From the Publisher: The Trial Begins

Arnold G. York

Today, the impeachment trial began and, as expected, the rules immediately came under attack, mostly from the Democrats but also from a number of senate Republicans, most of whom are up for re-election and are very nervous with this entire process. As is everything in Washington D.C., there are two sides, the Democratic side and the Republican side.

The Democratic side:

Going into this senate impeachment trial, the one thing the Democrats know with practically absolute certainty is that President Donald Trump is not going to be impeached. It takes two-thirds of the senate (about 66 or 67 senators voting) to convict and that is not about to happen, so why are the Democrats bothering? The answer is that they have their own agenda. 

The Democrat’s goal is first to defeat Donald Trump in the November presidential election and, secondly, to win back the majority in the U.S. Senate. The impeachment trial works for them in a couple of ways, although it does pose some dangers. Their hope is that the country will tire of all the drama that follows Trump wherever he goes and opt for a saner, decent, established, regular, normal, competent and even slightly boring president—and who better to fill that role than Joe Biden? It would be such a relief to all of us not to have to read the political news every day. 

Democrats also want the trial because it focuses the attention of the American public the way nothing else could. They would prefer a few witnesses, if they could, because it would be more dramatic, but the reality is we all know what happened and there is certainly enough information in the record to make a decision. What the Democrats are watching is the daily polling numbers and so far the numbers seem to be good. Even in the battleground states, support for removing Trump is higher than his job approval according to the Washington Post polling. Two-thirds of the people polled also believe the trial should include witnesses; even Republicans polled, by small majority, believe there should be witnesses testifying. 

Also, overall, there is more support for throwing Trump out of office (over 50 percent) than for him staying on. If you’re a poll reader like I am, I suggest you go to a website called “538” and check out the polls of adults, registered voters and, probably most important, likely voters. I personally like to look at a pollster named Rasmussen. That poll trends more Republican and their results are always friendlier to the president than the other polls. They poll constantly and if Trump is dropping in their polls, then that is a sign that some of his base is softening. As long as the numbers are good, the Democrats are going to keep pushing.

The Republican side:

Their response is somewhat more complicated. They want to see Trump remain as president and they want to keep their majority in the U.S. Senate.

I would suspect that if you put some Republican senators on what we in politics call the “Stoli drip”—meaning filling them with vodka—a number of them wouldn’t mind seeing Trump go. But as long as Trump retains the support of his Republican base they are not about to cross him and will continue whatever company line comes out of the White House. 

McConnell, of course, is working hard to keep his senate majority but he has a dilemma. There is a large number of Republicans up for senate re-election this year, which is always a very touchy time for the leader. Simultaneously, he’s trying to protect his vulnerable senators and at the same time trying not to fall out with a volatile president. In many ways, these two objectives run into each other. He also, I’m sure, is watching the polls and listening to the vulnerable senators and has already agreed to changes in the rules that lengthen the process somewhat. He’s doing what every trial lawyer does, and that is to constantly assess how this is playing to the jury, and the jury is not the senate but the American people. He’ll shift his tactics accordingly if required.

The American side:

I know to some of you my approaching this as a game of hard ball politics may seem a bit cynical and insufficiently respectful of an important constitutional process. I looked up the Federalist paper on impeachment (which was written by Alexander Hamilton) and it’s clear as you research that none of our founders were naive about human nature and the lure of power. They were very much hard ball politicians who wanted to protect our system of government from abuse. They made a conscious decision to allow an out, the impeachment process, to get rid of a president before his term was up, because waiting might prove damaging to the republic. At this point none of us, including those engaged in the process, knows exactly how this is going to play out, but the founders decided a president could be removed for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” and they apparently knew what they were talking about.