Amid all the media chatter about the Iowa meltdown, whether Pete really won, Nancy ripping up Donald’s speech and Rush getting a medal, this other thing happened Wednesday:
The president of the United States was acquitted of two articles of impeachment.
And yet I had to remind myself throughout the day that the Senate trial, which consumed so much attention after the House impeachment hearings, was indeed coming to an end.
Because it felt like that already happened, didn’t it?
The trial was over, for all intents and purposes, when only two Republican senators joined the Democrats on calling witnesses. Many in the media decried the vote, but everyone began discussing the trial in the past tense—not that there was any great drama to begin with about whether 67 senators would vote to remove Trump.
So a reality show president moved on to the next extravaganza, the State of the Union, which was elaborately staged with moving guests in the audience. Trump didn’t mention impeachment, which was politically shrewd, but also reflected the view that it was last season’s drama and he was moving on to the next ratings period.
The pre-game media chatter—always a good barometer of what the press considers hot—was divided between the continuing chaos in Iowa and reactions to the State of the Union. There is little question that Pete Buttigieg, if he indeed pulled off an upset, was robbed by an incompetent state party that still hadn’t counted more than a quarter of the votes by mid-day yesterday. The same goes for Bernie Sanders if he pulled out a win. About the only candidate who may be relieved that the results were delayed so long is Joe Biden, who appears to have cratered to fourth place.
As for Nancy Pelosi’s speech-ripping moment—the New York Post dubbed her a “TORE LOSER”—I thought it was beneath her. Yes, Trump refused to shake her hand, and yes she can argue that his speech had numerous lies. But it made her look petty. And many of the liberals and Democrats trying to justify her middle-finger gesture would be bouncing off the walls if John Boehner had done that to Barack Obama.
The only remaining question on the impeachment trial is whether a couple of senators on either side would break ranks with their party.
The more conservative Democrats--Doug Jones, Joe Manchin--voted to convict. The more critical Republicans--Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins--voted to acquit.
Only Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 nominee, voted on the first article that Trump should be removed from office.
He gave an emotional speech, choking back tears, saying: My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.
The Mormon senator from Utah, in a pretaped interview with Chris Wallace, said it was the hardest decision of his life and he had trouble sleeping.
“You realize this is war,” the Fox anchor said. “Donald Trump will never forgive you for this.”
Romney said he was prepared for the intense blowback. “But on the other side, there is, do you do what you know is right? Do you do what your conscience and your heart tells you?”
The denunciations quickly began on the right. “Romney’s Entire Career Has Been About Punishing Republicans for Voting for Him,” said the Federalist, while a Pete Wehner piece in the Atlantic was headlined “A Profile in Courage.”
And while Romney clearly agonized over the decision, which hurts him politically, he is getting “strange new respect” from many liberals who savaged his presidential candidacy eight years ago.
In a larger sense, the Democrats, having lost their gambit as far as moving public opinion, would like impeachment to continue all year. Jerry Nadler says he’ll probably move to subpoena John Bolton.
But the reality (and not just the reality show) is that it’s over. The Trump impeachment will always be remembered as a process that left half the country thinking the president should be ousted and the other half thinking the president was being railroaded. And that leaves the final verdict up to tens of millions of Americans, not 100 senators.