But there’s plenty they can do to turn the lemon of the trial into political lemonade.
The first thing they should do is commit to flying back to Iowa every night whenever possible. Hiring a private plane isn’t expensive compared with the cost of losing out on personal time in Iowa during the campaign’s final weeks. Their Republican colleagues surely do not want hear the president’s lawyers and House impeachment managers drone on into the wee hours of the night. Resolve to have an event near a private airport every night and a plane on call at Reagan National Airport so you can jump into a waiting car and fly off as soon as the Senate adjourns. It’s less than 2½ hours of flying time to Des Moines; since Iowa is on Central Time, a candidate can take off at 6 p.m. Eastern Time and make an 8:30 p.m. Iowa event without much trouble.
Doing that every day will be stressful. But the endurance factor can also attract attention, especially if some candidates don’t commit to it while others do. Resourceful candidates can even make the slog itself into a news story, complete with live social media videos on takeoff and landing with the candidate driving home, to message that the antics of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) won’t keep them from fighting for their values in Washington and across America. This is pure reality TV spectacle, and it’s something neither former vice president Joe Biden nor former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg can match.
Candidates unwilling or unable to make impeachment into a political triathlon competition can host daily video briefings. Use surrogates to attract crowds in the daytime, but at night host large gatherings with live video feeds of the candidate talking from a D.C. venue. The candidate can turn it into a daily Q&A, with attendees able to submit questions via social media or email. One can even envision this becoming a live staple online: “Tune in tonight for ‘Ask Amy Anything.’”
Candidates’ presence at the trial also means they have something new to say each day, unlike Biden or Buttigieg. Enterprising campaigns can set up regular interviews with Iowa media outlets in which the candidates can give their reaction to the day’s arguments and comment on whatever evidence arises outside the Senate chamber. They can also use their prerogative to ask questions during the trial to set up each night’s interview — “Here’s what I wanted to find out, and here are my thoughts on the answer.” The “killer B’s” still on the campaign trail may find they regret not being on impeachment’s front lines by caucus day.
I can already hear what you’re saying: “But when will they sleep?” That’s always an issue in presidential campaigns toward the end as candidates cram as many appearances and interviews in as their tired bodies permit. They can surely catch 40 winks on the plane and a few hours more once they get home after touching down. (They could also try napping on the floor during the trial, if they trust reports that the Senate’s television cameras will not be panning the entire chamber to show senators at their desks.) For someone who wants to lead the free world, lack of sleep is just another obstacle, not a barrier. If they can’t handle that grind, perhaps they shouldn’t be seeking the world’s most demanding job.
Anyone who is serious about running for president has a degree of ambition and willpower that most people aren’t capable of. These uber-Type A’s should look at the trial as just another hurdle to jump over on their way to seizing the brass ring.