I think it’s time to circle back to the most important point in the impeachment discussion: We now possess enough official documents and sworn testimony to inspire the average defense attorney — in the vast majority of criminal cases — to pursue a plea deal.
Why isn’t this the tone of the media conversation? Because impeachment isn’t a criminal trial but a political process, and the pundit class — with a consensus that once rivaled the scientific verdict on Global Warming — has long declared that the Republican Senate will never remove a Republican President from office.
That very non-scientific, Inside-the-Beltway verdict on the future actions of GOP senators is, at long last, starting to crack. Acquittal remains the most likely outcome given the state of play in Washington today, but pundits are waking up to what should have been obvious all along: The vote to remove Trump won’t be taken today, but following a trial.
And neither Trump nor the Republicans who made fools of themselves on his behalf this week will have any defense against the prosecution’s case in that coming Senate trial.
Everyone, including the White House, gave up on defending Trump as innocent this week. Their political defense, such as it is, boils down to two claims that will be useless at trial: That Trump’s words and actions regarding Ukraine don’t constitute a federal crime, and that the Democratic investigation of those impeachable offenses is illegitimate.
This week’s “Soviet-style witch hunt” red herring won’t matter, because the trial will come after the passage of official Articles of Impeachment, and will provide the President his opportunity to challenge the evidence and witnesses against him. And since the President can’t contend that he’s immune from impeachment, and his lawyers can’t plausibly contend that Title 18 U.S. Code 201 and Title 52 U.S. Code 30121 are figments of Nancy Pelosi’s imagination, he’s going to lose the trial on the facts.
There is not today, nor has there been for some time, any reasonable doubt that Trump is guilty of bribery and soliciting illegal foreign campaign contributions. He’s free to proclaim his innocence as much, and as loudly, as he pleases, but the facts proclaim otherwise.
While Senators will not be bound by the facts in determining whether Trump shall be removed from office, they must, however, endure those facts as they are presented and confirmed. They, along with the event’s television audience, will be forced to listen as impeachment managers from the House remind the nation that bribery is of one of the two causes specifically cited in the Constitution for impeachment and removal.
And here’s what I’ll predict, on the record, right now: Republican senators will not vote unanimously to keep him in office. If four of them join with the Democrats, Trump will survive his trial by Senate jury while losing the majority vote.
That’s an outcome that would be at least as bad for the future of the GOP as the prospect of doing the right thing and removing him.
Which brings us to the crux of the matter: With no clear win on the board, which bad option will Republican Senators choose? Trump is the most unpopular President in the history of opinion polling, yet he remains outrageously popular among his Republican base. This creates an unsolvable political dilemma.
If Trump sits atop a fractured Republican ticket on Nov. 3, 2020, with a Presidential approval rating in the low 40s or upper 30s, GOP candidates all down the ballot are likely to suffer. But if 20 Republican Senators take the plunge together and remove him, the base could turn its election day rage against the party itself.
Does a moment come when exhausted Senators just give up the game and dump him? Does a moment come when the executives at Fox decide, as if in a professional wrestling match, that it’s time for the Hero to turn Heel? Or do they all just go down with the ship?
And in any case, what will the outcome do to politics in the United States?
Beats the hell out of me.