During the past two weeks we were treated to the made-for-television spectacle of the “Impeachment Inquiry” in the U.S. House of Representatives. Although Democrats had high hopes that this investigation into phone calls and contacts between President Trump, the Ukrainian government, and proxies on both sides would finally—finally!—provide a pretext for removing Donald Trump from office, the early reviews were that it was a total bust.
Some blamed public fatigue with a seemingly unending string of scandals and accusations, each of which has been “the one” that proves Donald Trump is unfit for high office. Others suggested that the public at large is simply not sophisticated enough to understand all the nuances of this Ukraine matter. I think both of these factors played some part in failing to sway public opinion, but I believe this debacle was doomed from the start for three reasons.
First off, Congress itself is far less popular than President Trump. Punching up doesn’t ever work all that well in a fight, and this latest Democratic power play was the unfortunate equivalent of the 98 pound weakling kicking sand in some big dude’s face at the beach—a bad, bad idea.
Throughout the vast majority of his Presidency, Donald Trump’s approval ratings have tracked in a narrow range within the 40-50% level. This is not great, but recent Presidents have done little better with an increasingly polarized electorate.
However, the public’s approval of the performance of Congress, according a poll by Gallup this past June, has sunk to only 20%, which speaks to a broad dissatisfaction and distrust that means they no longer have any good will left to squander. For this reason alone, the chances that this latest effort to “Get Trump” could work were never all that good.
Moreover, Rep. Adam Schiff and his Democratic colleagues made a disastrous strategic mistake from the onset by turning their inquiry into an inquisition. The restrictions imposed on Republicans by the Democratic majority that made it impossible to ask unapproved questions and call dissenting witnesses gave the entire affair an indelible—and ultimately deadly—taint of naked partisanship that made the two weeks of testimony seem like an outright political hit job instead of sane and sober oversight.
The Democratic effort to promote outrage—and conceal inconvenient details—regarding President Trump’s supposed abuse of his office was also grievously harmed by widespread news reports that former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter somehow managed to collect stupendous hunks of cash from a major Ukrainian company while Mr. Biden was in office.
I would, for example, love to sit on the Board of Directors of a business in a foreign nation where I do not speak the language and know not a jot about the industry I am supposedly supervising—but still be paid over $83,000 per month—as Hunter Biden reportedly was while his father was Vice President. Given this reality and Joe Biden’s efforts to avoid this entire discussion while attempting to secure the Democratic nomination to run against Donald Trump in 2020, it was hard to take any of what we heard or saw entirely seriously.
The final problem for Democrats who were attempting to present a case for removing a duly-elected President from office was basic and brutal: The witnesses presented were an awfully mediocre lot.
If you’re picking a public fight with a President who is more than willing to kick butts and take names, you had better bring your toughest street fighters to do battle.
Career diplomats and political appointees are not the A list. Given that much of their testimony revolved around second-hand knowledge, policy disagreements, and obvious and unseemly bitterness over having their subject area expertise ignored, it was hard to discern exactly why we were even pursuing this high public drama in the first place. Their public service might have previously been exemplary, but they seemed to have collectively forgotten that they work for the President—not the other way around—and their often obtuse narrative was a stark reminder of why no child begs for State Department action figures at Christmas.
Lt. Colonel Vindman often seemed unaware or unsure during his testimony, and he still looked, despite being decked out in his full dress uniform, more like an orthodontist than a warrior, which is not the look you want from your star witness.
In addition, uncomfortable and unsettling questions regarding Lt. Colonel Vindman’s behavior and judgment presented themselves every time he opened his mouth: Why did an Army officer think it proper to violate his chain of command and leap forward to challenge the policies and judgments of his Commander-in-Chief? Given Democrats’ ongoing paranoia about Russian misinformation and election meddling, it was also quite remarkable that they chose to showcase an individual who was himself born in Ukraine, but this little factoid seemed to have passed without much comment at all.
Will Democrats actually vote to impeach President Trump and force a Senate trial? Logic and reason would say not. Having failed to sway voters (having, in fact, improved Donald Trump’s standing with the electorate according to some new polls) the obviously sensible course of action would be to fold up the tent, declare that they served the cause of democracy by investigating this matter, and move on—as quickly as possible.
However, considering that a very vocal and significant portion of the Democratic voter base is composed of those who are desperate to destroy President Trump with any tool at their disposal—and without the least regard for the collateral damage they might inflict upon our nation and its people—I am not entirely certain that good judgment will prevail. Having promised to impeach President Trump for three years, Congressional Democrats might find it impossible to walk away empty handed—yet again. The immutable illogic of blind hatred may finally win out.
Should an impeachment trial come to pass in the middle of the 2020 election campaign, I suspect we are in for a very rough ride. Wars always have unpleasant and unpredictable outcomes, and this would be nothing short of political nuclear war of the most ruinously radioactive type.
In the short term, our already divided nation would be divided still further—perhaps irrevocably. In the long term, the consequences are truly anyone’s guess. Those who try to predict the future when passions are inflamed and civility evaporates are playing a fool’s game—particularly when it comes to parsing the possibilities of what fools will actually foolishly do or say.