By my count, Mitch McConnell has now publicly floated at least five different iterations of how he plans to handle Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial. Throw in the stuff being floated by other Republican Senate leaders, and we’re looking at a nearly endless list of different ways in which the trial is going to be handled. Here’s the thing: none of it’s real.
Politics is about posturing. Depending on the situation, you might float one response or another – sometimes including responses you don’t even intend to carry out – in the hope of making the other side second-guess what it’s doing. At times you’ll take what you wish would happen and announce it as if it were fact, in the hope it’ll become a self fulfilling prophecy, or at least help get you halfway there.
The last thing Mitch McConnell wants is for Trump’s impeachment trial to land in his lap at all. There’s no good way for him to handle it. Sure, he’s going to acquit Trump (unless some smoking gun or first hand witness surfaces in the mean time). But if McConnell holds a very short trial before acquitting Trump, he runs the risk of leaving moderate voters with the impression that Senate Republicans didn’t take the process seriously and should thusly be punished in the 2020 election. If McConnell tries to mount some ridiculous defense of Trump, then he risks leaving those same voters with the impression that Senate Republicans are just as guilty as Trump is.
There’s no good way for Mitch McConnell to handle this, and he knows it. So he’s doing the one thing he’s particularly good at: posturing. He keeps floating a bunch of different impeachment trial scenarios, all under the guise that he and the Senate Republicans are somehow going to magically come out better off for it. He’s trying to make Nancy Pelosi think twice about when and how to hand off the impeachment process to the Senate. He’s trying to demotivate the Resistance by scaring you into believing that he can somehow use impeachment to deliver new supporters to Trump.
None of this is real, of course. Mitch McConnell and his GOP Senate colleagues are merely floating wishful thinking out loud, presenting it as if it were really going to happen, in the hope that anyone on the other side will buy it. The mere fact that McConnell has changed up his own plan so many times is a dead giveaway that he doesn’t have a magic wand up his sleeve. The impeachment trial is going to royally suck for him and his party. He’s just trying to figure out how to minimize the damage.
Don’t underestimate McConnell on that front. He’s spent decades getting away with being openly corrupt because he understands how the game is played, how to posture, when to strategically pull back, how to make sure he survives even when those on his side falter. But don’t mistake McConnell’s savvy for some kind of magical ability to simply hold the impeachment trial however he pleases, without any fallout for him or his party. This is going to be ugly for him and he knows it.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report