U.S. President Donald Trump finally has personal evidence of climate change. The early testimony of Trump administration officials in the impeachment hearings has altered the environment of the American capital.
Mr. Trump and his colleagues, only weeks ago on the offensive in the Washington drama, now find themselves on the defensive. The Democrats, subject to months of whippings from the President and his acolytes, suddenly find they have the whip hand.
The ascendancy of Mr. Trump initially turned everything upside down in Washington. The likely impeachment of Mr. Trump has turned everything upside down again.
As a result, the conservative warriors – outsiders, then insiders – who were riding high for nearly three years are in despair, with signs of desperation. The liberal forces that were in retreat for the entire Trump period – insiders, then outsiders – are asserting themselves again.
The trigger for this transformation was the testimony of senior U.S. diplomat William Taylor, the top envoy in Ukraine and a man with an impeccable public-service career. In his remarks, Mr. Taylor drew a direct line between the withholding of American military aid to Ukraine and Mr. Trump’s desire to have Volodymyr Zelensky, the country’s new President, undertake an investigation of the affairs of the son of former vice-president Joe Biden, now a Democratic presidential candidate.
“President Trump did insist that President Zelensky go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference," he said, "and that President Zelensky should want to do this himself.”
Mr. Trump has not been impeached, though the likelihood has grown that he will be, probably before Christmas. But there is a discernible change in the rhythms of American politics. It is only the midseason in the impeachment inquiry, and the Democrats believe they are onto a winning formula, making congressional Republicans sweat. Moreover, the Democrats are sending Mr. Trump into a fury – he accused his rivals Thursday of conducting “the greatest Witch Hunt in American History” – that even exceeds his anger over Robert Mueller’s inquiry that examined possible ties between Russia and both Mr. Trump’s campaign and his inner circle.
There are, to be sure, surface comparisons between the travails of Mr. Trump and those of Richard Nixon, who resigned in August, 1974, in the face of certain impeachment in the House of Representatives and likely conviction in the Senate. The term “witch hunt,” a reference to the 1692 trial of so-called witches in colonial Salem, Mass., was employed in the Nixon White House as early as July, 1973. In his 1974 State of the Union Address, Mr. Nixon stated, "I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end. One year of Watergate is enough.”
But the American political parties of 1974, with conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans, have no analogue in 2019. “The big factor is the transformation of the Republican Party in the past 20 years into a much more orthodox and disciplined party,” said David Greenberg, the Rutgers University historian and author of Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image, published in 2003. “There are a lot of Republicans who privately talk about what they don’t like about Trump, but when push comes to shove they rarely do much of anything.”
And yet it is incontrovertible that the political environment has changed. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, has made it clear he is open to voting to convict Mr. Trump in a Senate trial. Other Republicans have suggested similar, but quieter, sentiments, prompting the President to send a tweet blasting the apostates and describing them as “human scum!”
The profile of the parties, too, has been transformed. Throughout the Trump years, Democrats have been excluded from the principal conversations, planning forums and decision sessions of Washington. Today, they run the impeachment inquiry. For years, the Republicans held both confidential sessions and ultimate power. Today, they are resisting confidential sessions and accusing their rivals of reaching for power.
This week a clutch of frustrated and angry Republicans stormed the closed-door impeachment-inquiry sessions being conducted in a secure room by House intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff of California. The effort was as much about optics as it was about politics: The implied suggestion was that the Republicans wanted to be admitted to a secret session the Democrats were holding to defame the President. The sessions were, in fact, secret – but the audience was comprised of both Republicans and Democrats.
The following day, Senate judiciary committee chairman Lindsey Graham and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell introduced a resolution accusing House Democrats of conducting secret sessions primarily designed to mortify Mr. Trump and that were denying the President the opportunity to mount a defence.
Mr. Graham, once a fervent opponent of Mr. Trump – who taunted the South Carolina lawmaker in the 2016 presidential campaign and then publicized his cellphone number – was a House manager of the impeachment of president Bill Clinton in 1998. At that time, Mr. Graham said: "You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic if this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role.”
As irresistible as that sound bite may be, the Democrats are not proceeding that way, at least for now. They are proceeding toward impeachment in a very narrow fashion, concentrating exclusively on whether Mr. Trump created a tie between U.S. military aid to Ukraine and an investigation into the activities of Hunter Biden.
“Nancy Pelosi lucked out by getting this smoking gun on a silver platter,” Rick Perlstein, the author of Nixonland and other volumes on the period in American history dominated by the Watergate affair, said in a reference to the Speaker of the House of Representatives. “Now the most powerful voices in the party are calling for as narrow an impeachment charge as possible. The danger is that history will conclude that he did one bad thing rather than pursue a presidency based on opposition to the basic constitutional principles on which the country was founded.”
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