President Trump recently tweeted that allowing a full-blown impeachment trial would lend legitimacy to an unfair and partisan process. Numerous conservative pundits have pushed for outright dismissal or the briefest of proceedings.
The Kavanaugh hearings, in which the left overstepped and inadvertently mobilized an army of conservative voters, educated the public about the politicization of the court; and filled initially sympathetic women with concern about due process and the implications of the believe-all-accusers standard, suggest an alternative course.
A Senate impeachment trial is both an opportunity conservatives should embrace, and a firecracker the left should fear.
Smart operatives on the left have understood from the beginning that this impeachment case will not result in the removal from office of President Trump. Instead, it is a form of political theater — an opening argument in the 2020 presidential campaign and in the campaign to control the Senate.
By making the process seem predetermined, and thus insincere, they seek to embarrass and tar vulnerable Republican Senators. Hence the push for an unlimited number of witnesses, an attempt to force GOP Senators to cast votes that their Democratic challengers can use against them on the campaign trail.
Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) knows all this, and Senate Republicans have been able to thread that needle — rejecting the idea of summarily dismissing Articles of Impeachment but also waiting to make decisions about witnesses until the evidence requires it. They plan to move forward with a trial complete with arguments and possible witness testimony.
The president should welcome this approach. And conservative pundits should stop trying to secure a commitment not to call any witnesses at all — something that, as far as moderates and swing voters are concerned, can only reasonably be determined on a case by case basis.
For swing voters, fairness will be essential. Supporters of the president may firmly believe that hearings with witness testimony will legitimize a thin and baseless case. But the critical swing constituency is watching to see if the Senate handles the matter fairly and without bias.
A transparent and deliberative process — where decisions about subpoenas and testimony are determined as needed — will allow Americans to hear the best arguments that each side can muster.
It also provides an essential opportunity for Republicans to demonstrate—as they did during the Kavanaugh hearings—that it is they (not the Democrats) who are the guardians of due process and, concerned with what is fair.
Moreover, hearings will provide quite an education. Hearings will allow the Trump defense team to put forward a coherent narrative as to why the president might legitimately have been concerned about Ukrainian corruption and what sort of latitude an administration properly has over such fund dispersals.
After months of one-sided spin from the mainstream media, a trial will provide Americans their first full opportunity to consider the evidence and should come to their own conclusions about these matters — and about the worthiness of the impeachment effort.
It will also prove a salutary civics lesson. A functioning democracy, where power is peacefully transferred back and forth between parties, requires a commitment to this starting premise: that the rules will be sufficiently fair and respected by both sides that neither will try to alter them to subvert elections results.
Our founders warned against using impeachment to resolve policy and political disagreements — that’s what elections are for.
Full impeachment hearings will likely reveal that much of the Democrats’ concerns boil down to just such differences — and a consequent attempt to circumvent resolution by-election. A full exposition and defense on not only the merits of the charges, but whether impeachment is the appropriate remedy, and the precedent that all of this sets, deserve to be fully fleshed out before the public.
There are opportunities here for everyone: Alan Dershowitz will get to give the nation a civics lesson. GOP senators, like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) during the Kavanaugh hearings, can show that they are the good stewards of the public’s trust — proceeding deliberately and with fairness and taking the charges and the precedents that the proceedings set seriously.
Those who truly believe that impeachment is both frivolous and abusive should welcome the opportunity to show the public why this is so and should appreciate the national attention to their case. And those of us at home can stock up on popcorn and sit back — it’s going to be quite a show.
Heather R. Higgins is the CEO of Independent Women’s Voice; Jennifer C. Braceras is director of Independent Women’s Law Center.