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Opinion Nunes and Kent tell us everything we need to know about impeachment

Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, delivered his opening statement in the Nov. 13 hearing. (Video: The Washington Post)

The contrast between Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, told us everything we needed to know about the impeachment hearings into President Trump that went public on Wednesday.

Nunes, the ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee, wanted to make everything about party. Kent, a civil servant for decades, wanted to make everything about country.

Nunes’s opening statement was a screed against “the Democrats’ scorched-earth war against President Trump,” “their impeachment sham” and a “politicized bureaucracy.”

The crisp, bow-tie-wearing Kent, who testified along with William B. Taylor Jr., the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, could not have known what Nunes would say. But Kent’s initial remarks provided an eloquent rebuke to the Republican’s crass and appalling insult to those who devote their professional lives to their country.

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Noting that he was “the third generation of my family to have chosen a career in public service,” Kent declared: “It was unexpected, and most unfortunate, to watch some Americans — including those who allied themselves with corrupt Ukrainians in pursuit of private agendas — launch attacks on dedicated public servants advancing U.S. interests in Ukraine,” Kent said. “In my opinion, those attacks undermined U.S. and Ukrainian national interests and damaged our critical bilateral relationship.”

Take that, Mr. Nunes (and Rudy Giuliani).

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And several Republicans furnished further proof that they are far more interested in discrediting the hearings than in establishing the truth. GOP members briefly delayed the proceedings to demand yet again that the whistleblower who let the world know about Trump’s efforts to push the Ukrainian government to smear Joe Biden be called to testify. Committee Chair Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), whose own opening statement was largely a recitation of known facts, shut them down.

Thus were the terms of the coming struggle established. Democrats hope that piling up evidence offered almost entirely by people with no political axes to grind will shift public opinion against Trump. Republicans hope to obscure the facts by arguing that there is no such thing as objective truth anymore because anyone who says anything critical of Trump must have a partisan motive.

In insisting that integrity will eventually win, Trump’s critics point back to the Watergate hearings in 1973 and 1974 as turning the tide against Richard M. Nixon. “It was the open hearings that changed the American public’s mind, that then changed elected Republicans’ minds,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) observed on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” shortly before Wednesday’s session began.

Well, yes. But we were a far more open-minded and less partisan country back then. There were many more moderate and liberal Republicans, as well as more openness to the other side’s views — and no Fox News and no right-wing talk-radio empire.

Gallup recently contrasted its surveys on removing Trump from office with comparable polls about Nixon in August 1974. Gallup found that while 92 percent of Republicans rejected removing Trump last month, only 59 percent felt that way about Nixon.

Other polls have found somewhat more Republican support for driving Trump from office, and it’s also true that by August 1974, the country had gone through more than a year of highly public Watergate inquiries.

Nonetheless, no one can deny how much partisan polarization has deepened since Nixon. Moreover, with the 2020 election looming, Democrats have much less time than their forebears did 45 years ago. And they are operating in an information environment that is not conducive to sober reflection.

Political scientists Jennifer Hochschild and Katherine Levine Einstein posed the key question in their 2015 book that pre-dated the rise of Trump, “Do Facts Matter?” Their conclusion was not encouraging. As they wrote in The Post, to persuade a “misinformed voter . . . to reject false knowledge, change policy views, disagree with friends, agree with former enemies, and perhaps abandon leaders or even a political party, requires an enormous amount of effort and resources.”

Trump — with help from Nunes and his colleagues — seems to be counting on exactly that. They expect that throwing around magic words such as “the Steele dossier” and “Hillary Clinton” should be enough to keep their partisans onside and maintain pressure on Senate Republicans to ignore the president’s abuses of power.

But perhaps, perhaps, patriots such as Kent will make some Republicans think twice. In his prepared statement, he noted that “the principled promotion of the rule of law and institutional integrity has been so necessary to our strategy for a successful Ukraine.”

Yes, and both are just as essential to a successful United States of America.

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Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Taylor’s early testimony reveals a new factual bombshell

Paul Waldman: Hearing’s first blockbuster shows why Trump is headed for impeachment

Erik Wemple: ‘I’m horrified. I’m appalled’: George Conway takes Trump-bashing mind to MSNBC

Ann Telnaes: Sketches from the Kent and Taylor impeachment hearings

Gary Abernathy: Neighborliness gets a little harder in Trump Country

Danielle Allen: Giuliani wants ‘fair play’? Fine, let’s talk about fairness.

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