This is unquestionably the soundbite of the day, the source of much high-fiving and merrymaking by anti-Trumpers of all stripes on political Twitter this afternoon after Hill said it. It’s an elegant restatement of the central accusation: Trump and Rudy and Mulvaney and Sondland weren’t interested in how Ukraine might advance American interests internationally, they were interested in how Ukraine might advance Trump’s interests domestically by dumping some scandal baggage on the Democratic frontrunner for president. Today’s other witness, David Holmes, claims that Sondland made basically the same point to him after his phone conversation with Trump in July. Trump was interested in Ukraine to the extent that Biden investigation might benefit him, period, Sondland allegedly said.
But so what?
What I mean is, as you watch this celebrated clip, note that Hill’s not supplying any new facts. She’s offering a conclusion — one that seems to have crystallized in her mind only yesterday, when she watched Sondland testify about his months of bouncing between Trump, Giuliani, Mulvaney, and the Ukrainians to try to swing a deal on the “corruption” probes Trump wanted. This answer resonated with Trump critics not because it’s a bombshell that advanced the case that Trump masterminded the quid pro quo but because it was an unusually succinct explanation of the grievance at the heart of this. The resulting high-fiving by the chatterati had the feel of celebrating while watching a spectator sport. “Our team” had clearly just scored a goal on “their team” … even though the outcome of the game isn’t in doubt and never has been.
In fact, not only is “their team” going to win, the lead has grown since public hearings began. I refer you to this post from yesterday tracking how polls on impeachment are moving *towards* Trump as the hearings have played out. Not overwhelmingly so; in fact, a narrow plurality still supports removing him from office. But his odds of reelection seem to have improved since the process began. And unless Sondland’s testimony had a deeper impact on the public than anyone on either side expects, support for removal won’t get within a country mile of where it needs to be in order to make Senate Republicans think hard about sticking with the president.
What the hearings have become, in other words, is catharsis. Trump critics know they’re going to lose but they’re at least going to force him through the ordeal of having his own diplomats, including the rich donor whom he tapped to be ambassador to the EU, tell the world that they believed Ukraine aid was blocked because someone up the chain cared more about repelling Joe Biden than about repelling Russia’s military effort to reconquer an American ally. The hearings aren’t a means to an end of removing Trump, since that outcome isn’t on the table. The hearings are the end themselves. Fiona Hill eloquently dunking on Trump and Sondland is as close as anti-Trumpers are going to get to a “win” in all this. Hence the celebration today.
Two clips for you, one of Hill and the other of the Ghost of Bombshells Past.
— Republicans for the Rule of Law (@ForTheRuleOfLaw) November 21, 2019