The conventional wisdom — which I’ve repeated often enough — is that although the House will now almost certainly impeach Donald Trump, the Senate still will never convict him. Democrats would need 20 GOP senators to abandon Trump to get that done. As of today’s count, we’re looking at Mitt Romney as a maybe.
So, that remains the CW for a good reason. It’s probably true. But it’s also, I’ve come to realize, not the entire truth and maybe not even the most important truth.
There’s every reason to believe this impeachment process, even if it doesn’t get Trump removed, will ruin any chance he has to be re-elected. And not because Democrats can be counted on to present a convincing narrative themselves, but because Trump himself has made — and will continue to make — the case with hardly any help.
What I mean is, it’s Trump — along with the White House gang that couldn’t shoot straight (h/t Jimmy Breslin) — who is leading the Trump impeachment case, which gets stronger, thanks to Trump, by the day.
It’s reasonable to believe — and I’m starting to get there — that House impeachment hearings, followed by several articles of impeachment being sent to the Senate, followed by a Senate trial (which Mitch McConnell seems to have promised) could leave us with, say, six at-risk GOP senators jumping ship. Maybe eight. Or some number well below conviction level, but a number high enough to show where the truth is.
I mean, of course, this truth: When pro-impeachment-and-removal polls jumped so quickly to 50 percent – as they have — you see action. But most of that comes from Democratic voters. What if the number gets to 56? To 60? What happens to swing state GOP senators then?
The Mueller report failed, as you’ll remember, to excite most Americans. Too dense. Too complicated. Too long. Too much Dostoevsky and not enough John Grisham. And then there was Mueller’s refusal to supply any CliffsNotes.
The whistleblower might have failed, too, if Trump hadn’t changed everything by deciding to release the reconstructed transcript of his infamous phone call with Ukraine’s President Zelensky. There is no impeachment without the release of the transcript. OK, that’s a blunder. So was Trump’s decision to green-light Turkey’s slaughter of the Syrian Kurds, which was roundly condemned by, yes, Republicans. So was releasing the middle-school-level letter sent to Turkey President Erdogan, which angered Erdogan, who is showing again, as Mitt Romney said, that he can bully Trump. So was Trump’s description of the Turkish slaughter as kids dusting it up on the playground. So was Trump’s release of the now-iconic photo of Nancy Pelosi’s finger-pointing undressing of Trump and his mortified team at the White House, a photo Trump released because he thought it made him look good.
There have been always been blunders. But they seem this time — and maybe I’m being too optimistic — to be taking hold.
I mean, it’s hard to get past the ultimate blunder of releasing the transcript. Trump thought it was, as lawyers say, exculpatory when, in fact, it presented an open-and-shut case of an “I need a favor, though” attempt at extortion. We learned Trump was withholding $390 million of desperately needed military aid to Ukraine in exchange for a boost to his 2020 campaign by pressuring Zelensky to look for dirt on the father-and-son Bidens. And, yes, to investigate a particularly crazy — and oft-debunked — conspiracy theory that the hacked DNC server had been secreted away to Ukraine to hide the notion that Ukraine, and not Russia, was the true hacker of 2016.
Since everyone could read the transcript for him- or herself, the only thing for Trump to do was to repeatedly deny that the transcript meant what it plainly did. But if there were any doubt, then came the daily run of behind-closed-doors depositions, in which career diplomats and others ignored Trump’s order not to appear before the House impeachment committees and instead told investigators all about the quid, all about the pro and all about the quo.
They also revealed the story of Trump’s rogue White House Ukraine team — the three amigos, of whom one member, Rick Perry, could presumably name only two. Two of the three, including Perry, basically know nothing about Ukraine except that they had to report to Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani himself, who got the ambassador removed and the real policy team cut off at the knees.
But the blunders hardly end there. We don’t have space for a full list any more than we have space to list all of Trump’s lies. But let’s go here: Even as Trump is being investigated for corruption, he announced that next year’s G-7 meeting will be held at Trump’s Doral Resort in Miami, where, incidentally, there will be no discussion of climate change. It’s an open confession by Trump to having his pockets lined with taxpayer money and with foreign money, which sounds impeachable to me.
Trump — in yet another blunder — sent out acting (but not much of an actor) chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, to explain it all to the media. During the news conference, Mulvaney was asked repeatedly about Ukraine until he finally admitted there was plenty of quid pro quo and reporters could quid pro quote him. “Did (Trump) also mention to me in the past the corruption related to the DNC server?” Mulvaney said. “Absolutely, no question about that. But that’s it, and that’s why we held up the money.”
He then added: “I have news for everybody: Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.”
It appears Mulvaney decided to admit to one example of quid pro quo in an attempt to throw media off the Biden trail. You think that worked? Hours later, Mulvaney was trying to walk it all back, saying his words were being misconstrued while blaming, of course, the media.
But is there really any going back now? Is there really any question that more people in the White House connected to the Ukraine affair will be deposed and will be forced to tell at least a modicum of the truth? Is there any doubt that there will be open testimony, that the nation will be in thrall, that Trump will make an ever-growing series of blunders in response?
I’m not predicting that senators like Colorado’s own Cory Gardner will abandon Trump in the end. That would be reckless. I’m predicting that, yes, it’s possible to imagine, which is a long, long way from where matters stood just a month ago.