Impeachment is a yawner. Except when it’s an obsession.
I’m interested as a matter of a triple-professional obligation. “Impeachment, Theory and Practice” is not only an annual lecture in my constitutional law course but also a subject about which I am occasionally asked to opine by NBC News and The Washington Post.
My largely center-right radio audience isn’t interested in the specifics of the allegations against President Donald Trump. They long ago dismissed the charges as absurd, resulting from the pumped-up histrionics of an ultra-partisan age. But they are listening intently to see which Senate Republicans will fight, just as they did during Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. They also want to see who will defend the president, and how vigorously.
But many in the chattering class are obsessed with the charges. Genuinely, thoroughly, wholly obsessed. Never have so few rowed so fervently for a destination that the rest of the world would almost certainly be happy to skip. These are the same people who thought special counsel Robert Mueller was sending a secret message using every fourth word in alternating paragraphs.
Please, understand, liberal and left-wing friends inside the Beltway and cocooned in executive suites in the broadcast industry: Most Americans don’t care. They care about the election. They care about Iran. They care about whether Trump can keep the economy booming.
Polls may suggest that north of 40 percent of Americans want the Senate to remove Trump, but my sense is that the statistic is profoundly misleading. Ask a question such as that and people will offer a reply, usually one reflecting their political affiliation. But that doesn’t indicate the degree of their interest in the subject. Far from being fixated, most Americans are by turns amused, disgusted or bored by this impeachment. And they are in no way seriously expecting anything other than a Senate trial ending in acquittal.
I’ve spent a lot of time interviewing Republican senators recently about the concept of witness reciprocity—equal at-bats for prosecutors and the defense team alike. Unlike the miasma of Ukrainian charge and counter-charge, the subject is interesting, because it goes to the basic concept of fairness. The senators I spoke with all made clear that the goose/gander standard will apply here.
If the Democrats persuade the four Republicans they need to open the Pandora’s box of calling witnesses in the Senate trial, count on the witnesses also coming in flights of four. If the Democratic prosecutors are first-movers on calling for a witness, the defense should be allowed a reciprocal witness, as well as the opportunity to be the first mover on the next witness round.
If former national security adviser John Bolton is a witness, then that means former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter or the so-called whistle-blower will be as well.
So there may be some interesting episodes ahead, and the prospect of seeing senators chained to their desks, obliged to listen to impeachment managers Schiff and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) droning for hours on end is comical, but not watchable. Generally, the trial is going to be a snoozer. The commentariat hates this. Democrats are trying to make it otherwise. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is handing out souvenir pens. “House managers” are solemnly marching from one end of the Capitol to the other. Meanwhile, plenty of observers are choking back laughter.
We could be here for weeks and weeks.
And we already know the ending. What a charade.