Despite Trump's cries of victory, no one emerged a winner from Mueller's testimony
Those hoping for impeachment were let down, while the damning facts about the president were confirmed
The highly anticipated testimony by special counsel Robert Mueller, at two hearings on Wednesday, established no new facts and changed almost no minds about Donald Trump’s conduct. It greatly bolstered the position of the Democratic Party leadership that a drive to impeach Mr Trump now would be a mistake and that the focus should be on the 2020 election.
Mr Trump crowed with victory, but he clearly was not a winner. Mr Mueller confirmed a litany of damning facts, most notably that Russia systematically interfered with the 2016 election on behalf of Mr Trump, and that he welcomed this intervention, then lied about it, including under oath. And he dismissed Mr Trump’s claims of “complete exoneration, suggesting he could be prosecuted after leaving office.
Anyone backing impeachment was obviously a big loser. Inexplicably, some hoped for a blockbuster "made-for-TV" moment that would suddenly and powerfully dramatise the president's misdeeds for the public.
They were never going to get that.
Mr Mueller practically begged Congress not to make him testify, insisting that he would not go further than confirming what was in his report. True to his word, he refused to offer anything that might contribute to a partisan agenda on either side, generally restricted himself to yes or no answers, and simply reiterated that everything in his report was accurate.
This was widely viewed as a bumbling and incompetent performance. But, whatever its flaws, it was true to his stated intention to remain an impartial and thoroughly professional prosecutor. He did not breathe life into his report as many had hoped. But Mr Mueller had made it clear long in advance that he did not consider that his role, and he refused to change his mind.
The big winner clearly was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been restraining her overzealous colleagues, including Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler, from launching formal impeachment hearings against Mr Trump.
Even if a more effusive performance by Mr Mueller would not have convinced much of the public or any Republican lawmakers to back such an inquiry, it might have intensified pressure on Democratic leaders to charge in this quixotic direction.
In the event, Ms Pelosi, Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff and other key Democrats claimed vindication for caution about impeachment and focusing on the upcoming election.
Moreover, impeachment proponents are simply running out of time before the next election.
Ms Pelosi and her allies generally rely on two arguments against an immediate impeachment inquiry: that most of the public, including most Democrats, don't yet support it, and that there is no Republican support either, meaning that any impeachment would result in an acquittal in the Republican-controlled Senate.
These are good arguments, but the idea that there is insufficient public support could be countered by noting that, without an impeachment inquiry, the public will not have heard the facts yet. There was little public support for the impeachment inquiry regarding Richard Nixon until that brought out the details of his corruption.
The strongest case, though, against impeachment is only whispered, and centres on the fact that no one can be confident Mr Trump will not be re-elected next year.
Imagine Mr Trump impeached, acquitted and then re-elected. The only real obstacle before him at that point would be a four-year term limit. Other than that, it might be a terrifying new version of Mr Trump, thoroughly unrestrained.
It's not a coincidence that both of the serious impeachment efforts In the past century, against Nixon and Bill Clinton, occurred in their second terms.
If Mr Trump is re-elected, and there is still a Democratic majority in the House, which appears likely, then a thoroughgoing set of impeachment-related hearings might make sense.
Even if there is a Republican Senate, if the facts uncovered are grave enough, it could shift opinion, as happened with Nixon.
However, until then it would be madness to squander the potential for an impeachment push when it is likely to fail and when Mr Trump could well be defeated at the polls.
Far wiser to keep that powder dry for a second, and far more ominous, Trump term.
Now, centrist Democrats will have to prevent their party’s most left-wing members from dragging the presidential nominee too far in their political direction on two key issues that Mr. Trump hopes to exploit for re-election.
He wants to campaign on race, and is using immigration as a proxy for white communal interests. Most Americans still favour immigration and are appalled by his brutal tactics, such as separating children from their parents. They want humane and fair border security.
But some Democrats are overreacting by threatening to abolish immigration agencies and giving the impression that they favour open borders. The party as a whole certainly doesn't, and has just approved almost $5 billion MORE for border security.
It is essential that the Democratic candidate does not appear to be an extremist polar opposite of Mr Trump on immigration. Balance is vital.
Similarly, the push for universal healthcare coverage is crucial, but proposing that all private insurance policies will be eliminated by a comprehensive single-payer system will not play well.
By adopting moderate positions on immigration and healthcare, and abandoning immediate impeachment, Democrats will be well positioned for 2020.
The Mueller hearings have been extremely helpful in focusing them on their real task.
Hussein Ibish is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington
Updated: July 27, 2019 05:09 PM