Senate Republicans might win the impeachment case for Donald Trump. But do they want to?

Ahmed Baba
Adam Schiff and Donald Trump

"[Ukraine] should investigate the Bidens... Likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens... So I would say that President Zelensky, if it were me, I would recommend that they start an investigation into the Bidens”: President Trump’s voice reverberated throughout the silent Senate chamber. Although he wasn't in attendance, Trump was the House impeachment managers' chief witness as they repeatedly played videos of his own, seemingly self-incriminating words.

Many argue that this public solicitation of foreign election interference itself, as well as President Trump's July 25 call with Ukrainian President Zelensky, is enough to justify removal from office. But as was demonstrated in the three days of opening arguments from the House impeachment managers, this request came in the context of an alleged months-long extortion plot in which it is claimed that the President of the United States abused his power for personal gain. The evidence of Trump's wrongdoing is overwhelming, according to Democrats, but the key question is: Will it matter?

I say it will, in more ways than one.

Over the past three days, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and his team of impeachment managers presented a convincing case against President Trump, grounded in documentary evidence and witness testimony. While Senate Republicans killed Democrats’ attempts to have new witnesses at the onset of the trial, the impeachment managers cleverly integrated video clips of the House impeachment inquiry’s testimony. Wednesday was focused on presenting the facts of the alleged Ukraine extortion plot. Thursday was focused on how such a plot might constitute an abuse of power on the part of President Trump. Friday was focused on President Trump's unprecedented stonewalling and alleged obstruction of Congress. And each day, the impeachment managers repeated rebuttals of the incoming White House defenses.

When outlining the details of the Ukraine extortion plot, Democrats ran through the entire timeline. They covered the smearing and ousting of former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, made claims that President Trump used Rudy Giuliani and various diplomats to pressure Ukraine to announce an investigation into the Bidens, and detailed how the White House meeting and $391 million in military aid were withheld from Ukraine. Throughout the arguments, the House impeachment managers detailed how individual pieces of documentary evidence the White House is withholding would fill the gaps and corroborate their arguments.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) led the effort to show that Trump's conduct is exactly the kind of abuse of power the Founding Fathers had in mind when crafting the impeachment clauses. Nadler then undercut the current arguments of Trump's defenders with their own past assertions that an impeachable offense doesn't have to be a crime. Nadler played a 1998 clip of Trump impeachment lawyer Alan Dershowitz’s statement and a 1999 clip from then-impeachment manager Lindsey Graham (R-KY). Graham was conveniently in the restroom at that moment, which is unfortunate because it would've been priceless to see the expression on his face while his hypocrisy was laid bare on the Senate floor.

The impeachment managers then debunked the false allegations against the Bidens and the Ukraine meddling conspiracy theory, saying that President Trump's motive for seeking these investigations wasn't a real hunt for corruption, but a hunt for political dirt.

In his closing arguments on Thursday night, Adam Schiff made his most impassioned case for removing Trump from office yet: "And you know you can't trust this president to do what's right for this country. You can trust he will do what's right for Donald Trump. He'll do it now. He's done it before. He'll do it in the next several months; he'll do it in the election if he's allowed to. This is why, if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters. Because right matters. And the truth matters. Otherwise, we are lost."

Regardless of the outcome, this Trump impeachment era has solidified Adam Schiff as a historic figure. And Schiff's powerful performances on the Senate floor clearly struck a chord with Americans on social media, as reactions poured in on thousands of Twitter timelines. But still, there was an element of cynicism that colored the celebrations. When I sent a tweet asking my followers to rank the performance of the House impeachment managers, I was inundated with thousands of replies giving them a 9 or 10, but many asked at the same time: "Does it even matter?"

Does it even matter that the Democrats' case is so convincing since Senate Republicans' acquittal of President Trump seems inevitable? Does it even matter since Republicans kept walking out the Senate chamber and Fox News kept cutting away from the trial? Yes, because Senate Republicans are just the first round of jurors. The final verdict on Trump's removal from office will come from the American people in November.

It’s reasonable to assume that polls will remain consistent at around 50 per cent support for removal and 70 per cent support for witnesses. Public opinion moves electoral prospects for lawmakers, including Senate Republicans, and therefore moves their decision-making. The House's compelling case will make it very difficult for vulnerable purple-state Senate Republicans up for re-election like Susan Collins (ME), Cory Gardner (CO), and Martha McSally (AZ) to vote against hearing witnesses in the trial. When it comes to new witnesses and documents, it's also important to watch independent-minded Senate Republicans like Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Lamar Alexander (TN).

The White House's impeachment defense is up next week, and if it's anything like what we saw on Tuesday, Trump's lawyers will not present a counterfactual argument. If they continue to following their old strategy — conceding that President Trump did what he's accused of but claiming it's not impeachable or that "abuse of power" isn’t an impeachable offense — the majority of Americans will see right through it.

The White House has reportedly threatened Senators, in a totally normal warning, “Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike." If they reject witnesses and vote to acquit, it will leave sycophantic stains on every Republican Senator. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) may win the battle of acquitting Trump but he could lose the war by handing the Senate to the Democrats in the upcoming election.