If the domestic political world were playing a game of Clue, the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump would be at its end point when the player identifies the culprit behind the crime. Each of the relevant players now knows who was responsible for the misdeeds, and the questions about how, when, and why the misdeeds were committed have been answered.
For all intents and purposes, the riddle has been solved. The game is over.
The Associated Press published a rather brutal analysis this morning, highlighting the “mountain of evidence” that is uncontested and “beyond dispute.”
Trump explicitly ordered U.S. government officials to work with his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani on matters related to Ukraine, a country deeply dependent on Washington’s help to fend off Russian aggression. The Republican president pushed Ukraine to launch investigations into political rivals, leaning on a discredited conspiracy theory his own advisers disputed. And both American and Ukrainian officials feared that Trump froze a much-needed package of military aid until Kyiv announced it was launching those probes.
Those facts were confirmed by a dozen witnesses, mostly staid career government officials who served both Democratic and Republican administrations. They relied on emails, text messages and contemporaneous notes to back up their recollections from the past year.
Stitched together, their hours of televised testimony paint a portrait of an American president willing to leverage his powerful office to push a foreign government for personal political help.
Well, sure, when one puts it that way – which is to say, accurately – the controversy sounds pretty bad.
At least, that is, to those looking at the facts objectively. I’ll confess, over the course of the public hearings, I found myself thinking on multiple occasions, “Even the most hyper-partisan congressional Republicans won’t be able to dismiss these revelations.”
Those were, of course, foolish assumptions. Not only is Donald Trump pretending the devastating revelations exonerated him, but Politico reported overnight, “[E]ven as Democrats felt that they had made an ironclad case that Trump had abused the power of his office by pressuring a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 election, they were no closer to persuading even a single House Republican to join them in voting to impeach the president.”
Eugene Robinson noted in his latest column, “After this week’s impeachment testimony, if Republicans continue to insist that Dear Leader President Trump did absolutely nothing wrong – and they might do just that – then the GOP has surrendered any claim to being a political party. It would be a full-fledged cult of personality.”
Maybe so, but here we are. Michael Gerson, a former George W. Bush speechwriter, offered an explanation as to why GOP lawmakers, en masse, are ignoring what is plainly true.
None of this is likely to change the minds of most elected Republicans on impeachment itself. It does, however, place their motivations out in the open. In the face of serious charges against the president, Republicans have no exculpatory evidence to offer. Their true appeal – their only appeal – is tribal.
Republicans would certainly support impeachment for a Democratic president who sought foreign help in rigging an American presidential election, particularly in a manner that strengthened an international rival. But no matter. Tribalism dictates that Republicans stick together in their opposition to impeachment because, well, you can’t give aid and comfort to an enemy intent on ruining the country. The only thing that matters in the end? Using power to keep power.
There were multiple points in recent weeks in which Democrats seemed to genuinely believe the merits mattered. If they could just present bulletproof arguments, bolstered by witnesses and documentary evidence, to the point that the facts were plain and unassailable, at least some Republicans would relent. The combination of personal pride and professional responsibility would simply be too great.
In 2019, however, it appears this simply isn’t how American politics works anymore.