At last, the respective sides in the Trump impeachment trial have had their long opportunities of oratory to make their pitches, none of which was intended for Senate ears. Not one senator's mind will change as a result of the last week of presentations. Every word was aimed at an American public featuring millions who want the president removed, millions who want him re-elected, and a slice in between that may be plugging into this whole mess for the first time.
There is no doubt that Trump’s base thinks the defense team was brilliant, and his critics believe the House Managers are heroes for the ages. It’s tempting to think the in-betweeners may hold the key to how impeachment ultimately plays, but they might not be a factor at all. Show me voters truly ambivalent about Trump, and I’ll show you people whose November choice will be based on how they feel about various issues in the news, how the economy is doing and who the Democrat opposition is, rather than some distant memory of winter’s impeachment blip.
So as we fade to the next scene of the impeachment saga, two curiosities arise: What will the senators’ question period look like, and is this whole witness scrum really that big a deal?
First, the expectations for Question Time: senators will submit questions to Chief Justice John Roberts, who will pose them on behalf of the inquiring senator. There are two sessions scheduled for this process, Wednesday and Thursday afternoon and evening. The answers will come from House managers and the Trump legal team, with a five-minute clock running on their responses.
How many senators will ask questions? Does Roberts have to relate all of them? As edgy as these proceedings have been, one wonders if Roberts will relate a Democrat question asking if Alan Dershowitz has sold his soul to the devil, or a Republican question asking if the whistleblower is in protective custody in Adam Schiff’s basement.
Even if questions are not that entertaining, there will be an element of unpredictability that should spice things up as the weekend approaches. Friday should bring the witness vote, which invites a proposal which may be wise for conservatives: Don’t sweat it so much.
I know the witness idea is a desperate Democrat game designed to flood the month of February with possible land mines to blow up in the president’s face. There is also the guarantee that a media culture driven to destroy him will spin each day with more narratives of bombshells, noxious misdeeds and the urgency of his removal.
But they’ve beaten that drum for a long time, and the public opinion gauge just isn’t moving. Why should mind-numbing weeks of witnesses change that? Besides, there may be palpable benefits to a witness festival. If there is real reciprocity, each witness who is a Democrat dream can be balanced with another who is a Democrat nightmare.
And there is something to muzzling once and for all the charge that Trump’s side is playing scared with something to hide. There’s never been any basis to that charge, but it may sink into the minds of a half-attentive public if repeated for additional weeks on end.
So bring on the questions, and if the votes align, bring on the witnesses as well. The four Democrat presidential candidates in the Senate (yes, four-- for some inexplicable reason, Colorado’s Michael Bennet is still running) cannot enjoy the prospect of missing various Iowa pancake breakfasts while shackled to their desks as the days to important primaries dwindle. Their angst, echoed by possibly nervous supporters, may add a you-asked-for-this deliciousness that Trump can weaponize repeatedly.
No matter what side-plots arise on the near horizon, the last act of this play remains the same—a vote falling miles short of a Trump conviction. His fate is largely unaffected by the remaining pages of Impeachment 2020; his Democrat rivals may not be able to say the same.