It seems possible, even probable, that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will get 49 members of his caucus to join him in blocking witness testimony in the impeachment trial and moving to an up-or-down vote on Friday. I believe this may be a mistake from an election optics perspective; Democrats will use this against every Republican running for reelection, including President Trump.
With that said, it’s the right move to acquit now. Or, to be more accurate, it’s the righteous move because the President’s actions and the Articles of Impeachment filed against him were not sufficient grounds for removal. Even most Democrats on Capitol Hill know this, but their desire to hurt their counterparts politically superseded an lingering feelings of fair play or adherence to the Constitution.
Below are four narratives they must hammer home from the beginning and throughout election season whenever the topic of impeachment comes up, but first, let’s explore potential narratives they may be inclined to use but should avoid at all costs.
Their rationale for blocking witnesses must NOT be:
- “House Democrats didn’t make their case.” Saying they didn’t make their case has an easy counter from Democrats: They didn’t let us. The House Managers did an adequate job of demonstrating precedent for calling witnesses in impeachment cases, and while the actual details have been skewed, the narrative is an easy one for voters to understand.
- “There was no quid pro quo, pressure, or personal gain for the President.” In light of the potential John Bolton testimony, saying that the President did nothing wrong runs awry to the move to block Bolton as a witness. Democrats would counter that if they’d allowed witnesses, the world would have seen quid pro quo, pressure, and personal gain demonstrated by a former high-level White House staffer with first-hand knowledge.
- “House Democrats should have called more witnesses.” The problem is, they did. Or at least they tried. Democrats and media would pounce on this narrative from the GOP by saying the House tried to get more witnesses, including Bolton, but their efforts were “obstructed” by the White House. The GOP counter would be that they didn’t fight it in court, but that won’t hold much water to Joe Blow voter who sees it as a giant cover up.
- “The President is in charge of foreign policy.” This is true. It also opens up the counterargument that he is not allowed to wield his power over foreign policy to help him win elections. Republicans can bring up what President Obama did during the 2016 election, but in the minds of voters, two wrongs don’t make a right. Trying to sell the notion that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander will only make people question President Obama’s actions. It won’t help justify President Trump’s.
Now, let’s look at what their narratives should be:
The Articles of Impeachment weren’t impeachable offenses
As noted above, this is the reason they should move forward and end the impeachment debacle as quickly as possible. It should have been dismissed from the outset. In fact, the Articles should have never seen the light of day. But here we are, so justifying their decision to block witnesses must come across as the right move.
In debates, there are two honest techniques. You can point out the fallacies in the opponent’s facts or you can point out the fallacies in the opponent’s logic. This is the latter. Instead of debating whether or not the House Managers needed more witnesses to establish the validity of their facts, Republicans must cast doubt on the logic behind their Articles of Impeachment in the first place. If there was no crime worthy of removal from office for them to prove, then there’s no need to allow witnesses to help or hinder them from proving them.
Point out the partisanship of the House
In the Democrat-controlled House, most Democrats voted in favor of Articles of Impeachment while some Democrats and all Republicans voted against them. In the Republican-controlled Senate, most Republicans will vote against calling witnesses while some Republicans and all Democrats will vote in favor of them.
The parallels are clear, and the case the GOP has been saying all along—that it was argued in purely partisan manner in the House—can be used as the reason for their defense during the Senate trial.
Remind everyone Bolton wouldn’t testify before the House
John Bolton’s testimony will be the one that everyone is harping about if it doesn’t happen. Therefore, the GOP must cast doubt on the validity of his testimony. Thankfully, they have a very logical reasoning for doubting its validity and they can demonstrate this through Bolton’s own actions.
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His testimony was requested by House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, but Bolton declined. Why? If he had pertinent, first-hand knowledge about why the President withheld aid from Ukraine and was willing to discuss it before the Senate, why wouldn’t he do it in front of the House? The reason, as Republicans should hammer home, is obvious. He wanted to sell more books and testifying about it in front of the House Judiciary Committee wouldn’t have done him any favors. But offering to testify in front of the Senate and then quietly hoping he never gets called is the greatest book-selling tactic every used.
“I wasn’t trying to sell more books,” he could say, “which is evident by the fact that I was willing to testify about it before the Senate.” But he truly hopes he doesn’t have to because now his book will be the most sought-after tell-all this White House has ever had to deal with.
“Great news, now get back to work”
When the impeachment debacle is over, they’ll finally get back to doing work for the people. This is important, as nothing is getting done while the impeachment debacle is dominating Capitol Hill. It also happens to be a narrative that most, especially the all-important Independents, can agree with being a good thing even if they wanted to hear from witnesses.
Democrats and mainstream media will do everything in their power to paint the impeachment trial as a cover-up by Senate Republicans. But the GOP has the truth on their side. If they play the proper notes, they can paint this as the righteous move that it is.