Sondland’s ‘Bombshell’ Testimony Was Factually Significant, But Politically Irrelevant
Thanks to yesterday’s much-discussed “bombshell” testimony of Ambassador Gordon Sondland, as well as a revelation later on which got much less attention, President Donald Trump is now certainly going to be impeached by the House of Representatives. He was already almost certain to be impeached, however, and nothing that happened Wednesday is going to radically change the political landscape — or directly lead to his removal from office.
Yes, if we lived in a country where the vast majority of citizens were fully engaged in the process, able to think logically, trained to appreciate context and nuance, focused enough to avoid being easily distracted, cultured enough to comprehend the significance of the principles at stake here, and educated to value facts over feelings, then Trump would be easily removed by the U.S. Senate. We do not live in such a place.
Yes, if we lived in a country where our media was not ridiculously fragmented, thus making it nearly impossible for a majority of the population to be watching hours of hearings, or where the news media had not badly squandered their credibility long ago in a desperate attempt to hold onto their shrinking audiences, Trump would not survive this. However, those factors are a large part of why Trump was able to obtain the presidency in the first place.
Yes, even if we only lived in a country where our leaders pursued their positions out of principle and patriotism, rather than ego and narcissism, and where they therefore had even a modicum of courage, or willingness to sacrifice their cushy positions for the good of the nation, Trump would still be forced to leave. However, this is clearly not the case.
Much of the news media has been been saying that yesterday’s developments were a some sort of “game-changer,” and Trump and his state-run media sycophants have been rightly mocked for going all “Baghdad Bob” in their denial of how the testimony proved that Trump has no legitimate defense here. But, unfortunately, yet again, the media is also delusional in thinking that this is somehow still 1974, while Trump’s side of this, despite being totally wrong on the facts, actually and perhaps only by accident, has their finger more closely monitoring the pulse of reality.
To fully understand why this is, you first need to recognize that the target audience for these hearings, assuming the goal is really to remove Trump from office, is Republicans and Independents who don’t love Trump but who are very wary of having him removed from office, especially so close to an election, and with the Democratic presidential candidates all seeming pretty scary. Since Democrats are already on board with this process, and Trump’s “Cult 45” has proven long ago that they are not moveable, no other political group really matters here.
The bottom line is that nothing that happened yesterday moved the needle with this target demographic, largely because these people have not invested nearly enough time or effort in this saga for them to fully comprehend the significance of what has now been proven. Imagine never having seen an episode of Game of Thrones and then suddenly hearing all the buzz about the series finale. Would you have gotten anything at all out of watching that if you had only very limited knowledge of the backstory?
In other words, almost no one who hasn’t been totally engrossed in many hours of tedious hearings is going to fully comprehend why Sondland (a goofy guy they have never heard of before) admitting to a “quid pro quo” is so damaging to Trump. Especially when they will also hear (without the critical context of the timeline) that the president also told him that he did NOT want a “quid pro quo.”
I know this, at least in part, because my wife is nearly the perfect one-person focus group for this situation.
She is highly-educated Republican who, for the most part, doesn’t really like Trump, but who also doesn’t see a Democrat for whom she could vote. She is married to a rather vocal “Never Trump” conservative, isn’t very interested in politics, likes watching reality TV, is extremely busy with two young daughters to chase around, and has a career in a field dominated by liberals. Frankly, if she doesn’t at least come close to “getting” it, then it is hard to see how support impeachment ever gets to the threshold of at least 65% needed to make things really interesting in the Senate.
My wife has almost no interest in the Ukraine scandal, and no real understanding of what Trump did that was so wrong as to warrant him being kicked out of office. She finds the hearings to be extremely boring, and I usually have to leave our family room to watch them if she is around.
At one point this week, she asked me to explain it all to her and, deciding to take the opposite tack of what she was expecting from an ardent Trump critic, I started by telling her, “The first thing you need to understand about all of this is that President Trump REALLY abhors corruption, and feels a deep compulsion to do everything he can to root it out, especially in Ukraine…”
Before I could get really rolling with that narrative she quickly interrupted me: “No, seriously, could you just tell me what really happened?!” So, while she clearly comprehends that the Republican talking points are inherently ludicrous, it really doesn’t matter to her. I doubt she would ever tell a pollster that she supports Trump’s impeachment or removal.
There was, however, one political story that did somehow catch her fleeting attention this week and which, in a real rarity, she proactively wanted to discuss. The news of a Democratic congressman possibly farting live on MSNBC had somehow pierced her media bubble. She thought that development was hilarious, and well worth her taking the time to learn all about it.
So yes, at least until further notice (John Bolton?!), Trump’s job is still very safe.
John Ziegler is a senior columnist for Mediaite. He hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at [email protected]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.