As the impeachment debacle grinds into the holiday season, thoughts begin to gravitate toward how it will all turn out; not, of course, whether or not President Trump will be impeached by the House — he almost assuredly will be — nor if he will be convicted by the Senate — he almost assuredly will not be — but how it may play out politically months later.
In Colorado, the majority of such meditations have focused on U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and the line he treads going toward his re-election bid — that of keeping the Republican base satisfied on one hand while attracting unaffiliateds on the other.
The impeachment nonsense seems to play into that. U.S. Sen. Gardner has famously refused to be a sycophant of Trump’s since day one, and on some pretty important issues on which he has happened to not only be right — North Korea, Russia, Syria, free trade — but in opposition to the president from the right. So it is a tad disingenuous, if politically expected, for his opponents to equate his probable support for an inevitable vote of acquittal in the Senate with Cory Gardner all of a sudden becoming a lackey of the president’s.
It ought to be a rather simple proposition for any senator, but even easier for Gardner, to crystalize a separation between loyalty to the person of Donald Trump and an acquittal vote intended to preserve the institution and protect the country. The impeachment clause, after all, was designed by Madison and the rest as a mechanism for use only in emergency, like some bizarre weapon available for deployment only under a concatenation of unusual circumstances. The simple fact that it has only been used twice in the nation’s history explains the abundance of confusion around the provision. Had it been employed on a more regular basis — say every 30 or 40 years or so — the process would have surely by now hammered out with much greater clarity what exactly was meant, for instance, by “high crimes and misdemeanors”.
So while it is tempting to say that Gardner’s political fate is ostensibly aligned with the impeachment theater, it may not be all that impactful in the long run. The same is probably true of most Republican candidates around the country, whose sentiments against the impeachment inquiry are likely to align more and more with the average voter’s as the circus drags on for the next few weeks, competing for television time with “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
It could, however, be a different story for some Democrats around the country.
The House Democrats are, at this point, committed to impeachment. Any retreat now would be an intolerable sign of weakness, and would infuriate much of the Democratic base, who desire the removal of President Trump by any means. So impeached he will be, and off the tour will go to the Senate for trial.
That trial will happen amid a contentious presidential primary campaign, and right in the middle of key early primary elections in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. Mitch McConnell wasn’t born yesterday and will ensure it is so. In fact, he telegraphed as much when he told RealClearPolitics “A number of Democratic senators are running for president… I’m sure they’re gonna be excited to be here in their chairs, not being able to say anything during the pendency of this trial.”
Now, if you’re Sen. Michael Bennet, who still, for some reason, happens to be one of those ambitious senators, that must be a little disconcerting. How much more painful will it be for someone who actually has a chance of winning, like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, or Amy Klobuchar?
Then there is Joe Biden. I will stipulate that what it appears President Trump did was inappropriate, if not rising to the level of high (or any other kind of) crime or misdemeanor. That does not let Biden or his son off the hook, who is at the center of this whole mess. As the Senate trial is sure to put front and center.
It is far too early to tell with any certainty how this all plays out. Indications are that the American public grows increasingly uneasy with the process, which appears for all the world as little more than an exercise in political vengeance and pettiness by congressional Democrats who have spent the majority of their waking moments since November 2016 trying to find an excuse to impeach the president, and finding a convenient, if diaphanous, one right before an election year.
One can now only hope that the worst of the institutional damage may somehow be arrested, but at the same time fear that that ship has long since sailed.
Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and a recovering journalist based in Denver.