C’mon, they’re not getting 51 votes to call the whistleblower.

Although, as you’re about to see, they might be a little closer than anyone expected.

The legal team is taking no chances, in any case:

Depending on how senators structure their likely trial, a subpoena could compel the whistleblower to cooperate with anything from written questions to a closed-door interview in a secure location to a public hearing that would expose the whistleblower’s identity.

The whistleblower’s legal team is looking at historical precedent and conducting research to see what kind of case it could mount to block the whistleblower from testifying, if it came to that. One source said the legal team is closely monitoring lawmakers’ public statements about their client and is taking note of recent reporting that some Republicans have pushed back on White House demands for testimony.

The offer for the whistleblower to answer written questions from senators still stands for the upcoming trial, the people familiar said.

The probative value of the whistleblower’s testimony relative to that of firsthand witnesses like Gordon Sondland just isn’t worth the bad press Senate Republicans will get from exposing his identity, knowing that it’ll mean even more threats on his life from the nuttier reaches of MAGA Nation. It could even backfire. Imagine if they put the whistleblower on the stand and ask him who told him X, Y, and Z and he stuns everyone by claiming he heard it directly from John Bolton. That’s unlikely — why would Bolton be gossiping with a lower-level staffer about something as sensitive as the Ukraine “drug deal”? — but if it happened the GOP would be in a jam. “Now more than ever, we must hear from John Bolton directly!” Schumer would cry. “If we don’t then the record will be incomplete and this trial will have been a sham.” Does McConnell then have to try to subpoena Bolton too, setting up a court fight with Trump?

I don’t think they’ll call the whistleblower, nor do I think they’ll call any Democratic politician be it Pelosi, Joe Biden, or Schiff. I’d say there’s an outside chance they throw Trump a bone by calling Hunter Biden and making him answer questions about Burisma, although then they’d have to call other witnesses on the Burisma matter too and suddenly McConnell’s essentially been burdened with an entirely new trial, which is what he said he feared yesterday.

If he does decide to hold a floor vote on calling defense witnesses like Biden and the whistleblower, though, he may find he has more of a margin than he thought he would. That’s because Joe Manchin sounds A-OK with letting Trump put on a show in his own defense:

An hour ago I would have told you that it’ll only take three Republican votes to prevent the Senate from calling the whistleblower. Now, it seems, it’ll take four if Manchin’s willing to vote with the president. Collins, Murkowski, Romney, and … who else?

I think they’d find someone else, maybe John Cornyn or whoever. The option of written answers from the whistleblower provides an exit from the dilemma: “We don’t need to wreck his anonymity by calling him, we can get the information we want through other means.” Look at it this way — Trump obviously knows who the whistleblower is yet even he’s refrained (so far) from identifying him. The politics of outing him are bad enough that the president wants the Senate to do it for him. It’ll be a fun “oh sh*t” moment for the GOP, though, when McConnell calls the vote on having the whistleblower testify, the Senate votes it down, and Trump in a fit of pique tweets out the guy’s name. Imagine Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz and the rest spending the next few days during hours when the trial’s in recess fielding questions from reporters about the president’s tweet and what they plan to do about it. (Hint: Nothing.)

I repeat what I said in a post earlier: I think polls published during the trial might end up deciding how willing McConnell is to indulge Trump on calling witnesses like Hunter Biden. The more it looks like Democrats are persuading viewers with their prosecution case, the more McConnell may conclude that they need to shake things up to try to reverse that trend, in which case it’s time to litigate Burisma. The more it looks like Democrats are failing to persuade anyone, or even actively alienating viewers, the more inclined McConnell will be to take the W and call the final vote before the defense case begins.

Exit question via BuzzFeed: If somehow they succeed in calling the whistleblower to the stand in the interests of completeness, because we can’t know the *full* story of how we arrived at this point without hearing from him directly, what’s the argument for rejecting Democrats’ demands to call Mike Pence, Mick Mulvaney, Rick Perry, Mike Pompeo, and John Bolton? If we’re gonna hear from everyone we need to hear from everyone, no? Since there’s NO QUID PRO QUO and it’s all a WITCH HUNT, those witnesses will simply further bolster Trump’s innocence.