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Saturday, January 25, 2020

Impeachment: The Cake Is Baked, So Get on with It

Post-Sondland, we have heard enough. Let’s get on with it. Rip the band aid off. Impeach Trump already.

To judge from the breathless tone of the media commentary, Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony – “I followed the directions of the president” – is a political game changer. While he certainly shredded many of president’s Republican defenders’ (ludicrous) talking points, I’m skeptical this will change much. Trump supporters will cling to their alternative narrative. Republican senators will brush it all off like lint on a cheap suit.

The reality is that it has been plainly evident to any fair-minded person that President Trump, by pressuring the Ukrainians to launch a dubious investigation of the Bidens, has committed a textbook abuse of power. That close to half our country refuses to admit the obvious is just the way it is in present-day, hyperpolarized America.

The Democrats really have no choice but to impeach him, even if it remains a wholly partisan impeachment with no chance of success in the Republican-controlled Senate. Anything less would set a terrible precedent, legitimizing the sort of corrupt behavior that corrodes our democratic institutions.

So, Democrats, get on with it. We know enough already. Don’t expect the public hearings to change anything politically. Everybody who wants to know already knows all they need to know. The small sliver of the American electorate that remains persuadable on impeachment is a cohort that is largely disengaged from politics; unlike some of us political junkies, they’re not glued to the wall-to-wall CNN or MSNBC coverage. Most of them probably don’t know or care who Sondland is.

Impeachment right now looks to be a political wash. In our tribal environment, about half the country is ready to kick Trump to the curb, and the other are unwilling to accord the proceedings any legitimacy whatsoever. The Democrats — and the media — seem to naively believe that the spectacle of consistent and overlapping public testimony from a parade of witnesses like Sondland (or George Kent or Bill Taylor) is going to convince a meaningful chunk of the public to accept that Trump has abused the power of his office (just as they naively believed that getting Mueller to testify would move public opinion). But rehashing in public the testimony, however convincing, previously given in private is unlikely to do much of anything to change the overarching dueling narratives, or rejigger the partisan divide.

It would take some spectacular new revelations about further, previously secret wrongdoing from Trump and Co. to move the needle at all (and even then, with partisans dug into their political trenches, the impact on public opinion would still probably be minor). I suppose that’s possible — if, say, John Bolton were to testify and if he spilled all he knows, that would be must-watch tv.

But it’s unlikely. The cake is baked. So get on with it. Impeach. Then, as seems inevitable, acquit. And then let’s get on to the 2020 election.

Sandeep Kaushik
Sandeep Kaushik is a political and public affairs consultant in Seattle. In a previous life, he was a staff writer and political columnist at the Stranger, and did a stint as a Washington State correspondent for Time Magazine and for the Boston Globe, back in the olden days when such positions still existed.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Well, OK. Right. There’s enough there for the House Democrats to credibly vote out articles of impeachment. But there are ways to make the argument stronger. They need to look at violations of the emoluments clause — likely fairly easily discoverable — and more: for example, Trump’s real estate transactions with Russian oligarchs (see the Financial Times investigation of a couple years ago) that if brought out in public testimony (and perhaps with those elusive tax returns) might convince voters the Russians do have some undue influence on him. Not to mention obstruction of justice during the Mueller investigation and obstruction of Congress now.

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