The three Senators -- Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona, and Joni Ernst of Iowa -- all face tough races, though Gardner and McSally are probably more vulnerable than Ernst.
A reporter directly asked Gardner whether it was appropriate for Trump to press a foreign leader to investigate a domestic political rival, and Gardner pulled an extensive homina homina homina, mumbling something about how the Senate would examine the whole matter. You can watch that exchange here:
Similarly, an Arizona reporter cornered McSally and asked her point blank: Would you ask a foreign power to dish dirt on a political opponent? McSally angrily brushed off the question, claiming the Senate is focused on “what matters,” thus suggesting this scandal doesn’t matter at all. You can watch video of that here.
And a CNN reporter pressed Ernst on this same question, and she repeatedly refused to answer, saying that the process underway in Congress would supply all the “facts.” Ernst also laughably claimed that we don’t know whether Trump actually did this. Video of that is here.
It’s also worth noting that these Senators have refused to answer other questions relating to impeachment. McSally repeatedly refused to answer a conservative TV host’s repeated questions about how she’d vote on whether to hear new witnesses. Gardner did the same with a local reporter. Those, too, are on video.
Under the process that McConnell is trying to establish, after opening statements and questions from Senators, the Senate will vote on the general question of whether to allow subpoenas for new witnesses and evidence. If 51 GOP Senators vote against, that may settle the matter -- there will be no votes on subpoenas for specific witnesses and specific evidence -- though Democrats might be able to put up some procedural challenges.
If that happens, all of this video of vulnerable GOP Senators refusing to answer the most basic questions about Trump’s misconduct, and about their own willingness to hold him accountable for it, will come back to haunt them.
Democrats tell me they think this kind of video is damning in a particularly visceral way. While it’s true that in some of these swing states, public opinion is evenly divided on or might even tilt against removal, these moments capture a level of evasiveness that might make even swing voters who are not pro-removal uncomfortable, since there are probably a lot of swing voters who still want the Senate to hold a real trial.
Now keep in mind that Trump has insisted that Republicans must assert along with him that he did nothing whatsoever wrong. He has not given them much space to distance themselves from his corruption.
Instead, he has in effect demanded that Republicans dismiss the entire impeachment process as fundamentally illegitimate -- that is, he’s demanded that they show absolute contempt for it along with him.
This is why McSally thought that viciously blowing off a reporter for daring to even ask whether she wanted new witnesses would be seen by the Trump base as a great and heroic stand on Trump’s behalf.
But now that the trial has begun, it’s already becoming clear that the facts and evidence against Trump are incredibly damning. Trump’s defenders -- such as lawyers Jay Sekulow and Pat Cippolone -- have spent so much time offering fake Fox-News-bubble defenses of Trump that they just might find themselves out-argued by Rep. Adam Schiff and Democrats:
I sat in chamber for entire Schiff speech. That was a mauling. Trump team thought they were there to debate process and Schiff ambushed them with a full-throated case for impeachment. Republicans were visibly uncomfortable. Sekulow & Cippolone responses were rambling & bombastic— Jon Ward (@jonward11) January 21, 2020
If McConnell succeeds in getting 51 GOP Senators to rule out new witnesses and evidence -- as appears very possible -- these swing voters will have to explain this outcome to their constituents, after the trial is over. Not only will a powerful case have been presented against Trump; it will also be a time when who knows what other damning revelations are about to detonate.
Making the case that Trump is innocent -- and, even more ludicrous, that the charges against him are unworthy of a real trial, as Trump himself has insisted all along -- is going to be hard. As Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg has pointed out, the bottom line is that these Senators will have to sell voters this crap sandwich at some point. It can’t be deferred forever.
As those videos show, they couldn’t even defend him back then, well before Trump had been impeached and well before all the facts were in. Will this really be any easier after they vote against holding a real trial? And those videos won’t help, since they show that these Senators never took their constitutional responsibilities seriously in the first place.