So this is the week to write the final chapter of Impeachment 2020. How fitting that two stories that really matter have arisen to drown this sorry little spectacle in the obscurity it so richly deserves.
The Iowa caucuses are a real story. There will be some candidate fates that receive a boost, while others will be dealt a blow. It’s kind of crazy that our roughly 30th-biggest state wields so much power, followed by New Hampshire at roughly 40th. But that’s what we do, and the next few days will be a big deal at the ballot boxes. Whatever happens to Iowa momentum in the states that follow, these are the first footsteps on the path that will lead to the Democratic nominee who will face President Trump in November.
For his part, on Tuesday night Trump will deliver a State of the Union address many thought would follow a resounding acquittal. But the impeachment exhibition will now stretch some extra days to a Wednesday afternoon Senate vote.
Trump will surely provide numerous examples of the ways he feels he has improved the nation. Most will not be embraced by Democrats, and some—trade and the Middle East come to mind—may not be unanimously embraced even by Republicans. But the subject matter will involve things that actually matter in our lives—policies, agendas, issues to be tackled by our leaders for the rest of this deeply consequential election year.
And against the backdrop of real voters casting real votes in Iowa, as the State of the Union outlines vital issues that affect every American, the impeachment train will wheeze into the station, its winding journey reaching its fitting end.
The witness brouhaha seems settled. The votes seem solidified on the Wednesday vote. We stand at the brink of a great opportunity to get back to what passes for our normal lives.
With a Trump speech poised for deployment, there is a residual buzz that he could go off on some incendiary rant that would alienate enough Republicans that they would turn on him should the Democrats somehow manage to shoehorn some last-minute resuscitation of the witness issue. That’s a stretch, but in the current hopped-up climate, it is wise not to count any chickens before they hatch. It is only at the moment of the thirty-fourth Senate vote to acquit that this ordeal will officially end.
The key word: “officially.” Democrats will surely beat the impeachment drum well into the remaining months of the campaign. They will correctly assert that Trump remains eternally impeached; supporters will counter that he is also eternally acquitted. Democrats will portray the acquittal as foul and ill-defined, saying there can be no real exoneration without a “real trial,” a term they would apply only if the doors had swung open for witnesses unconsulted in the House hearings.
But the trial was indeed real, as the acquittal will be. As it unfolds, listen for the gnashing of teeth as objectors wail that the system is broken, our institutions threatened, the Constitution indelibly stained. Such is their lament when things do not go their way.
Be on the lookout as well for waves of wishful thinking among the mainstream media commentary class. They will suggest that Trump is damaged goods, that Democrat voters will now be particularly energized to do what Democrats in Congress could not: remove him from office. That sentiment will indeed drive some level of anti-Trump turnout, but here’s the decisive question: Will each of those votes be met by at least one vote from a Trump supporter driven to deliver a blow to the party that subjected him to impeachment in the first place?
But here may be the best bet of all: that by November, voters across the spectrum will have largely forgotten the twisting directions of winter’s impeachment winds, and will actually vote on whether they approve or disapprove of Trump’s first term.
But to return to the week at hand, we have the whitewater rapids of the next few days. Monday afternoon will feature closing arguments sure to be peppered with last-minute urgency. As those remarks drone on in the Senate, Iowa Democrats will prepare to flock into schools, churches, libraries and even homes to deliver the first meaningful verdicts of the 2020 campaign.
As we digest the Iowa results all day Tuesday, Trump will prepare to deliver a State of the Union address that will be an adventure in both oratory and etiquette. I don’t see him coming out with guns blazing against Democrat tormentors gathered in front of him, at least not in the form of extended impeachment bitterness. But he will be more than generous with descriptions of how his polices are better than theirs.
And as for specific moments, since the State of the Union is a House-hosted affair, aren’t we all awaiting the facial expression and delivery style as Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivers the traditional welcome? “Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you, the President of the United States.”
Privilege and honor are not the first sentiments I would ascribe to a Speaker who has spent so much breath condemning Trump as a scourge, and his party as agents of national ruin.
But the speech will happen, and the sun will rise on Wednesday, the day of acquittal. By then, we will have been treated to numerous Senate floor speeches affording members the chance to explain their votes. Let’s just say the Schumer and McConnell remarks will be somewhat predictable from their respective corners. Of greater intrigue will be the positioning of some conflicted Republicans.
I’m sticking with the concept of zero GOP votes to convict (and maybe a Democrat or two who might vote to acquit). But surely Mitt Romney will grace us with how mightily offended he is by Trump’s Ukraine phone call, and Lamar Alexander and others may try to carve out territory with that middling claim that Trump’s Ukraine overture was “inappropriate” but not impeachable.
We’ll see how that works out for all of them. Wednesday will end with Trump acquitted, a result that Democrats will deride, and most Republicans will seize as exoneration.
Come Thursday, it will be interesting to see how many Democrats want to throw stones backwards at the folded impeachment show, and how many will gear up to try to defeat Trump on actual issues. I’d bet the ones running for President will choose the latter. Senators have been shackled to their desks for the actual trial, but every Democrat has been chained in some way to this narrative ever since the inquiry hearings began in the House.
Their liberation is at hand, and so is the nation’s. This should be an election year filled with the proper drama of the ups and downs of the President’s fate, and those who seek to be his successor. The months ahead carry the promise of tracking those developments through the lens of real issues, as the artificial fog of impeachment finally clears.