It is worth remembering that just a couple of weeks ago, the punditocracy was pronouncing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as the big loser in her battle with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) over sending the articles of impeachment. It was mere days ago that the same pundits were certain that there would be no witnesses and that the Senate would barrel ahead to acquittal. It is a failure of imagination that often afflicts political journalists: the inability to appreciate that circumstances change and, yes, facts really do matter.
Nothing should be taken for granted but Bolton in all likelihood will make an appearance. Whether McConnell will force individual senators to walk the plank to vote against the president’s wishes or whether Republicans will simply agree by acclamation to protect vulnerable members of the herd remains uncertain. Equally uncertain is whether there are 51 votes for witnesses beyond Bolton. Democrats would like to hear from acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Mike Duffey from the Office of Management and Budget and White House aide Robert B. Blair. However, those witnesses may uncover the identities of further witnesses. Most important, with witnesses will come documents Trump had ordered withheld from Congress.
Republicans have no witnesses who can corroborate their thin arguments, none of which really contradict the House’s case. They keep threatening to call former vice president Joe Biden, but given how he is lapping up the admissions from Republicans that this is all about smearing him, Republicans might want to reconsider. Biden even made an ad out of one senator’s confession that Republicans were hoping the trial damaged Biden:
They may also want to reconsider calling Hunter Biden, who has no material, relevant evidence to provide and could send the trial down the path of investigating Trump’s own nepotism and his adult children’s conflicts of interest.
The assumption has also been that the result, acquittal, is preordained. Perhaps, but we have not yet seen what Bolton has to say, read his notes or witnessed how the country reacts. Even if there is an eventual acquittal the possibility certainly exists, depending on the witnesses, that a few Republicans will defect. Is a Barry Goldwater moment — Republican senators trooping up to the White House to tell the president it’s all over — entirely out of the question?
The cynical idea endemic in much of political reporting these days that facts do not matter is overstated and misleading. Facts do not matter to the hard-core Trump base or to the sycophantic right-wing media. However, voters — by huge margins (75 percent in the latest Quinnipiac poll) — keep telling us they really want to hear from witnesses.
Pelosi likes to invoke Abraham Lincoln’s admonition that “with public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.” One of these days, political reporters and pundits are going to start taking her political analysis seriously. She’s almost always right, you know.