Democrats are really bad at this, but don’t take my word for it, look at the polling data. Donald Trump is not particularly popular and in the middle of October polls showed 50% of Americans favored impeachment. Now, as Impeachment Mania moves to the Judiciary Committee after public hearings run by the Intelligence Committee and a largely sympathetic news media, those numbers have dropped slightly to around 48%. It is not the slight decrease, that’s noteworthy because that is statistically insignificant, but rather that it hasn’t gone up as Democrats expected, so naturally the question is how did the Democrats blow it?
Like any debacle it was a combination of things. The first is that while Ukraine-gate may have convinced a few persuadables to join the impeachment bandwagon, when the Washington Post is running headlines on Inauguration Day saying “The campaign to impeach President Trump has begun” it looks like you have a crime in search of evidence.
The result has been a smorgasbord of allegations over the past three years. It was Russia then when Mueller said there was no evidence of a conspiracy the focus shifted to process crimes such as obstruction of justice. There were attempts to dust off the Emoluments Clause as well as arguing that hush payments to Stormy Daniels constituted “a thing of value” that was meant to influence an election. While Democrats may see this as one misdeed after another, to most it looks like they are throwing everything at the wall in hopes that something will stick.
Then there is the handling of Ukraine-gate itself. It did not get off to a great start for Democrats as their self-inflicted errors began by making Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff their point man. Schiff, for two years, insisted that Mueller had the goods on Trump, only to be proven wrong. He then lied about his office not meeting with the whistle-blower. While his office meeting with the whistle-blower is not the worst thing in the world, lying about it only confirmed his reputation as a hack.
After the transcript for the July 25 phone call became publicly available, Democrats had their justification to impeach, or at least thought they did, but fell into the same patterns. First it was a quid pro quo then it was bribery, but that was not because of any new evidence, but because it polled better with focus groups, then they where back to quid pro quo. There were times when Democrats floated the idea that putting the phone call on a secret server was evidence that Trump was hiding something, despite the fact that previous phone calls with world leaders had been leaked to the press and that Trump was under no obligation to release the transcript or transcripts of any other call he’s had with other world leaders. They floated obstruction as a way to get Executive Branch officials to cooperate despite the fact that the two political branches of government fight each other over claims of executive privilege all the time.
As for the hearings themselves, Schiff continued to be Trump’s best friend when he recited an interpretation of the infamous phone call rather than simply quoting the actual phone call and that was only the beginning of various interpretation issues. None of the witnesses where able to provide evidence of any bribery or extortion. There was a lot of hearsay and assumption making, but no concrete evidence and as a result they never could put the much needed damning adjective in front of quid pro quo.
All of this was done as Democrats did everything short of defying the witnesses. Any criticism, especially of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, was deemed unpatriotic or an attack on the foreign service or public servants. You don’t need to question Vindman’s loyalty to the country as some did to come to the conclusion that by doing things such as rank-checking a civilian member of Congress because you are upset that some people said mean things about you on Twitter is evidence that you are a little to obsessed with your own self-importance.
The witnesses could prove that Trump is kind of a buffoon who does things he ought not do, but they could not prove any of the alleged high crimes or misdemeanors.
Democrats have a preconceived notion in their heads that says that Trump is, to use a PG word, a jerk. Therefore, he was obviously telling Zelensky to “get Biden.” All this other stuff in the phone call was just camouflage, because if he really cared about corruption, he would have held up aid to other countries as well.
However, it would be Democrats and their friends in the media that would ultimately and unwittingly provide more doubt to the “Get Biden” theory than anything Trump, congressional Republicans, or conservative commentators ever could. In an attempt to show Republicans as unpatriotic Russian stooges, Democrats and their media allies have spent the past several days debunking Republican claims that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election and that therefore was well within his rights as President of the Untied States to bring this up with Zelensky.
This was the main take away from Dr. Fiona Hill’s testimony and there are large elements of truth to it. CrowdStrike is a conspiracy theory and Republicans should shut up about it. It is also more likely than not that the Republican interpretation on Ken Vogel’s famous Politico article is not accurate. But, as far as impeachment goes, none of that is important.
Being wrong is not a reasonable definition of a high crime or misdemeanor. Neither is having a conspiratorially-minded personal attorney. If Trump honestly thought that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 election and wanted Zelensky to look into such allegations, then it pokes all sorts of holes in the theory that says this was all a “get Biden” scheme and that the aid was held up for his sole political benefit.
Democrats have responded to all this by saying that the only reason why the evidence is based on hearsay is because certain people like John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, and Mike Pompeo refuse to testify. Again, this is probably true, but irrelevant. They could wait for court rulings on the privilege argument, which is not as much of a slam dunk as Democrats think because United States v. Nixon says diplomatic secrets do fall under executive privilege which this could conceivably fall under. The reason they won’t is because they know they are up against the clock.
They know the public has a short attention span, so the quicker the pace the better. At the same time they also know that waiting for the courts to rule could take months and considering next month starts an election year, the further Impeachment Mania goes on the more likely voters are going to look at them and say “Why don’t you just try to beat him the old-fashioned way,” because at the the end of the day impeachment is largely a subject for political nerds and the typical voter is not a political nerd, but rather someone who is concerned how issues affect their life.
Law professors, however, are nerds and as Impeachment Mania shifted to the Judiciary Committee the Democrats were again their own worst enemy. For their witness, Republicans chose George Washington University Professor Jonathan Turley who described himself as “not a supporter of President Trump. I voted against him in 2016” and as someone who voted from both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. He is not a member of the “Trump did nothing wrong, it was perfect phone call” crowd, but is part of the “bad, but not impeachable” crowd.
The Democrats surely know that they have been accused of running a partisan clown show. They could have found a Republican equivalent to Turley, but instead chose to invite three liberals. One, Michael Gerhardt from the University of North Carolina, worked for Bill Clinton’s transition team, was special counsel to Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and worked for Al Gore. Another, Harvard’s Noah Feldman, argued for Trump’s impeachment all the way back in March 2017 over a tweet. Finally there was Pamela Karlan from Stanford, an Elizabeth Warren donor.
Karlan was an especially bad choice as part way through the hearing she decided she would try to become a comedian, “While the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron.” While not an attack on Barron Trump, using the president’s minor son to take a swing at the president was clearly out of bounds and she made sure that the line would dominate the aftermath. Just imagine if a Republican witness used Sasha or Malia Obama to try get a zinger in at Obama. She then violated the first rule of holes by taking a swing at Trump during her apology, “ I want to apologize for what I said earlier about the president’s son. It was wrong of me to do that. I wish the president would apologize obviously for the things that he’s done that’s wrong, but I do regret having said that.”
If the goal of these hearings was to build public support for impeachment to put pressure on Senate Republicans then the Democrats have failed and they have nobody, but themselves to blame.