Impeachment is a yawner. Except when it’s an obsession. I’m interested as a matter of a triple-professional obligation. “Impeachment, Theory and Practice” is not only an annual lecture in my constitutional law course, but also a subject about which I am occasionally asked to opine by NBC News and this newspaper. My largely center-right radio audience isn’t interested in the specifics of the allegations against President Trump. They long ago dismissed the charges as absurd, resulting from the pumped-up histrionics of an ultrapartisan age. But they are listening intensely to see which Senate Republicans will fight, just as they did during Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. They also want to see who will defend the president, and how vigorously.
But many in the chattering class are obsessed with the charges. Genuinely, thoroughly, wholly obsessed. Never have so few rowed so fervently for a destination that the rest of the world would almost certainly be happy to skip. These are the same people who thought special counsel Robert S. Mueller III was sending a secret message using every fourth word in alternating paragraphs.
Please, liberal and left-wing friends inside the Beltway and cocooned in executive suites in the broadcast industry, please understand: Most Americans don’t care. They care about the election. They care about Iran. They care about whether Trump can keep the economy booming.
Polls may suggest that north of 40 percent of Americans want the Senate to remove Trump, but my strong sense is that the statistic is profoundly misleading. Ask a question such as that, and people will offer a reply, usually one just reflecting their political affiliation. But that doesn’t indicate the degree of their interest in the subject. Far from being fixated, most Americans are, I think, by turns amused, disgusted or bored by this impeachment. And they are in no way seriously expecting anything other than a Senate trial ending in acquittal.
I’ve spent a lot of on-air time interviewing Republican senators over the past week about the concept of “witness reciprocity” — equal at-bats for prosecutors and the defense team alike. Unlike the miasma of Ukrainian charge and counter-charge, the subject is actually interesting, because it goes to the basic concept of fairness. The senators I spoke with — Tom Cotton (Ark.), Ted Cruz (Tex.), James M. Inhofe (Okla.), James Lankford (Okla.) and Rick Scott (Fla.) — all made clear that the sauce/goose/gander standard will apply here.
If the Democrats persuade the four Republicans they need to open the Pandora’s box of calling witnesses in the Senate trial, count on the witnesses also coming in flights of four. If the Democratic prosecutors are first-movers on calling for a witness, the defense should be allowed a reciprocal witness, as well as the opportunity to be the first mover on the next witness round. If former national security adviser John Bolton is a witness, then that means former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter, or the so-called whistleblower will be as well. Perhaps impeachment manager and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) himself will be called to testify.
So there may be some interesting episodes ahead, and the prospect of seeing senators chained to their desks, obliged to listen to impeachment managers Schiff and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) droning for hours on end is comical, but not watchable. Generally, the trial is going to be a snoozer. The commentariat hates this. Democrats are trying to make it otherwise. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is handing out souvenir pens. “House managers” are solemnly marching from one end of the Capitol to the other. Meanwhile, plenty of observers are choking back laughter.
If witnesses are called, cry havoc and let slip the dogs of unpronounceable names and the details of monthly draws on Burisma checking accounts. We could be here for weeks and weeks.
And we already know the ending. What a charade.