This evening we’re seeing two narratives play out in the Republican Senate. The first is that Mitch McConnell is acknowledging that he doesn’t have the votes to stop witnesses from testifying in the impeachment trial, a rare admission from him. The second narrative revolves around Donald Trump’s biggest GOP Senate allies trying to figure out how to recalibrate things within this shifting new reality.
John Bolton’s upcoming book confirms that Donald Trump is guilty of attempting a quid pro quo in his Ukraine extortion scandal. This is nothing that we haven’t already heard from any number of other sources. But Bolton is the one source the Republican Senate can’t ignore, as evidenced by the apparently sufficient number of votes to have Bolton testify at the impeachment trial. Trump’s allies now appear to be operating under the presumption that Bolton (and perhaps others) will soon testify against Trump. So now they’re trying a new defense.
GOP Senators know that attacking John Bolton, or accusing him of lying, is going to be a hard sell to large chunks of the traditional Republican base. So instead they’re now moving the goal posts by admitting to the media that Trump is indeed guilty of what Bolton is accusing him of, but that it’s not impeachable.
What’s interesting here is that thus far Donald Trump has loudly rejected any attempt at painting his Ukraine antics as having been anything less than – in his word – “perfect.” Trump’s narcissism won’t allow anything less, and his support base is indeed built on the notion that everything he does is perfect by definition. But Republican Senators have to deal with a different calculus. They have to answer to Trump’s cult-like base. But they also have to answer to the traditional Republican base, which is less fanatical.
We’ll see if Donald Trump keeps quiet and lets his Senate allies try to save him by painting him as being incrementally guilty, or if he intervenes by publicly insisting that they’re wrong and everything he did was perfect. Trump and his allies need to be more coordinated than ever, if they’re going to survive the John Bolton onslaught. But it’s difficult to coordinate on anything with an erratic lunatic like Trump.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report