Donald Trump wanted a great reality TV event before telling Sean Hannity on Super Bowl Sunday about how he’d won “total exoneration.”
Instead, we’ve seen since Saturday an aggressively tendentious and at times bafflingly counterproductive defense presentation, a cross between the president’s desire for fireworks and Mitch McConnell’s desire to get this impeachment trial over with, fast.
Despite his bombshell leak, Bolton hardly came up in Trump’s Senate defense. Instead of fiery, passionate, Biden-incinerating attacks from pipe-hitting badasses, Trump paraded out a few dull lawyers, along with a brace of absurdity from Ken Starr, going on about how impeachment is no small thing, but war, hell, plus some discursive reflections from noted Jeffrey Epstein bestie Alan Dershowitz.
Jay Sekulow walked the tightrope Trump put him on, denying any wrongdoing until the last day, then edging closer and closer to something that sounded by the end more like QAnon “deep state” conspiracy horseshit, and less like an actual defense on the facts. He’s better on Fox than he is on the stand. Pat Cipollone was there to punch up the executive branch supremacy arguments.
Pam Bondi was, well, Pam Bondi. As we know from Florida history, she is not what they call, in the lawyering world, a great lawyer. Clad in a Starfleet tunic and talking points ripped from MAGASquad2020Q-HubPatriotEagleMatrix.ru, she was full to the gills with the Approved Story of how international crime lord and overall supervillain Joe Biden was milking the workin’ folk of Ukraine for the benefit of his son Hunter.
It was ludicrous and lurid, but it didn’t matter; it was a fantasy to feed the Mighty Wurlitzer of Dumbfuckistan, the Fox/Trump media machine that turns stories like Bondi’s from risible absurdities into stone truths for the MAGA horde. Even Trump’s cheerleaders in the Senate must have had a moment of, “Uh, can we wrap this up” as her painfully terrible performance ground on.
Bondi’s agitprop on the Bidens and Burisma did affirm one hugely important point. The President of the United States was doing exactly what the evidence, records, testimony, and common sense said he was doing: extorting a foreign nation to smear his domestic political opponent.
McConnell’s ability to hold the caucus in line has been powerful, but in the last few days has become slightly brittle. He’s like the B-2 Spirit bomber: enormously capable, full of deadly tricks, and more delicate and temperamental than its imposing reputation. I don’t take his “I don’t have a majority to prevent witnesses” line as gospel—Mitch never shows his hand like that—but I do take it seriously.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that vulnerable senators like Cory Gardner, Martha McSally, and Susan Collins are eager to stop this from becoming a parade of witnesses and grinding them into dust. They feel the pressure rising at home, and are starting to wonder if McConnell’s promises of financial support are going to make a difference.
Several important truths are finally sinking in for the Republican caucus. First, the understanding that Trump lied to them and will continue to lie to them, and more importantly to Mitch McConnell. The White House has been sitting on a mountain of incriminating evidence and documents, including the explosive Bolton manuscript, without so much as a heads-up to McConnell about what was coming.
Next, the polling numbers are punishingly real. The public wants witnesses at the Senate trial. How big are the numbers? Hella big. The Monmouth poll put support for witnesses at an astounding 80 percent. Quinnipiac has it at 75 percent, Reuters 72 percent, Washington Post at 71 percent and CNN 69 percent. This is, as we say in survey research, a done deal. Voters who feel this strongly about an issue won’t forget it, and smart pollsters in the GOP know it.
I’ve spoken with Republican pollsters who want this to be over, yesterday. Trump’s Teflon doesn’t extend to their clients, and in places like Maine, Arizona, and Colorado, defending Trump comes with a political price tag that’s rising by the day.
Bolton’s leak was perfectly timed to hit both the Senate trial and the Washington media system. He is in many ways as canny an inside baseball player as McConnell, and the dark shadow of Bolton hovered over the first two days of this week like a giant airborne mustache, blocking out the light of the sun. John Kelly weighing in to vouch for Bolton couldn’t have made Trump happy. The energy required of the MAGA world to transform Bolton from Trump stalwart to evil Soros shill is massive, and well underway.
The White House is on the horns of a dilemma here as well. Should they attempt to litigate and block Bolton‘s book and his testimony on executive privilege grounds, they will delay the trial, opening more opportunities for more and more news detrimental to Trump’s case to slip out.
As for the threat of bringing Hunter or Joe Biden to the Senate floor, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now: Joe Biden should welcome it with open arms. They should go onto the Senate floor and engage in an absolutely wide-open full- throttle fuck-you Joe-versus-Trump spectacle. It’s the key validation that Trump, with his feral populist cunning, considers Biden one of the most dangerous threats in the Democratic field.
Trump has gambled his entire presidency on defending a stupid scheme run by a cadre of B- and C-tier players. He’s willing to double down now by trying to force McConnell to drag Hunter and Joe to the floor. Call his bluff.
Lev Parnas is singing like a canary and seems to have a deep tranche of documents and recordings. They’ll keep coming. Rudy Giuliani is very, very, very unhappy on the sidelines as Trump has deprived him of three things: the spotlight, the notoriety of being the counsel fighting for Trump’s honor on the floor of the Senate, and the financial rewards that redound in the Trump Swamp for perceived proximity to power. Even when this ends, he won’t be happy. He’ll want to tell the story, and again bask in the warm radiation Fox News spews.
This may still be grinding to a likely conclusion where Trump walks and claims exoneration, but the depth of the crisis Trump has forced on the Senate cannot be understated. Republicans might want to pay attention to the core rule of Trump: Everyone is expendable, his word means nothing, and he’ll leave anyone convenient holding the bag.