The Republicans Struggle to Keep Their Base in a Bubble

Fox News broadcast the first two hours of the impeachment trial on Wednesday in a normal manner, but after that, they turned off the sound:

Starting with The Five, the network’s early evening roundtable commentary show, and continuing throughout the evening, Fox News broadcast portions of screen-in-screen video of the trial. But instead of playing the audio, network hosts provided the normal Trumpian spin. So while someone who just looked at the screen may have concluded Fox News was covering the trial, in fact it wasn’t covering it at all.

Their post-truth business model couldn’t withstand the House Managers’ methodical destruction of their viewers’ hero, so this is telling but not at all surprising. Just don’t call them a news network, or treat them like one.

Meanwhile, the president was so desperate to distract his base from hearing the truth that he set a personal tweeting record.

As he flew back to Washington on Air Force One, Trump stirred up a veritable Twitter storm as he tweeted and retweeted messages primarily about impeachment, particularly from his Republican defenders—a barrage that marked the most tweets of any day of his presidency, with 142 as of 10 p.m., according to Factba.se, a website that tracks Trump’s tweets and speeches.

None of this was likely to have much immediate effect inside the Senate chamber where a captive audience was subjected to a spectacularly well-prepared and delivered case against Donald John Trump. Some Republican senators abandoned their posts and left the audience for extended periods, but the vast majority honored their duty as jurists and heard a compelling case for the president’s removal from office.

It remains to be seen if it will have a meaningful effect on Mitch McConnell’s tenuous control of the process. He already beat a retreat once, on his rules package, in order to maintain unity within his caucus. But he and the White House desperately want to avoid allowing witnesses.

Now, Mr. McConnell is working to convince his colleagues that expanding the trial to include witnesses—a prospect Mr. Trump’s team wants to avoid at all costs—would be more trouble than it was worth.

“Pursing those witnesses could indefinitely delay the Senate trial and draw our body into a protracted and complex legal fight over presidential privilege,” he said.

That message could well prevail.

Yet, the House Managers did a masterful job on Wednesday of providing a different message. The Republican base probably heard little of it, but McConnell’s colleagues were impressed. Even Sen. Lindsey Graham stopped Adam Schiff in the Senate hallways to compliment his performance.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com