Briar patch or pent-up frustration over being sidelined? In an interview with Fox & Friends earlier today, Donald Trump told the panel that he welcomed a Senate trial — if Democrats dare to impeach him. Trump says he would like nothing better than to turn the tables on “shifty Schiff” and call all the witnesses the House Intelligence chair blocked when requested by Republicans (via Colby Hall at Mediaite):
President Trump just said this on @foxandfriends in a phone interview this morning:
"I want a trial."
The hosts tried to ask him a follow-up question about that, but he didn't stop talking to respond to them. pic.twitter.com/i54B0f2xAW
— Grant Stern (@grantstern) November 22, 2019
In a question designed to praise Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, Trump quickly turned to the overall ordeal. “The bottom line is, all of those witnesses, they’re all shifty Schiff’s,” he noted, adding “don’t forget there was no Due Process. You can’t have lawyers. We couldn’t have any witnesses.” He then said “we wanted to call the whistleblower. You know who I want as the first witness, frankly, I want a trial.”
Brian Kilmeade followed “You want a trial?”
Trump replied “Oh, I would! Look, number one, they should never, ever impeach.” He then cited as evidence the flurry of pro-Trump legal analysis he had seen on Fox News. “I watched, I watched five people on your network yesterday say there’s nothing here. Andy McCarthy, how about Ken, special prosecutor.:
Kilmeade interjected: Ken Starr.”
“Special counsel. Ken Starr, he was fantastic, he said there’s nothing here. So ready? Number one, there should never be an impeachment. This is not an impeachment,” Trump finished.
This was not a spur-of-the-moment messaging decision by Trump. Not long after Schiff’s last witness testified in the public impeachment inquiry hearings, the White House began a full-court press to get a lengthy Senate trial in order to put their critics in the hot seat themselves. Administration spokesman Hogan Gidley told Fox News last night that any trial in the Senate will result in subpoenas for a wide range of witnesses, including not just the whistleblower but also Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, and even Schiff himself as a fact witness regarding the whistleblower’s contacts with his staff.
Gidley described Trump as “jubilant” at the prospect:
“I spoke to the president about this tonight. … The president did nothing wrong. He wants that plain and clearly explained to the American people. But, he also feels there’s no basis to move forward at all in the House. But if they do, he wants a trial in the Senate. He wants to be able to bring up witnesses like Adam Schiff, like the whistleblower, like Hunter Biden, like Joe Biden. And he says, if the House moves forward with this sham, and they continue to push these fake, illegitimate proceedings onto the American people, then he wants it to go to the Senate, and he wants a trial.”
Is this a briar-patch strategy? At least in part, sure, and it might work — not so much because of Trump’s dare, but because Schiff’s hearings clearly didn’t rally support for impeachment. If anything, Schiff and House Democrats lost ground over the last month, despite being in near-total control of the media narrative. If they vote to impeach Trump, they will have to hand that narrative control to Republicans in the Senate and watch their own actions get pulled apart on national television. And, let’s not forget, all while having exactly zero chance of removing Trump from office.
However, they also know that this isn’t just a dare. Who among them doubts that Trump relishes these kinds of fights after watching him for nearly three years in office? Trump didn’t back down with the smear campaign against Brett Kavanaugh, he didn’t back down with Robert Mueller, and he never backed away from Hillary Clinton even after the Access Hollywood tapes. It’s lame and cliché by now to say it, but Trump really is a fighter — one who lives for those fights. Whether that’s good or bad for the body politic is immaterial now that Democrats have gone all-in to remove him; all they’ve done is reinforce the received wisdom on the Right that this is the only kind of Republican candidate who can survive now. Schiff and House Democrats have managed to fulfill that prophecy while they decry it.
With that in mind, can Democrats now win an impeachment vote? Will Hurd’s repudiation last night stripped the last hope of any aisle-crossers, and Jeff Van Drew has all but said he won’t vote in support. With Trump’s numbers rising and independents bailing out of their impeachment effort, more than a few House Democrats might be wondering whether an aye vote on Schiff’s threadbare bill of particulars will be political suicide. And if Van Drew was telling the truth last week, some of them are already reconsidering the whole idea.
Nancy Pelosi’s best play would be to shift this to a censure vote and put it away quickly. But it’s doubtful that she can reverse her alea iacta est and maintain any support from the progressive wing of the party. Briar patch, get ready to meet House Democrats — one way or another.