Correction: This story was updated to provide the correct attribution to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
From where we sit, the 2020 presidential race looks completely up in the air. President Donald Trump could win a resounding victory for a second term or suffer an ignominious defeat.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who cut her political teeth at the feet of her father, hard-scrabble former Baltimore Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., also knows the presidency is up in the air. And she knows the quickest way to lose it is to make the president a martyr with a take-no-prisoners impeachment effort by members of her Democratic Party.
We acknowledge that where Trump is disliked, he is disliked with a burning, unmitigated hate. But where he is liked, he is liked with the loyalty to a politician not seen since Ronald Reagan.
Pelosi inserted herself into that argument again recently in The Washington Post Magazine, saying, "I'm not for impeachment.
"Impeachment is so divisive to the country," she said, "that unless there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don't think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he's just not worth it."
Don't read sympathy or support into Pelosi's words. But she can count votes, and she's been a politician long enough to understand a most unsympathetic president could draw a measure of sympathy to his side if Democrats look like they're hounding a man who cut taxes and put the economy into high gear.
She understands this because seven to nine months ago she was in Trump's position. She was her party's minority leader, and the conventional wisdom was when her party retook the House in the November election she would be swept out like yesterday's trash. She was too old, too out of step and couldn't appeal to younger voters. Nobody gave her a chance.
But Pelosi, the country's first female House speaker, saw something the newbies didn't. As liberal as she is, the new batch of Democrats was even more radical, more in-your-face, more socialist-minded. She knew that didn't play with Middle America, so she bided her time, gave proper Democratic lip service to the relevant issues and let the new batch run their mouths.
When they did, plenty of her party's colleagues saw what she saw and returned her — in a not-so-close vote — as speaker.
Pelosi even tried to make sure Democrats knew her thoughts on the matter after the election, saying she "didn't think there's any impeachment unless it's bipartisan."
Yet the kids, she has seen, have a mind of their own. So they have been insisting on papers from Trump and his administration, have claimed they want to get his unreleased taxes and are planning on wave after wave of hearings.
So Pelosi made her point again.
With her party rocked by ridicule for its Green New Deal, calls for abortion tantamount to infanticide and undue criticism of Israel, issues that weren't about to win back any Trump Democrats, voters didn't need additional ammunition.
That's not to say Pelosi would never say never to impeachment, only that she has no current backing from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russian/election probe, that she is realistic that 2020 voters aren't convinced it's necessary, and that Trump has a way of digging himself into his own holes.
Lately, she's picked up some backing from Democrats realistic enough to understand they could sink themselves well before November 2020.
"If Trump's only hope for winning a second term turns on his ability to paint us as socialists, we shouldn't play to type," said former Clinton and Obama aide Rahm Emanuel, who's now the outgoing mayor of Chicago.
"So, I think what we have to figure out to do is to say, OK, this [a radical agenda] isn't the views of everybody in Congress," said freshman U.S. Rep. Katie Hill, D-California, "but how do we maintain focus on our agenda as a whole?"
The Democratic caucus has "moved to the center," U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, said on Fox News' "Sunday Morning Futures," but those watching the media coverage might not realize it "because some of the more progressive members are far more outspoken."
We disagree that his party has moved any scintilla to the right, but we understand his sentiment. Unless the Mueller revelations bring forth something significantly damaging to the president and unless Trump brings himself down (which, unfortunately, he seems all too capable of doing), Democrats have little to offer.
They spent the president's first two years opposing him, and now what's come from those members of the party in the way of policy has been laughed at or scorned.
Pelosi now has the unenviable task of tamping down impeachment talk, giving the Green New Deal proposals the brush-off and still making the party look promising. But she can count votes, and she knows Trump is likely to win a second term if she doesn't.