Tuesday, January 28, 2020


Leaks from John Bolton's book are making it at least somewhat more likely that witnesses will be called in the Senate impeachment trial. That's should make me happy, but it doesn't. President Trump is on trial, and the only witnesses who should be called are the ones on the Democrats' list -- Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, and so on -- but it seems clear that if witnesses are called, they'll come as part of a deal.
Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), an influential conservative in the Senate, has spoken with several colleagues in recent days about possibly summoning just two witnesses to President Trump’s impeachment trial, with one called by Republicans and one by Democrats, according to three Republican officials.

Toomey has confided to GOP senators that proposing a “one-for-one” deal with Senate Democrats may be necessary at some point, particularly with pressure mounting for witnesses to be called, according to the officials....
Why aren't all the Republicans rushing to embrace this? If I were a Republican, I'd embrace it, for the most cynical reasons. If Democrats get John Bolton, Republicans will get Hunter Biden. If the Democrats' list lengthens, maybe Joe Biden is next for the Republicans, or maybe it's Adam Schiff or the whistleblower. The more witnesses the Democrats get, the more Republicans have a chance to make the case all about the Bidens, House Democrats, and the Deep State, after which they can use their superior messaging skills to proclaim that all their narratives have been borne out by witness testimony. (Schiff can hold his own, and I imagine the whistleblower can as well, but do you trust Hunter Biden on the witness stand? Do you trust Joe Biden, who can be maddeningly inarticulate, and who often seems to go into debates, especially in this election cycle, showing signs of having underprepared?)

Do you think testimony from Bolton, Mulvaney, or other witnesses on the Democrats' wish list will bust the case wide open? Why? Just because Bolton, in particular, appears willing to offer a firsthand account confirming Trump's guilt? The whole point of Alan Deshowitz's presentation last night in the trial was: It doesn't matter if Trump did it. You can't impeach him even if he is guilty of everything mentioned in the articles. Forty-plus percent of the country has believed from the beginning of Trump's presidency that literally nothing he does can be called a crime, or even an error in judgment. To these people, Trump is amazing. They're unbudgeable. Nothing said against him in the trial will matter to them. And if it doesn't matter to them, it won't matter to the Republicans who represent them in the Senate, who'll be thanked for their votes to acquit even after damning witness testimony.

If Biden and the Democratic Party are effectively put on trial, it will matter. Biden leads in head-to-head polls against Trump, but his lead is narrowing. So are the leads of other Democratic presidential hopefuls. So is Democrats' lead in generic-ballot polling of the 2020 congressional elections. And while poll respondents are still more likely to disapprove of Trump's job performance than to approve of it, the gap is getting smaller.

Democrats have made their case. They'll be better off if the trial is over soon, and is perceived as one-sided and unfair. Anti-Trump voters -- who are still a majority -- will feel that the president got away with something, and will presumably take out their anger at the ballot box, just the way voters who thought Bill Clinton got away with something in his impeachment trial voted Republican in sufficient numbers to give the GOP full control of the government in the 2000 elections.

Also, Trump looks worse to the American people when he's the center of attention -- strutting, bumbling, tweeting, attacking. Right now, he's not the center of attention -- the players in the impeachment trial are. We should give him back the stage as soon as possible, so he can remind voters how obnoxious he is.

This is why I'm rooting for a witness stonewall on the Republicans' part. Get the trial over with. Not much good is likely to come from a negotiation for witnesses, and the result could be a great deal of harm.

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