Sham acquittal will come back to bite GOP
This week is the most important week so far in the two-year cycle that leads into Election Day on November 3.
Monday, Iowa Democrats will caucus, and we’ll have real votes to dissect instead of hypothetical votes to ponder. Tuesday, President Trump delivers the annual State of the Union address, which will be an opportunity for him gloat over his acquittal Wednesday in the sham Senate impeachment trial. Friday, the Democratic candidates will respond to the president in a nationally televised debate from New Hampshire, which precedes the nation’s first-in-the-nation primary next Tuesday, February 11.
Last week, Senate Republicans undermined their own decision to acquit the president when they voted to block witnesses, especially the president’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, from testifying in the trial. Fifty-one of the fifty-three Senate Republicans voted to block witnesses. The two exceptions were Utah’s Mitt Romney and Maine’s Susan Collins. Romney flashed some backbone in bucking the cover-up led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), which is a lot more than you can say about Collins.
Collins is up for reelection this year, and like the caribou is an endangered species in Maine. She decided to support witness testimony only after it was clear that McConnell didn’t need her vote to quash the evidence. Three other endangered Republicans senators – Martha McSally (Ariz.), Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) gained brownie points and financial support from the president and McConnell for their difficult reelection campaigns.
But they no doubt also incurred the wrath of their constituents, who wanted a real trial instead of a coverup. Even if Trump secures a second term, he may not have a GOP majority in the upper chamber to bail him out next year when he gets in trouble again.
A national survey conducted for the Washington Post and ABC News found that 66 percent of Americans wanted to hear witness testimony during the Senate trial. That included most Democrats (85 percent), two-thirds of the independents (65 percent) and almost half (45 percent) of Republicans. But McConnell and the Republicans ignored public opinion. It will come back to hurt them in November.
The dramatic news of John Bolton’s tell-all book about Trump’s Ukraine quid pro quo only whetted Americans’ appetite to hear testimony. Especially the testimony of the president’s former national security adviser, who, as the book’s title makes clear, was “in the room where it happened.” Last week’s New York Times story on Bolton’s forthcoming book almost blew up the quick acquittal of the president.
The Times’ story reported that Trump asked his national security adviser to join the campaign to pressure the Ukrainian president to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of the Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden. Bolton is a fierce opponent of Russian expansion. The effort to deny weapons to an American ally that was threatened by Russia’s Vladimir Putin rubbed the national security adviser the wrong way. Bolton’s hostility to Putin led to his departure.
In response to the reports about Bolton’s bombshell book, Trump’s defenders quickly changed their argument — claiming that, even if there was a quid pro quo, the president’s actions didn’t amount to high crimes or misdemeanors.
McConnell’s successful effort to exclude testimony from the president’s trial is a Pyrrhic victory. Not hearing senators depose Bolton will be as disappointing for voters as going to the opera without hearing the fat lady sing.
But Americans will hear the caged bird sing eventually. Even if the president can block Bolton’s testimony in the House of Representatives on the grounds of executive privilege, Bolton’s book will come out well before the election, and it will be hard for voters to miss seeing the author on television and on other media.
Bolton’s presence will destroy the Republican pretense that Trump didn’t try to cut a deal to protect his own political fortunes at the expense of U.S. national security. At that point, even more Americans will know that a trial without key witnesses was nothing more than a cover-up.
Because McConnell was able to silence Bolton, the president’s acquittal will ring false to many Americans. The hasty acquittal will infuriate the progressive base, which will lead to higher Democratic turnout in primaries in the spring and in the general election in November. The first signs of the resurgence of the Democratic base will surface this week in Iowa and next week in New Hampshire.
Donald Trump was able to skate his way over thin ice to the White House in 2016 because the right was energized and the left was dormant. But his assaults on the Constitution and basic human decency have meant that the reality of a Trump presidency has been a lot scarier than the threat of one was.
The Senate trial is only the second act in a drama that started with the House impeachment and will end with the verdict of the voters on November 3. The outcome of the trial will come back to haunt Trump on Election Day.
Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Deadline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.