HILLSBORO, Ohio — Throughout all the bombshell testimony during the impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives — “bombshell” having been reduced to a synonym for “mildly interesting” — I asked myself only one question: Was there any testimony that would convince enough Senate Republicans to side with Democrats to achieve the two-thirds majority required to convict President Donald Trump and remove him from office?
Based on watching hour upon hour of testimony, reading daily recaps and analysis, and touching base with some in-the-loop GOP contacts, the answer remains “no.” In fact, based on facts and testimony so far, it is unlikely that a single Republican in the Senate would vote for conviction, either on the Ukraine matter or on obstruction charges. Why? Four reasons stand out.
First, most GOP senators believe Trump released the financial aid package to Ukraine because they and numerous administration officials convinced him to do so, not because a whistleblower had stepped forward, as Democrats argue.
Second, testimony has almost entirely been based on opinions, feelings and secondhand conversations. Democrats counter that Trump is obstructing justice by barring witnesses with firsthand knowledge, whose direct interactions with Trump, they contend, would be the final nail in the coffin if they established that aid for Ukraine was conditioned on an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. But even if such testimony were to emerge, it’s doubtful that would move the needle, either. Revisionist history aside, it wasn’t White House lawyer John Dean’s testimony about his Oval Office conversations with Richard Nixon that brought down a president; it was the secret White House tapes with Nixon’s own voice.
Third, making obstruction part of the articles of impeachment is fodder for headlines, but the weakest of all possible arguments for conviction. Most Senate Republicans won’t support the notion that Trump obstructed investigations into crimes they don’t believe he committed in the first place.
Finally, and most important, Republicans have their eyes fixed firmly on the 2020 calendar. With each passing day, “let the voters decide” becomes a more valid refrain. Consider: If the House impeaches in December, the Senate will likely undertake a trial in January, which could stretch into February. What else begins in February? Voting, not just in hotly contested Democratic primaries, but among Republicans, too, aside from the few states where the GOP is foregoing the primary ritual to clear the way for Trump.
Even some primaries scheduled in March, such as Ohio’s, will see early voting commence in February. Is the Senate going to remove a duly elected president from office even as voters are casting ballots for him? There would be no better example of a “deep state” coup than Congress blatantly usurping elections as they are happening.
Nixonian comparisons abound among Democrats and many in the media. But in GOP circles, the current case is deemed so far removed from Watergate that one longtime Republican operative suggested to me that even if Trump admitted that he conditioned Ukrainian aid on a promise to investigate the Bidens, it would still fall short of bribery or extortion, or any other impeachable offense. “Quid pro quos are the backbone of Madisonian democracies,” he said, and whether it was improper that a political opponent was part of the deal is for the voters to decide, not Congress.
So, where are we? Considering all the media platforms that carried the hearings, viewership was anemic. Polls show support for impeachment going south. Rather than softening, Trump’s GOP base is as solidified as ever.
Among those who saw this coming was none other than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Earlier this year, Pelosi told The Washington Post that impeachment needed to be bipartisan because, otherwise, “it divides the country.” But by October, she sanctioned what she knew would be a party-line vote to open impeachment proceedings. While some read that as a sign of Pelosi caving to the radical wing of her party, one wonders if she instead is teaching her insurgents a much-needed lesson about heeding her wisdom when future controversies arise.
Will Pelosi bring impeachment to a vote? Some Republican insiders have their doubts. Most, though, think the majority of House Democrats — even with acquittal certain — are hellbent on tainting Trump with the scarlet “I,” just as Republicans branded President Bill Clinton two decades ago.
If so, Trump could become the first president in history to be impeached in the House, acquitted in the Senate and reelected. Such a scenario is not implausible. In fact, thanks to the overreach of House Democrats, it’s increasingly likely.
Abernathy, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post, is a freelance writer and former newspaper editor based in Hillsboro, Ohio.
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