Democrats want three consolation prizes out of this process, knowing that they’re destined to lose the trial. Possibly with a bipartisan vote for acquittal.
First prize: Damaging Trump’s chances at reelection. They can tolerate the Senate voting “not guilty” if the electorate, watching these proceedings, votes to “convict” on Election Day. Democrats might even prefer that. If the Senate removed Trump, his ouster would be regarded by Republicans as a travesty calling into question the legitimacy of America’s entire democratic system. If instead the voters remove him in November, eh. That’s elections for you. Dems at least want to wound him now in hopes that the public will deliver the coup de grace this fall.
Second prize: Damaging Susan Collins’s and Cory Gardner’s chances at reelection. Schumer will trade losing this trial for a pick-up of two Republican-held Senate seats in battleground states. Unquestionably he’d trade a “not guilty” verdict for some sort of guarantee of a Democratic Senate majority next year, knowing that that would mean he could block all of Trump’s appointments even if POTUS were to win a second term. Dems will use whatever pro-Trump votes are cast by Collins and Gardner during this process to cast them in their Senate races next fall as hardcore Trump toadies who don’t represent the centrist politics of their home states.
Third prize: Delegitimizing Trump and the GOP, just in case they’re stuck with another four years of Republican control of the White House and/or the Senate. That’s where Schiff’s soundbite about fair elections during this afternoon’s opening arguments comes in.
“President Trump withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to a strategic partner, at war with Russia, to secure foreign help with his reelection, in other words, to cheat,” Schiff said.
And Schiff made the remarkable assertion that impeachment is necessary because Trump’s attempts to solicit Ukrainian interference in the 2020 election have called the integrity of the presidential contest into question.
“The president’s misconduct cannot be decided at the ballot box, for we cannot be assured that the vote will be fairly won,” Schiff said.
“Americans decide American elections. At least they should,” he said.
In context, this isn’t just some pissy “selected, not elected” talking point of the sort that Stacey Abrams fans threw at Brian Kemp in Georgia to cope with the fact that she lost her election. This really is the crux of the Democratic case. If Trump can use his official state power to damage his presumptive opponent, such as by threatening to withhold military aid to a foreign country unless it impugns that opponent publicly, then he’s putting a thumb on the electoral scale. State power is supposed to benefit the public, not his campaign.
What Schiff’s doing, though, is going a step further by suggesting that that complaint might not be limited to Biden. Either we remove Trump, he’s implying, or a Trump victory this fall is presumptively tainted no matter who his opponent turns out to be. Trump winning would be inherently illegitimate, I guess on the theory that we can now safely assume he’ll inevitably try to cheat against Sanders or Warren too even if no one can prove it. That’s aggressive delegitimization.
Although there’s a GOP analog too, let’s face it. If Trump does end up losing election, Republicans will claim that the Democratic victory is tainted by the illegitimacy of the impeachment process. This is the first time in American history that a president running for reelection has been impeached; unquestionably, as noted up top, Democrats are hoping that impeachment ends up stigmatizing Trump to the point that it weakens his chances of being reelected. “Isn’t that putting a thumb on the scale too?” GOPers will say. And then, having learned the lesson that impeaching a first-term president can pay off at the ballot box, they’ll inevitably find a reason to impeach Trump’s Democratic successor circa 2023.
It’s “illegitimate” presidents from now until eternity. Or at least until something happens to break through the hyperpartisan stalemate that defines America’s current political culture.
By the way, new polling from Pew continues the trend of support for removal:
Three of the last four polls tracked by RCP showed a slight public preference for removal. Now here’s this one indicating a five-point advantage. Whether that’s being driven by a burst of credulity in hearing out the Democratic case at the start of the trial or by something else, like the Lev Parnas chatter in the media, I don’t know. But if Dems come out of this process with the public mildly in favor of removal on balance, they’ll probably treat it as a moral victory. The real victory in November is TBD, of course.
“The President's misconduct cannot be decided at the ballot box, for we cannot be assured that the vote will be fairly won,” lead impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff says during his opening statement at the Senate impeachment trial. https://t.co/14mXcvjVzh pic.twitter.com/F2OZhLYx7v
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) January 22, 2020