Who is the Audience?

I had to look up whether the impeachment trial was going to be televised. (It is.) With all the stories about how the Senators were to be put on silence and made to sit in their chairs while denied their cellphones, I briefly wondered if the TV cameras were also going to be barred.

Of course, that would defeat the purpose, which is to air — yet again — the same tired accusations and defenses.

Air them to whom?

If you believe the data analysts, the Presidential election will be decided by a few hundred thousand voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Are they watching gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Senate impeachment trial? If not, are they busy reading law review articles about whether abuse of power is a high crime or misdemeanor?

Are the 100 Senators, who are acting a jurors, while being treated like third graders, the audience? Yesterday, they spent about 12 stultifying hours listening to essentially identical debates about facts and witnesses.

Each vote was 53-47 against making that decision before the cases on either side have been presented. If the Senators are the audience, the lawyers did a pretty poor job of changing minds.

Actually, the Senators are probably closer to being the “targets of” rather than the “audience for” the impeachment. One-third of the Senate is up for election in November and about two-thirds of those are Republicans, some of whom are vulnerable because they represent moderate or Democratic states. Their votes against facts and witnesses (leaving out the “before the cases have been made” part) will be used against them in November.

For those who would like to see the last of President Trump, this is not a story that tells itself. Voters are used to simple cop show narratives that can be understood in an hour. They lose interest when the facts and law are as muddy as these.

I have no idea if there will be an earth-shattering revelation but, unless there is, I can see little to bite one’s nails about.

There will be a reprise of revelations that have already been absorbed.

There will be a reprise of witch hunt accusations that have also already been absorbed.

Between 90% and 100% of Senators will vote exactly as would be predicted by party affiliation. The closer the count is to 100% the better it will have been for the President and the GOP; the closer to 90% the better for the Democrats.

For the 10 or so Senators whose votes might not go according to party, the reason is more likely to be election prospects than evidence weighing.  It is difficult to see 20 of the 53 Republicans joining the 47 Democrats (assuming no defections) to provide the 67 votes needed to remove the President from office.

The number of hours permitted to each side to present its case ended up at 24, the same as Bill Clinton. Letting those hours take three days rather than two was a win for those who favor prime time exposure over late night. Nonetheless, the evening droned on until after midnight.

If the goal was prime time exposure, it does not seem to have been very successful. I was only able to find it on PBS and only able to stand watching it for about an hour.

On present form, the decision on facts and witnesses is a couple of weeks away after which most of the “jurors” are expected to be pretty tired of being treated like unruly third graders.

Some imagine those jurors will be more eager to get back to raising money for their campaigns and standing in front of television cameras than to sentence themselves to even more days of classroom punishment.

Hence, the actual decision on facts and witnesses is more likely to depend on polling and TV ratings than on a quest for justice.

Expect lots of personal attacks: obviously, against the President by the House Managers; but also, by the President’s lawyers, against those who led the prosecution. Chief Justice Roberts had to admonish both sides to remember where they were and what they were doing when tempers flared early this morning.

Approval ratings for Trump, the Congress, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party should either decrease or remain where they are.

We are in for two to six weeks of this, but most will be able to safely ignore it.

In the first 180 years of this country’s existence, we had one impeachment. In the last 60 years, we have had three. Triple the number in a third the time.

Maybe our Presidents have become nine times more impeachable, but I am more inclined to look at the arrival of television as a significant contributing factor. And don’t forget the money. The fund-raising machines are churning away to the delight of both parties and especially of the political operatives whose paychecks depend on it.

Another significant event began this week. The World Economic Forum in Davos brings together government, multinational organization, NGO and business leaders to at least build relationships even if they don’t accomplish anything.

On present form, absent a blockbuster development, which few if any can predict, when the impeachment trial is over and all the folding chairs have been put away in Davos, expect the World Economic Forum to have been the more important event.

16 Responses to “Who is the Audience?”

Rob, January 22, 2020 at 9:06 am said:

I think you are right about the audience being voters in 4-6 states with contested senate elections (prime time in Arizona and Colorado fits right in with a 1:00 AM closing) and the public preferring a one-hour cop show solution. I think you are wrong about the closer to 90% the better for the Democrats. My assumption is that Schumer has 0% desire for Bolton or any other “witness” to testify. That only introduces great risk with little potential reward. Far better for him to claim a rigged, illegitimate “trial” with no witnesses, no documents and no evidence. Clean and neat messaging that may sway a few thousand persuadable women in Maine, Georgia and Iowa.


Haven Pell, January 22, 2020 at 11:32 am said:

Rob, Really interesting perspective. Schumer only looking for a graceful loss and the coveted victim status that plays so well politically.


Peter Pell, January 22, 2020 at 9:15 am said:

The audience is obviously not the senators in the room, nor the voters in swing states. I think the audience is the small number of hyper-partisans who have paused their CNNFoxNewsMSNBC self-hypnotism for a moment to feel like they are doing “primary research” by finding the PBS channel and getting themselves even more riled up. As you often note, this frenzied partisan state is excellent for fundraising.


Haven Pell, January 22, 2020 at 11:30 am said:

My short look yesterday certainly suggested that it was mostly theatre


Russell, January 22, 2020 at 1:10 pm said:

Having known Sin in the Clinton impeachment , the Senate was bound to run into Kabuki sooner or later .

How long before someone blames it all on climate change ?



Haven Pell, January 22, 2020 at 1:39 pm said:

As soon as they think of it I imagine.


Guy Cipriano, January 22, 2020 at 9:23 am said:

I really have no idea as to the intended identity of the audience . Nobody is watching . The ratings are very low. There’s no drama because the outcome is a certain acquittal . Nobody has changed his or her opinion of the President based upon any of these proceedings. One thing is for sure. In the immortal words of Calvin Coolidge, the business of America is business, and right now business is excellent.


Haven Pell, January 22, 2020 at 11:29 am said:

That certainly goes a long way to explaining the lack of interest


Dianne Warner, January 22, 2020 at 11:37 am said:

And Pouf! Nothing happened and nothing will happen.


Haven Pell, January 22, 2020 at 11:45 am said:

That outcome probably has the highest odds.


LivingstonM Miller, January 22, 2020 at 9:45 am said:

So Pundificator, answer this: which testimony would be more damaging to the respective sides? Bolton/Mulvaney to the Trumpers or Joe/Hunter Biden to the Schifty Dems. Bolton and co. would probably support the narrative we already know. He tried to threaten Ukraine, but quickly changed gears when the mole/whistleblower’s complaint came out. Yawn. But the Biden’s testimony would be entirely new and could be explosive. There’s a rat in there somewhere with Burisma. And PBS would love the ratings the Biden’s would surely produce.


Haven Pell, January 22, 2020 at 11:27 am said:

Liv, as you know my preference is for knowing about all the corruption over political advantage, so I would love it if the trial lasted most of the year and exposed every corrupt deed by every elected official. There would be lots of blockbuster revelations to wake people up.


GARRARD GLENN, January 22, 2020 at 11:31 am said:

If the Ds insist on more witnesses, the Rs are likely to respond by calling Hunter and Joe Biden as witnesses.
Schumer doubtless knows full well if the Bidens can be successfully dirtied up by the Rs. They probably can. Be careful what you wish for, Schumie.


Haven Pell, January 22, 2020 at 11:40 am said:

It would be interesting to see each side making the arguments of the other if there were reputational risks on the other side.


Kathleen, January 22, 2020 at 1:31 pm said:

I don’t know where you looked for the coverage, but the proceedings have been on all 4 local channels in Baltimore every day and every one is annoyed with it. As to intended audience, Soap opera fans are particularly outraged.


Haven Pell, January 22, 2020 at 1:38 pm said:

I only looked in the evening after dinner. Perhaps offending soap opera fans is less important than offending prime time fans?


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