Breathless media coverage anticipated the “history” about to be made Wednesday morning as two witnesses prepared to regale Congress with testimony about President Trump’s Ukraine phone call and the issues surrounding it.
History was surely made. Never before had the wheels of impeachment been set into motion on such a threadbare basis. With Democrat “star” witnesses like these, who needs Republicans?
On a day filled with the pontifications of House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff, GOP members were actually permitted to ask questions, a prospect Democrats surely must have anticipated. But these are the people who thought the Robert Mueller testimony was a good idea.
William Taylor and George Kent did not fold into incoherency as Mueller did; they did not embarrass themselves or waste the nation’s time. In fact, the day proved a fairly useful exercise—in revealing the complete validity of any curiosity toward what level of corruption was swirling through Ukraine during Barack Obama’s second term.
These gentlemen brought a certain level of familiarity and expertise that was broad but not deep. They were not briefed on the phone call, did not hear the phone call, and spoke little about the phone call in its aftermath.
They had plenty of opinions about the relationship between Ukraine and the United States, but so does my mailman. They know far more about international relations than most letter carriers, but their evaluation of the phone call seems hatched from some other source: a lens of opinion about Trump.
Distaste for the President—for his policies, his methods, his style, his tweets—can color many assessments of his motives. Witness the endless media references to Trump seeking “dirt on Joe Biden,” as if the ruin of a political rival was the only goal of enlisting Ukrainian investigative assistance.
We can thank Taylor and Kent for clearing that up, as they shared details of a corrupt Ukraine and an ethically bereft company that mysteriously showered vast sums onto the Vice President’s son. A quest for answers and accountability does not seem inappropriate.
Yet Democrat questioners longingly posed loaded questions the witnesses sometimes obliged, along the lines of “Have you ever seen a President withhold aid money while waiting for an ally to do his political bidding?”
Well, there is still no firm reason to believe we’ve seen it yet. But that is the narrative that moves these hearings down the track. The question is, where will it lead? If it leads to a Senate trial, it will fail spectacularly. The Senate may refuse to even honor the arriving articles with a vote. And don’t ignore the remaining possibility—a derailment.
After Wednesday, there is a palpable chance that this was the Democrats’ best day, their best shot at putting Trump against the impeachment ropes. Let’s just say the nation was not gasping for breath at day’s end wondering how the White House can possibly survive. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held impeachment at arm’s length as long as she could; her party may soon recognize that her instincts were correct, that an impeachment vote is a net negative, and the whole idea should be shelved.
My favorite analogy of this spectacle portrays Democrats as shooting arrows into the air, then scurrying to draw bullseyes around wherever they land. But the ultimate impeachment plotline will not be written by Democrats desperate to stain the President, nor by political supporters coalescing to defend him. Trump’s fate is in the hands of millions of Americans, some of whom may like him and some who may not, some paying close attention, others catching a news blurb or two on the fly.
If a groundswell forms, powered by regular folks persuaded by the calls to impeach, that would be a game-changer. If fatigue sets in, which could rapidly turn to a backlash against those who have taken us down another empty hole, history may record impeachment as the springboard that launched Trump to a landslide win.
The path will not be clear anytime soon. We will be treated to more days of drama, real and imagined. But if these hearings are going to lead to a Clintonesque impeachment vote or Nixonesque reputational ruin, they will need to show more meat on the bone than we saw on day one.