I have been paying a bit of attention to the impeachment hearings conducted by the Intelligence Committee of the US House of Representatives. I was politically aware when the Nixon hearings occurred and followed the Clinton impeachment. In both cases the public was engaged and, while there were obviously partisan considerations, the elected officials seemed to take their responsibilities seriously.
Taking responsibilities seriously means a number of things: first and foremost, due process and a respect for evidence. Second, being clear about what is being alleged. Third, looking for a measure of bi-partisan support for the process. Fourth, a sense of fairness.
There is no legal requirement for any of these things. After all, impeachment we are endlessly told, is a political not a legal process. However, because the process is so deeply political it is unlikely to succeed without a political consensus supporting it. At the moment it looks very much as if the parade of witnesses in front of the Schiff committee have failed to create a strong, or even partial consensus in favour of impeachment.
Polling on fairly complicated questions is equivocal but it can give a sense of where the country is comfortable. For there to be any chance that sufficient Republicans in the Senate will vote for impeachment, the polls would have had to turn in favour of impeachment. Probably by a large margin. This has not happened and the fantastically one sided hearings under Chairman Schiff have not helped.
Which raises a huge problem for the Democrat party. To dyed in the wool Democrats the fact Trump is in office at all is an abuse of that office and impeachment on any grounds whatsoever makes total sense. They cannot imagine how this could be anything but self-evident. Which has meant that they were deeply careless in constructing their impeachment case. They paid no attention to what actually was the “impeachable offence” they were going after. They rigged the rules so that only their witnesses were heard and rigged them even further by creating a procedure designed to put the minority at a significant disadvantage cross examining those witnesses. They were blatant about this rigging.
The perception of unfairness, once established, is difficult to deal with but this was not the worst error the Democrats made. The worst error was believing that a startlingly insignificant bit of Presidential action (or inaction) the proof of which was ambiguous at best would galvanize the American People to demand Trump’s removal. There is no coming back from this misjudgment. All the more so because the action was so boring.
No one outside bureaucratic circles in Washington is the least bit interested in what Trump may have said or implied to some guy with an unpronounceable name who is the President of Ukraine which most Americans could not find on a map. There is no “blue dress”, no “18 minute gap” – there are just assorted, rather self-important, bureaucrats who overheard or heard from a colleague that the American President behaved inappropriately.
Of course, the President in question, has a talent for cutting to the chase and when he released the transcript of his call with the President of Ukraine, the air went out of the Democrats’ impeachment balloon.
The House of Representatives is on its Thanksgiving recess which means that the Representatives will be back in their districts. The media frenzy will die down and Congressmen and women are going to be talking to their constituents. If the impeachment hearings had been successful they would be hearing support for a vote on articles of impeachment. However, given the shambles of Schiff’s show, the best the Democrats can hope for is indifference, the worst will be independents telling them to forget impeachment and to get on with the business of the nation.
At a guess, following Thanksgiving, Nancy Pelosi will be looking for a way to end the whole impeachment show. She has very few good alternatives. She might well lose a vote on articles of impeachment. She could likely win a censure motion but that will not satisfy the rabid base. Perhaps her best bet would be to allow a low key report from the Intelligence committee to go to the Judiciary committee and then sit on it for a couple of months before announcing that it was up to the American people to throw Trump out in the next election.
No matter which way Pelosi jumps, losing touch with the American people on the question of impeachment is going to hurt the Democrats politically. It has solidified Trump’s base, annoyed independents and called into question the Democrats’ judgement which could cost them seats in Congress and the Senate. Plus, though this will only become clear in the next few weeks, it has fatally compromised Democratic front runner Joe Bidden.