the greater efficacy of her remedies, because she herself said he was too disreputable for her to reason with him about America’s future.
Clinton seemed to prefer condemning Trump’s voters as racists to working out how to help them avoid sinking into poverty and despair. Since it was clear that she herself preferred spending her time, not with ordinary Americans, but with friends in the Hamptons who were, like the Clintons themselves, rich beyond the dreams of avarice, she stood exposed as a peculiarly repulsive hypocrite, a moralist who declined to practise what she preached and felt no real sympathy with millions of Americans who were worried about how to get proper jobs so they could feed, house and educate their children.
The same objections apply to the impeachment proceedings for which the Democrats have just voted. The whole exercise is a gigantic displacement activity, which prevents them from thinking straight about how to beat Trump by persuading his supporters to trust the Democrats.
Boris Johnson is in many respects a different kind of person to Trump, but presents his opponents with similar dangers.
It is easier for Labour politicians to demonstrate, at least to their own satisfaction, that Johnson is a bad person, than for them to work out why his policies appeal so strongly to working-class voters who believe that they and their towns have been neglected for generations by the political class.
How tempting it is, at the dinner tables of Islington, to dismiss those workers as a lot of thick, northern racists – and what a disastrous error.
The next Labour leader, like the next Democratic presidential candidate, will not deserve to win if the main argument he or she advances is that the incumbent Prime Minister or President is simply too contemptible to be allowed to continue in office.