Don’t get bogged down in the minutiae of Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial – the procedural maneuvers aimed at getting witness testimony and new documents that Republicans want to prevent at all costs. Stay focused on the big picture
Here are the 10 big things you need to know.
1. Did Trump commit an impeachable offense?
Yes. His attempt to get a foreign power to help him win the 2020 election is precisely the sort of thing the framers of the constitution worried about when they created the impeachment clause. If presidents could seek foreign help winning elections, there would be no end of foreign intrusions into American sovereignty and democracy.
2. Will the Senate convict and remove him from office?
No. The impeachment clause requires that two-thirds of the Senate vote to convict. That means that even if every one of the 45 Democratic and two independent senators votes to oust Trump, 20 Republicans would need to join them for Trump to be removed. The odds that 20 Republican senators will do so are exactly zero.
3. Why won’t they?
There are not 20 Republican senators with the courage and integrity to protect the constitution and the nation from the most dangerous and demagogic president in history. Led by Mitch McConnell, they are engaged in a concerted cover-up of some of the most outrageous conduct ever committed by high-level government officials. Even so-called moderates like Susan Collins and Mitt Romney cannot be relied on to grow a spine and conduct a fair trial.
4. Why are they so spineless?
Because they want to keep their jobs, and they know that 90% of Republican voters approve of Trump. They fear Trump’s sway over their voting base and his massive fundraising apparatus.
5. Why do 90% of Republican voters support him?
Because he has convinced them he’s on their side and that he’s the victim of a plot orchestrated by the establishment and “deep state” bureaucrats.
6. How has Trump retained their support?
By lying constantly, casting the mainstream press as biased and untrustworthy, relying on his propaganda machine (Fox News and rightwing radio) to trumpet his lies, using Twitter and Facebook to deliver those lies directly to his followers, and fomenting the “culture war” – wielding deep divisions over race, guns, religion, abortion and immigrants – to fuel his base.
7. Where’s the money coming from?
Billionaires, chief executives, corporate executives and the denizens of Wall Street continue to fund the Republican party and bankroll Trump and his propaganda machine. They’re doing this because they’re raking in billions thanks to the Trump-Republican tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks. Trump is already promising more if he gets a second term.
“The attitude of the business community toward the Trump administration appears quite positive,” says Stephen Schwarzman, who runs Blackstone, the world’s largest investment fund.
9. Will the Senate trial change public opinion about Trump?
No. Trump’s overall job ratings haven’t budged. In the most recent polls, 40% of Americans (including that 90% of Republican voters) approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president, while 58% say they disapprove. These percentages are exactly the same as they were in September, before the House launched its formal impeachment inquiry and voted to impeach the president.
10. What does all this mean for the 2020 election?
Trump will claim that his forthcoming acquittal by the Senate clears him of all charges, just as he claimed attorney general William Barr’s whitewash of the Mueller report absolved him of charges that he sought Russian help in 2016. He’ll use both as “proof” that Democrats fabricated a plot to remove him from office.
But none of this is likely to sway the majority of Americans who don’t want Trump re-elected. To be sure, the Republican party will try to suppress the votes of likely Democrats, Russia will almost certainly try to help Trump again, billionaires and big corporations will spend vast sums seeking to get Trump re-elected, and the electoral college will further handicap the Democratic candidate.
But Democrats and independents are fired up. The 2018 midterms featured the highest turnout of any such election since 1914, handing House Republicans their most resounding defeat in decades. In 2020, the “blue wave” could be a tsunami.
Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and The Common Good. His next book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, will be out in March. He is a columnist for Guardian US