Even as Susan Collins and perhaps Lisa Murkowski votes for witnesses, there will be an eventual vote against conviction and then the cover-up begins.
But if the scandal is working to preserve the Democratic tilt in the House, it could upend things in the Senate, where Republicans hold a three-seat margin. Impeachment will likely decide the fate of a handful of Senate Republicans currently in cycle. For Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Martha McSally (Ariz.), a vote to convict is unthinkable: It risks the president’s wrath and a likely primary challenge. That combination would force each senator to embrace an agenda alien to most swing voters.
A vote to acquit, however, will force every senator to own Trump’s emboldened rhetoric of being exonerated. Which means they’ll have to defend Trump when the next embarrassing audio recording hits the airwaves, or when another witness surfaces to speak, or when John Bolton’s book comes out, or when internal memos about the “drug deal” come out via the Freedom of Information Act. Republican senators will become full-time exonerators.
If Democrats nominate a candidate who projects calmness, coolness and character in contrast with Trump’s chaos, corruption and constant conflict, we are likely to emerge from the November election in much better shape than many might now anticipate. And our success will be tied explicitly to the vote these senators take giving the president a pass for behavior most Americans now view as illegal.