As we prepare for days filled with impeachment coverage, the calendar provides a moment of symmetry. Today’s eve of opening arguments falls on January 20, the calendar date which next year may see the re-installation of a President who may well have been helped by it.
It is probably too glib to assert that a failed impeachment will energize the Trump base to the tune of an electoral landslide. There are too many days of the trial to unfold, too many months of the campaign to follow, and too much uncertainty as to whom the Democrats will nominate. But there is no doubt that he will not be removed, and no doubt that plenty of Trump voters are fired up to punish the party that has taken us down this rathole.
There is a segment of Democratic America that will be energized by this political theater fashioned purely for their enjoyment, and some segment of undecided America that may be sufficiently repelled by a litany of Trump’s perceived misdeeds that they lean away from him.
But here’s the X factor in the electorate: independents, moderates and low-attention voters who plug into the daily drone of impeachment noises and ultimately find it not just unconvincing but pointless.
There will be a fatigue factor that will kick in very shortly after the House managers begin their symphony of condemnation. A certain dramatic tension will kick in as President Trump’s team issues its rebuttals, and there are semi-compelling questions yet to be determined: Will we have witnesses? How many, and whom will they be? Even if the hearings have the effect of a tranquilizer dart to the nation’s neck, some eyebrows will raise if former National Security Advisor John Bolton testifies; millions will awaken if we get a dose of Hunter Biden; and traffic may stop in the streets if we are treated to the testimony of the Whistleblower.
But with those questions yet to be answered, the first day of Senate chamber action invites an examination of the expectations game. The Democratic leadership is well aware that the ultimate banishment vote will fall substantially short of the 67 needed to end his presidency. The best they can hope for is the defections of four Republicans to join the 47 Democrats in reaching 51, so they can at least claim that a majority sought his removal.
Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins have thwarted Trump in expressing a taste for witnesses, and they may be joined in that regard by Colorado’s Cory Gardner and Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander.
But is a massive jump from advocating witnesses to advocating Trump’s actual removal from office. I still doubt that there will be a single Republican vote to convict.
So the Democratic prize when the curtain falls may be this week’s mantra that Trump is impeached “forever,” a fact that is historically indelible. As true as that is, one wonders how much of a stain it will apply. Bill Clinton is equally eternally impeached, and has enjoyed a generation of adulation ever since, as one of his party’s most loved standard bearers. Impeachment as presented will be what it will be. The variable falls to the public reaction. It’s hard to imagine many minds changed in either direction. But it’s also hard to imagine impeachment leaving Trump bloodied against the ropes.
His Democrat accusers envision this Lev Parnas person opening the floodgates to waves of sudden realizations of the depths of Trump’s corruption. This won’t be happening. Every shred of this “new evidence” ties to the same old narrative—Trump’s desire to see Ukraine sniff out corruption, most of it with the Biden name attached.
However one feels about that—justifiable concern or shady political maneuver—it is baked in. It seems there are no new bombshells to detonate, no matter the tone the media coverage adopts.
So the drama will be propelled by daily content. Will House managers or Trump's attorneys provide viral moments? Will witness testimony yield some unforeseen moment? Whatever suspense arises on the horizon, we know how this movie ends. At some point in February, or, Lord help us, March, Trump will stand acquitted, and as he will tell us repeatedly, vindicated. Democrats will argue otherwise, and the back-and-forth will run alongside developments that actually do matter—the winnowing of the Democratic field toward an eventual nominee.
I would bet by then that candidates will be tired of talking about impeachment, voters will be tired of hearing about it, and Trump will be ready to weaponize it.