The Game Is On, and On TV

Ever since Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gave her blessing for the Democratic-led House oversight committees to launch an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump the Republicans have been griping about it. The Republicans demanded a formal vote for the inquiry by the full House and then open and televised hearings, and after the Democrats gave them both Thursday that Republicans will probably regret it.
There’s nothing in the Constitution or statutory law or historical precedent that requires a full House vote to launch an impeachment inquiry, and a federal court recently confirmed that as it gave blessings to a slew of subpoenas the House committees has sought, but it gave the Republicans and their media allies something to gripe about. The Republicans also held out hope that the Democrats wouldn’t dare do it, as they might risk defections from the 30 House members representing districts where Trump won in the last presidential election and remains relatively popular, but only two declined to vote for inquiry and the rest presumably know their districts well enough to conclude they could get away with a yea vote.
None of the Republicans defied the party’s opposition to the inquiry, although former Republican and recent Indent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan decided he could run for reelection in his narrowly Trump-voting district despite his pro-inquiry stand. A handful of Republicans running for reelection in the sorts of affluent and educated suburbs that the Republicans have lately been losing were reportedly tempted to defect, and we’re sure that some of the 18 congressional Republicans who have decided not to run were tempted as well. In any case a united Democratic caucus overwhelmingly outnumbers a united Republican caucus, so Thursday’s vote portends an eventual impeachment of the president.
A slim Republican majority in the Senate makes it unlikely that Trump will be removed after an impeachment trial, but there’s a handful of Senators running for reelection in districts where Trump lost and is widely unpopular, and any defections will be embarrassing for Trump as he faces a hard-fought reelection campaign of his own.
The open and televised hearings that the Republicans rashly demanded will probably prove embarrassing for Trump as well. Already the congressional committees have interviewed an impressive parade of decorated military officers and distinguished diplomats and esteemed national security experts with careers that have risen through Republican and Democratic administrations alike, all of them have testified that Trump did indeed withhold congressionally appropriate funds for military and other aid beleaguered Ukraine unless it provided information damaging to one of Trump’s potential Democratic rivals, as well as an amateur diplomat who was appointed Ambassador to the European Union who got the job by donating millions to Trump’s campaign and wound up coming across as a bumbler and a liar. The Republicans seem to believe that if only the public could have seen the testimony the controversy would vanish, except for a lingering public resent that the Democrats ever launched such a witch hunt, but we wonder how they’ve came to that cockamamie conclusion.
Trump and his reconstituted Republican party and their media allies regard politics as a long-running reality show, with the usual heroes and villains and occasional salaciousness and daily intrigue, and for a certain segment of the public they control the narrative much like Trump used to on “The Apprentice.” On their channel the Democrats are all God-hating crazy people intent on keeping Trump from making America great again, and have been conducting a Soviet-style star chamber proceeding where no Republican is allowed to ask questions our mount any defense of the president, and if it were only televised people would watch the traitorous witnesses and their “deep state” conspiracy unfold before a nation’s eyes. Surely the people would also see, the Republicans seem to truly believe, that Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, as in all matters, have been perfect.
The impeachment hearings will come in live and unedited on several other channels, though, and won’t look the same for much of the country. The witnesses all lack horns and cloven feet and tails, and will likely come off as military officers and diplomats and national security experts who have risen through Republican and Democratic administrations without so much as a squeak of public objection until now, when they felt compelled to tell the truth as they know it about something Trump did that they considered an abuse of his presidential powers and a breach of America’s national security interests. The president’s own rough transcript of his telephone negotiations with the Ukrainian president over aid and a possible favor Trump wanted to ask and the possibility of Ukraine investigating a potential Democratic rival’s son’s business dealings in the country, so it’s hard to believe the witnesses are all lying about that.
It’s just their opinion that there’s anything wrong about the call, though, and Trump and his supporters are just as entitled to believe that the phone call was perfect in every way. The argument that it’s perfectly fine for a president to solicit or even coerce campaign help from a foreign government is hard to make, though, even if can be explained so a sizable segment of the country as a purely disinterested effort to rid Ukraine of corruption. The witnesses’ credentials do seem to entitle them to their opinions, too, and we expect they’ll make a persuasive case.
The Republicans will have their chance to question the witnesses and state their cases, just as they have all along, but we can’t see them making much of it. Righteous indignation has thus far been the main rhetorical response, along with attempts to smear the witnesses as lying co-conspirators who have been hiding in the “deep state” for the last 20 to 30 years 40 years awaiting their moment, and neither plot line is sustainable. There’s also that transcript Trump wants to read on a televised “Fireside Chat” because it’s so perfect, testimony from numerous government officials about the involvement of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who is currently under investigation by the Southern District of New York that he once ran, and has two associates currently in jail for Ukraine-related matters.
There are indeed some God-hating crazy people in the Democratic party, but the Republicans have a lot of explaining to do on national television. It won’t be like way back in our youthful Watergate days, when the impeachment hearings preempted the afternoon soap operas and game shows and there was nothing else to watch on summer vacation, but then as now things will unfold live and television, and reality is not a reality show.

— Bud Norman

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