A House Divided
As Democrats desperately try to keep impeachment alive in the Senate, Trump is reportedly already planning a flamboyant season finale episode to end this latest impeachment drama with a theatrical flourish.
The Donald was, after all, a reality television star before he became president. Does anyone who has ever watched one of Trump’s press gauntlets- where reporters have to shout questions above the deafening roar of a helicopter engine and its whipping blades- doubt it? This is a man who knows how to stage manage for maximum impact.
Trump is also riding a wave of economic prosperity and raking in campaign cash from an expanding base infuriated by the impeachment efforts against him. He has negotiated two major trade deals and dealt a death blow to two major terrorist enemies of the U.S. and its allies.
Trump is also enjoying the highest ratings he has yet enjoyed as President. People are already lining up for the upcoming New Jersey Trump campaign rally- a full 48-hours before the event.
Meanwhile, Democrats in the press and Democratic strategists are reacting with collective dismay to formal and informal focus groups of Democrats who just aren’t at all concerned with impeachment.
The general feeling among voting Democrats is that the conclusion to this impeachment process is foregone; voters are ready to move on.
“I was in a focus group this morning for the Institute for Politics here at the University of Chicago with some Chicago Democratic voters, and it was chilling to hear them talk about this. Because impeachment didn’t even come up, no one volunteered it, for 80 minutes into the focus group, and we’re right in the middle of the trial.” — David Axelrod, former Senior Advisor to President Obama. January 24, 2020
Axelrod isn’t wrong and his Friday focus group wasn’t a one-off. Interest in the impeachment hearings has diminished greatly over the past months. Indeed, interest in impeachment proceedings against President Trump has been steadily dwindling for the past few years.
Though the New York Times may celebrate Rep. Adam Schiff’s recent Senate performance as a tour de force, even going as far as to call Schiff himself a “Rockstar”, the numbers tell a far different tale of increasing disinterest.
When FBI Director James Comey testified in 2017, 20 million people tuned in. 16 million people watched former Trump attorney Michael Cohen testify in 2018.
Fewer than 13 million viewers across all major news networks watched the proceedings on the first day of the House impeachment hearings in November of 2019. Fewer than 8.9 million watched last week.
Even the iconic uber-liberal Maureen Dowd concurs, quoting a Democratic Senate staffer in mourning for lost impeachment hopes: “Our phones aren’t ringing. Nobody cares. It’s the saddest thing ever.”
Polls supporting impeachment haven’t backed up Democratic efforts to remove Trump from office, either. More people supported impeachment when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the launch of the impeachment inquiry into the Ukraine call than support it now.
So it isn’t so much a question of what is happening during the Senate trial, but whether anyone is even paying attention. It’s hard to blame them: Political-beat journalists on the Hill admit to being flummoxed themselves by the sheer overwhelming tedium of the proceedings.
Democrats making the case before the Senate have already committed a couple of serious errors that haven’t helped their case.
For one thing, it might not have been a good idea to use all 24 of the hours allotted to Democrats to lay out their case. Boring the jury past all endurance rarely wins any new friends among jurors.
The Democratic impeachment managers also took the rare step of insulting Senate jury members, accusing them of complicity in a White House cover-up and repeating an unsubstantiated report by CBS that Republican Senators have been threatened by a White House statement to “put their heads on pikes” should they vote to remove the President.
Sen. Susan Collins, certainly no friend of Donald Trump, and other Republican Senators have denied being issued any such threats by Trump or his attorneys.
Democratic managers could not have predicted, of course, that the Trump team would lay their case out in a mere two-hours of opening statements.
Attorney Ken Starr, no stranger to impeachment, was especially forceful with House Democrats today; “Presidential impeachment has become a weapon to be wielded against one’s political opponent,” and “Like war, impeachment is hell,” being two of his most memorable lines.
Rep. Doug Collins, who has been a vocal opponent of impeachment, discussed the new revelations in John Bolton’s upcoming book and their potential impact on the Senate hearing.
“Do not get distracted by the shiny objects of saying ‘we need witnesses’ or Bolton’s new manuscript or anything else. Don’t lose sight of the fact that the facts haven’t changed.” — Rep. Doug Collins
Indeed, possible revelations in Bolton’s new book are the only surprise to come out of the hearings so far. And while it has renewed the call to hear from witnesses in the case, Senate Democrats still know that the calling of witnesses will go both ways. They will have to weigh carefully how much John Bolton might help their case against how much testimony from Hunter Biden, for instance, might damage it.
The Democrat’s case against Trump has always been wavering on the weak side. None of the original accusations made against Trump- from quid pro quo to bribery- were actually included in the final articles of impeachment.
And all the Presidents attorneys have taken the Democratic case for impeachment apart piece by piece.
The transcript of the call reveals no direct linkage of aid to an investigation into the Bidens, and President Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials have always maintained there was no pressure.
Democratic impeachment managers like Rep. Adam Schiff will have a hard time convincing Republican Senators that Zelensky and all the Ukrainian officials are all lying whereas he, Schiff, is telling the truth and reading their minds.
Schiff’s many misrepresentations and mischaracterizations before and during the Mueller investigation have left Schiff little credibility.
There is also the irrefutable basic fact that the Ukrainian military aid- which was never given under President Obama- flowed to Ukraine with no such Biden investigation ever having taken place.
The Democratic impeachment managers have always been facing an uphill battle. Now, it seems they are facing an uphill, unwinnable battle no one cares about. It is difficult to see how a strategy that strengthens opponents and demoralizes allies can possibly pay off for House Democrats.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)