The impeachment of President Trump has never been about actually removing him from office. The Democrats have always known they would fall 15 to 20 Senate votes short of accomplishing that.
The impeachment is, and always has been, about the 2020 election. Thus, there is now precedent for impeaching a president to gain advantage in an upcoming election. This won’t be the last time it happens.
The Democrats hoped through impeachment to gain an advantage in both the presidential and Senate elections. They knew that impeachment might cost them some House seats, but believed that they hold a big enough advantage in the House to retain control in any case.
So far, impeachment has not moved the needle on President Trump. The Senate trial could change this, but isn’t likely to.
Thus, what the two parties are now mainly playing for is control of the Senate. And control of the Senate comes down to a few key races in states like Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Georgia, and North Carolina.
Few, if any, Republican incumbents from these states can vote to convict President Trump (and, I assume, few, if any, want to). Such a vote would enrage the Republican base, thus ensuring defeat.
However, these incumbents don’t want to be accused by the Democrats of having supported an unfair Senate trial — one in which Democrats weren’t given an adequate chance to present their case. That’s why, for example, Mitch McConnell didn’t have the votes to dismiss the case at the outset — the appropriate result because even if all the facts the Democrats allege are true (and many of them are), they don’t state a case for impeachment under the standard of the Constitution.
It’s also why at least some of the Republicans from the challenging states may want to have witnesses testify. The more the Democrats have a chance to put on a full case, the harder it will be to accuse these Senators of supporting a sham trial.
Protecting endangered incumbents is clearly in Mitch McConnell’s interest. McConnell also wants to protect Trump from political damage, though.
When it comes to witnesses, there may be a tension between these two interests. If witnesses aren’t called, incumbent GOP Senators might suffer political damage. If witnesses are called, Trump might take a hit, depending on what the witnesses say and whether more than a few undecided Americans care. In the case of at least one witness, John Bolton, no one seems to know what he will say.
One way out might be for the Senate to vote against witness testimony with a few of the endangered incumbents voting with the Democrats. But there are two potential problems. First, members of the Republican base might not forgive even a vote to hear from witnesses. Second, there may be enough endangered Republicans (plus Mitt Romney and all of the Democrats) to prevent McConnell from prevailing on a vote as to whether to hear testimony.
Thus, we might end up having a few witnesses testify. In this scenario, presumably, McConnell would orchestrate a deal whereby the defense also puts on witnesses, perhaps including Hunter and/or Joe Biden.
This is not an optimal outcome. As things stand now, Trump almost certainly will suffer little, if any, political damage from the impeachment process. That’s also the most likely outcome even with witnesses, but live testimony adds uncertainty and thus increases the likelihood of political damage to the president.
I’d love to see the Senate dispatch this case without hearing from witnesses, but this might not be in the cards.
As a final note, let’s ridicule the breathless reporting from the mainstream media about McConnell backing down in the face of a “budding revolt” in his ranks (as a headline in the Washington Post’s paper edition put it). McConnell’s main interest is the same as those (other than Mitt Romney) who supposedly are rebelling — to enable vulnerable members of his caucus to get through the trial without harming their reelection prospects. There is no cause for these members to rebel, and likely no budding revolt. Allahpundit explains this.
The Democrats haven’t accomplished much with their impeachment gambit, but they have placed McConnell and a few members of his caucus in a tight spot. I think McConnell can navigate his way out, but we’ll see.