All along, Republican Senators have each been trying to calculate whether their own career trajectory and personal odds of reelection would be made better or worse by calling someone like John Bolton to testify against Donald Trump. For some of them it’s easy, because they represent pro-Trump red states. For other GOP Senators from moderate states, it’s been tough math, because mainstream voters back home could punish them for refusing to call witnesses.
Even as the more vulnerable Republican Senators have each been doing their own math on this, they’ve been making a point of verbally playing both sides. It’s just strategy. They know that in the end they’re going to have to piss off one side or the other, so they’d better throw some raw meat at both sides first. For that reason, what these GOP Senators have been saying has had very little to do with what they’re actually going to do.
Last night we all learned that in John Bolton’s new book, he confirms that Donald Trump was indeed guilty of quid pro quo extortion in his Ukraine scandal. This is absolutely nothing new. Lev Parnas has confirmed this. Mick Mulvaney blurted it out at a press conference. Trump’s own quasi-transcript confirms it. But those are all things that the Republican Senators were looking to ignore. The trouble with Bolton, a far-right Republican icon, who very much wants to testify, is that they can’t ignore him – and they know it.
That’s why Republican Senators are now loudly complaining that they’ve been “blindsided” by John Bolton’s accusations, and that they feel betrayed by Donald Trump’s decision to hide all of this from them, as Trump and his White House have been sitting on an advance copy of Bolton’s book throughout the trial. Of course everyone following this scandal intuitively knew that Bolton was going to say this about Trump, and that his book was going to surface in roughly this timeframe. GOP Senators were just hoping it wouldn’t surface at this particular moment. That didn’t work out for them, so now they’re pretending to be shocked to learn that Trump really is guilty.
We’ll see what happens now. The parameters haven’t changed for the vulnerable Republican Senators. They’re still each going to make their decision about John Bolton’s testimony based on what they think is personally best for their own career. It’s just that the math has significantly changed now, because the GOP Senators know it’ll be a lot harder to convince voters in their state that silencing Bolton was the right thing to do. This means these GOP Senators are more vulnerable to being pressured into having Bolton testify than ever. Keep calling their phones. Keep leaving voicemails. The witness battle is far more winnable today than it was at this time yesterday.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report